Monday, August 17, 2015

Where it sits

My bit of my mother's remains are nestled between a thick stone slab and the outer box of my brother's coffin, slipped there in a smooth wooden box by a persistent funeral director and a kind person at the Archdiocese who knew that spot, one spot down, was meant for her and not her 15 year old son whose life ended too early. Mom had always joked that she wanted to be with Dad and Hunter in the end. "Just sprinkle me around the edges," she said. "Nobody will ever know."

But she's there with a banded plaque that spans the marble, a three-person plot made out of the two. She thought about the options before she died, knowing she would be cremated, noting that our family plot was still an option in her small hometown in Kansas, talking about Africa and the ranch and of Dad and Hunter. So we divided her ashes, each taking a small part of her great legacy, to trail her earthly being back to the places she loved.

It's a curious thing to think about where your physical being will be after you die. Our people have always been buried with family, generations of people in the same acreage in small towns on the plains, still married through early deaths and lost children and all manner of combinations of life that came next. You were with your people, that man you married or the parents you lived with or the generations of people who stayed within the same range of life that makes a family a community. You can trace that lineage through the fading marble, lives made visible and marked and remembered.

I've never given much thought to where I want my remains to be after I've gone, never had that discussion with anyone outside of my then-husband. In those days of early marriage, I'd always assumed that we'd be together somewhere, ashes mixed, such a romantic notion. Cremation offers you that, a pause button, a hilarious pause button in some ways, allowing you to believe that if you are the one and only, there is life ever after together somewhere.

But life circumstances change, and change radically, and a new life requires you to consider these things anew. And the question of permanence keeps coming to me, of marking space and time, of having a sacred spot for your children to visit if they need to. A place they never go but can if they want to. And this notion of dividing suddenly feels weird, like the human form is elastic, stretched to the corners of the earth.

Even as I write this, my body craves the weight of place, one place, consolidated in its being. Permanence. The intimacy of ritual. The process of saying goodbye. The feeling of knowing where someone is. Not having a plan makes me feel unmoored and anxious.

Where will I go? What is special to me? What will be most important to my kids, most of all? Where is my soul most in touch with this earth? When I think about that one question, a few images appear: The sunrise over the fields at headquarters in Oklahoma, the evening sky in Santa Fe, driving into downtown Seattle on a sunny day, the tiles of the Rome train station, the south China sea at sunrise from the deck of a suddenly feels as easy for my kids to travel to these places and snap pictures as to fling the grainy remains of this body into any space. I'm adding this to the list of things to leave behind, the ideas and thoughts and what it would mean to remain upon this earth long after I'm gone.

1,640 miles away, I can imagine sitting in the cool marble room tracing the name of my sweet brother who came into this life 40 years ago today. That's where this sits.

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