Tag Archives: funeral

her headstone

Mom’s permanent headstone is now in place.  I never knew it was possible to love a headstone.  But I do!

I was surprised when she asked to be interned in the small town in Southern Minnesota where her father was born.  I guess I thought she’d go for something romantic.  Ashes scattered across the Bay of Banderas or something like that.  Once again, I was confusing her wishes with my own.

She chose well. In that small town cemetery, they punched out space deep in the dark, rich earth to hold her ashes.  The same earth that her family has farmed for generations. She is buried there, right next to her father.

And now the permanent marker is in place.  I’m not which relative selected this headstone, but it is perfect.  The hearts, the flowers, the photo…  as sweet as the life it represents.

“Permanent marker” may be a misnomer.  It is no more permanent than anything else.  But stone gives the feeling of permanence, doesn’t it?  I can imagine the sensation of my fingers tracing her name, the cool hardness of the headstone.  Her body gone, but her name carved in granite. The image of her beautiful smile preserved. Never to be diminished with the passage of time, or so it seems.

I like having a monument to her life, even if it’s over a thousand miles a way, and I’m not sure when I’ll be able to see it in person. Even if it’s a bit of an illusion of permanence. And of course she is bigger than a headstone, she still touches everything in my life.  But I also love the carved stone, the smiling face, the marker that says “this wonderful woman lived, and then she died.”

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the return

Dear Mom,

You’ve been gone six months and we did it, the final step in the formal mourning process. We brought your ashes back to Minnesota.  Everytime I return there, something inside of me cracks open. The plane touches down and I feel a ball of emotion I can only experience in Minnesota.  Peace, gratitude, longing. Years can fly by, but its still my home, your home.  The lush trees wave “hi” with huge, loaded branches that shimmy in the wind. The lakes sparkle in the sunshine. Its so very, very beautiful.

We had a service at First Universalist.  Our old church in South Minneapolis.  The stained glass windows from the years as a synagogue are gone, and the century-old building has been adapted to be more ADA friendly.  Still, there is no question, its the same place that you passed out fliers to congregants, and sipped black coffee with your friends, and cooked for fundraisers, and listened to my harp recitals in the basement.

People shared beautiful words about you.  They not only loved you, they really knew you.  Your life was full, yet you were so very present for everyone you encountered.  Perhaps the finest achievement in your life were the relationships you tended. They blossomed perpetually and the roots ran deep.

You wanted to return to LaSalle,  where your father was born and is buried.  The day after your memorial in Minneapolis, we drove through hours of cornfields to this lovely little town on the prairie. From the cemetery, you can see the grain elevators, a beautiful tree, and the big, big sky. Reflecting these sensible Scandinavians, this cemetery is also where people plan ahead.  It seems like every other headstone belongs to the living, with their death date remaining blank. For now.

Your family gathered in the cemetery. Many of them I don’t know, a casualty of your father’s early death. Still, we stood together under the prairie sky, united in the experience of loss. Your uncles had moved headstones so there would be enough room for you next to your dad. We put your ashes deep in the rich, black soil.  The wind was powerful; it whipped up skirts and blew the tears right off my face.  We retreated to the church basement in a small white chapel where your family has married and buried their dead for generations.    Your cousins served bread and sweets and coffee. I visited the home of your aunt and uncle, and rubbed my hands along the bedpost of a bedroom set that your father refinished before I was born, before lymphoma took him away far too young, like you.

Not all of your ashes went into the ground.  I took some away with me.  I thought about keeping them, but the pale, grainy powder seemed to have nothing to do with you.  The ash isn’t your smile, your light, the way you moved or laughed or sighed.  This is what we are reduced to, in the end, but a life is so much more than this. I can understand how religions around the world developed the concept of spirit.  We are more than the carbon leftovers of our physical body.

So, I put your ashes in Lake Harriet, on the 6 month anniversary of your death.  I know this isn’t what you asked for, but it felt right to me, to bring you back to the lake you pushed me around in my stroller as an infant, and where we walked side by side as adults. This is where it began for us.  I released you as kids fished nearby.  Your ashes clung together in the water for a while, like a cloud, then slowly disappeared as small waves lapped against the wooden dock.

I feel some relief after burying you in Minnesota.  But I also know that its not over for me. I won’t be eating sweets in church basements with strangers that loved you anymore, but the road without you stretches out before me, and its long.  If you were here, you probably would grab my hand and murmur “Oh, Lamb.” Because there isn’t much to say.  No cure for this, no expiration stamped on the bottom of my grief.  But if I can walk this road ahead with half of the loving grace that you did, well, I’d be living this life well.

 

at the lake with Mom