Danâ€™s beloved grandmother is dying. His mom flew back to Madison earlier this week. Last I heard, his mother and her sister-in-law were shopping for a dress.
“Does Mom need an outfit to wear to the funeral?”
I asked Dan.
“No, Grandma needs it.”
“Excuse me but isnâ€™t Grandma going to be dead?”
“Yeah, she needs something to wear in the casket.”
In my youth I thought that memorials were a waste of time because death wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. You just moved into a new body. That was when I was ten feet tall and immortal. Now that Iâ€™m shorter, older and closer to death, I have a compassionate appreciation for memorials of all kinds. I understand the need to eulogize a loved one, to mourn in public, to perform rituals such as purchasing a special dress, to keep remembrances close at hand. (I still have my late fatherâ€™s tired black car-coat hanging in my closet.)
What is difficult for me to understand, however, is the attraction of burial. Cremation is so much neater, cleaner. Iâ€™d much rather have my body purified by fire instead of pickled and powdered.
Everyone has their own memorial style. When my brother and I divided up my father’s ashes, I ceremonially dispersed most of mine into a glorious lake, storing the remaining quarter-cup in an etched granite box on our dresser. On the other hand, my brother keeps Dad in the back of his refrigerator, stuffed into a round plastic Tupperware container with a fluted yellow top. “What if someone thinks there’s food in that container and opens it up?” I ask. “Not gonna happen,” he says. “No-one wants to go anywhere near the back of my refrigerator.”
I really like ashes. Theyâ€™re appealing, like tiny pieces of seashell. I can touch them and feel close to my dad again. Best of all, I donâ€™t need to visit a cemetery to see them.
My meditation buddy, Michael, died of stomach cancer a few years ago. I loved Michael and truly grieved his passing. To help honor and remember him, I wanted his ashes on my home altar next to Dad. During Michaelâ€™s Zen memorial service, I kept my eye on the urn perched next to a statue of the Buddha. After the ritual I sidled over to Buddha, checked left and right, and deftly scooped a handful of Michael from the urn into my coat pocket. Then I scooted back to Dan.
“Guess what?” I asked Dan.
“Guess what I have in my pocket?”
“Whaaat?” He looked at me long and hard.
I leaned into him, whispering, “Michael.”
“Jesus, Dawn! Did anybody see you do it?” Dan glanced around the room.
“Why didnâ€™t you just ask his mother if you could take some of his cremains?”
I stepped back. “She doesnâ€™t know me from Adam. It would seem ghoulish.”
“Oh and carrying his ashes in your coat pocket isnâ€™t?
“Nope,” I smiled, running my fingers gently through the sandy contents. “Itâ€™s comforting.”