Sunday, July 09, 2006

Ashes to ashes; dust to dust

Today we had my Father-in-Law's interment. Dad O died in February; and in Canada, if you die in February, and your final resting plans involve breaking ground, your family must wait until after the spring thaw to take that final step in their collective journey. The funeral home takes care of any ashes or remains in the meantime, until the time is right.

The time was right; of the five brothers, only three of whom live in the province, four are here now with wives and families. Most importantly, Mom O felt that this was the right time.

Two of his grandchildren were there, girls old enough to want to go and to go; and one great-granddaughter, young enough to not really understand what was happening. One of the older girls, our Goddaughter, is particularly close to Husband and I and is also the most emotional and sensitive of the kids. She asked to drive to the cemetary with us and she asked me a million questions before and (whispered) during the proceeding. Was that hole in the ground where Grampy would go? How could they fit a casket into that little hole? (Dad O was cremated, something she knew but the details of which are clearly fuzzy to her; it would not be a casket, I explained, but a small container called an "urn".)

Were we supposed to bring flowers? Were those his flowers waiting around the hole in the ground? Did everyone have to put a flower in the grave afterwards? ("I think that's more of a thing they do on TV", I said, thinking to myself with amusement that while it might be right for some families, I cannot possibly overstate how absolutely appalled her Grandfather would have been at such a dramatic demonstration.)

Would he have a stone? (Yes, Grammy would choose one.) She pointed to a compact engraved bronze plate set into the ground. Would it be like that? (Maybe, I said. If that's what Grammy chose. Or maybe a stand-up headstone, like that one, or that one.) What was that the Minister was pouring onto the urn? (Not being Anglican, I didn't know that it was the traditional consecrated sand symbolizing "dust to dust"; but I made a point of finding out after the service so I could answer her question.)

I felt the weight of her questions quite heavily, keenly aware that the things I said to her at this time of high emotion were going to be remembered by her and would make an impression on her for years, maybe even the rest of her life, just like things trusted adults told me about life and death made an impression on me. It must be absolutely terrifying to be a parent.

The service was dignified and solemn and traditional, just as Dad O would have liked it. The funny thing is that this felt the exact opposite of a "final goodbye". With this step, there is now an answer to that primal human urge for a spot, a place to visit, a locating, somehow, of the spirit of someone who has died; a place one can go to honour him, think of him, acknowledge him, even talk to him if we like. So in a way, it was not a goodbye; but the beginning of our new relationship with him.



Blogger Mike said...

Sound like you did everything right. I 'm not terribly sentimental about the parts I'll leave behind, but I want a place to be. I've visited my g-g-grandparents' grave in Iowa on the way through and it's an interesting feeling to stand in the presence of someone who died more than 50 years before you were born but to whom you are connected.

On the other hand, I'm determined not to foist all the folderol on my kids and have advised them that I'm going to donate my body to a medical school, which will return the ashes to them after they're done. From there, I don't care if the kids take that coffeecan to the cemetery at night, along with a posthole digger. But I'll have a place to be and my g-g-grandkids can come see it if they're ever in the area.

7:48 a.m.  

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