Writing pompts have not typically been a great motivator for me. I’m nervous about writing extemporaneously and then comparing clips when we read aloud after the timer goes off. But today I met with a writer friend and she gave us a prompt.
“Shadows,” she said.
I had just gotten off the phone with my brother. We are trying to organize the burying of mom’s ashes. And this is what I wrote as the result of the prompt.
The shadows of my past, all the events of our childhood, continue to hang over my brother and me. As we arrange to bury our mother’s ashes I sense a familiar resistance remarkable in its tenacity.
The shadow of our father’s death creeps unspoken into each conversation, carrying the pain of acknowledgment that we are going to bury the four-pound box of what remains of our mother next to the dust of my father’s bones buried nearly 65 years ago. It has taken us 11 months to get to this juncture.
They are pernicious and clinging, these shadows, a screen against which I push like a moth searching for escape. They are always present, following me like a ghost in a scary movie, causing me to periodically check behind me to see what is dogging my attempts for closure, reconciliation and healing.
Rather than, “yes, let’s get this resolved,” it’s “I’ll talk to you when I can.” The pushing away, the shadow side, that piece of him that observes me as a hindrance, as insistent, as the little girl who needed him to be there for her, and he couldn’t because we had been overtaken by the shadow.
I’m still taking care of mom, the drama of her life still claims me. How do I step aside to allow the shadow to pass?
I understand how hard this is for my brother. I understand the resistance. I understand. We were not allowed to visit my dad’s gravesite as children. The first time I ever saw my father’s grave was 14 years ago when I traveled to Los Angeles with my son, then a 15-year-old. With my aunt, now 96, we drove from her home in Camarillo, an hour north of Glendale, to visit the grave of the man I knew for such a brief time. We cleaned off the marker and placed flowers on the grave.
Ironically, Forest Lawn is where Michael Jackson is buried, an indication of how Forest Lawn’s policies have changed since 1947 when mom buried our dad and reserved a place for herself. One paragraph on her deed says, The use of the property in which rights of interment are hereby conveyed is and at all times shall be limited and restricted to the interment of the remains, or the cremated remains, of a person or person of the White and/or Caucasian race. Holy Crap! If mom was a body in a grave, she would turn over. Burial in America at its worst.
We’ve finally come up with a tentative date — “some time the end of April” husband and I will travel to Los Angeles. My brother and wife and possibly my nephew and wife and mom’s six-year-old great-granddaughter, will travel from San Diego to Los Angeles. We may try to pick up my aunt. Then we will meet a stranger who will go to the gravesite with us and place mom’s remains there, in the ground, next to my father’s grave, with no service, no formalities, because a simple service would cost another $500, over and above the $1,700 we are paying to bury her ashes. If it’s a Saturday it’s another $500. My brother says he will check to see if a pastor would come for $100, but I’m not sure the mortuary would allow it.
I’d still like to take the ashes to Gold Beach, Oregon and scatter them in the sea. I experience a lightness when I think about it. But my brother feels strongly about placing them next to our father and I appreciate that sentiment. I want her there too, but I re-read her parting letter to us that tells us not to worry about where she is buried.
“Do what is easiest,” she says. “If it would make you more comfortable and be any easier you can have my ashes put next to Don’s grave in Forest Lawn. It really doesn’t matter where our earthly remains are.” I wish it were easy, mom. But what is important is what is important. So we will pay the money and make the pilgrimage to Forest Lawn and watch them put her ashes in the grave, “completing the circle,” my brother says.
We also have to decide what to put on the tablet marking her grave. She has three married names. We have determined to leave off the name of the stepfather, even though he’s the one who provided for her in her old age. We cannot agree whether to add her third husband’s name, the name she carried for more than 35 years, the name of the man who divorced his wife of 40 years to marry his first love when he was 68 years old. It seems like a no-brainer to me. I wish I had asked mom to put more instructions in her parting letter.