The right thing to do.

I was surprised by just about everything about Monday, the day we buried mom’s ashes next to my dad, 65 years to the week after he died.

First was my nervousness over the whole affair. I wondered how each person was going to react, not only to the burial of mom’s ashes, but to each other. I hoped I would feel relieved–finally. I hoped my brother would think it was the right thing to do.

When we arrived we saw my nephew and his mom at the Wee Kirk O’ the Heather chapel, where mom and dad were married in 1935.  Then we followed them to the grave site, where Cely, the woman from the cemetery I had dealt with for the past year, found us.

She then took us to a somber room in the mortuary where mortuary personnel in black suits typically meet with bereaved families before a burial to handle the arrangements. That was where we handed over the ashes because for some reason handing them to someone at the grave site was illegal.

My husband and I and my friend who accompanied us were served coffee and cookies. My brother and his wife were outside in their car, having just arrived, but did not want to come in. I didn’t blame them.

A man came into the room to collect the ashes and I was assured the ashes would show up at the grave. Then Cely asked if he knew where the grave marker was, but he deferred to someone named Annette who we had not met and backed out of the room with the ashes.

I finally said, “I can’t be in this room any longer.” Cely was surprised, but patient. She said we were waiting for the director, but director of what I didn’t learn, because I said, “We’ll see him at the grave.”

My cousin texted at that point and said he was outside. I disappeared out the door. Cely and her partner Miguel found me and my cousin and brother and sister-in-law by the car. We went to the grave in a mini-caravan. That was protocol, I guess. We couldn’t all arrive willy-nilly.  My nephew and his mother were already there.

There was a large tarp covering a mound of dirt, dug from a rather large hole. A backhoe was not far off. They had erected a tent in case it rained and brought out two sets of four chairs. I had expected to stand while a few guys dug a hole in the ground next to my dad’s grave, put put the box of ashes in the ground, cover it up and place the tablet.

But no, there was the four-foot deep hole, a canopy over our heads and the grave, and the chairs. We were invited to sit down.

“We’ll leave you alone for a few minutes,” said the director who we had now met. He, Cely and Miguel, Cely’s work partner, hovered behind our chairs, not actually leaving us alone.

My nephew’s mom sat to my left, husband to my right, my friend, nephew, brother, wife, and cousin.

We had not invited anyone formal to speak because it was another $500 to do so. It wasn’t that we were cheap. We already had the words spoken over her last year and mom would have said, “No way.”

“You just take your time,” Cely said.

No one knew what to say. We were unprepared. We had people lurking behind us. I had told everyone repeatedly that it was not a typical memorial service, that we would just be putting the ashes in the ground, but nephew was surprised that no one was there to speak.

“You mean it’s up to us?” he said.

“Yes,” I replied.

Finally his mother brought out a bouquet of photos she had made of the seven descendants: my brother and I, his two sons, my one son, and mom’s two great-grandchildren.  She said something about how each of mom’s seven descendants had blessed her life and she thanked her. It was a perfect thing to say.

Then I stood and turned away from the wind that blew from the north and said, “[Brother] and I talked months ago about ‘closing the circle.” I was unable to continue.

The wind blew cold and my nephew said, “Well, grandma always did love ice cream.”

That loosened our laughter. But everyone was mute. I think my cousin shared a few things, but it was time to move on.

The director said, “When you are ready, we will place the ashes. But we have to take down the tent to bring in the backhoe.”

My brother grimaced and said, “If I had known they were using a backhoe, I would have brought a shovel.”

They moved the tent. My brother handed the ashes to the worker who stood in the hole. He placed the box inside a steel box in the ground. Then they asked if we had anything else to place in the box with her. We didn’t know we could do that. No one told us and I didn’t think to ask. I had never done this before. But nephew’s mom had the bouquet which she was pleased to put in the box. I put in a red rose as did my sister-in-law. That was it. We didn’t know what else to do.

The backhoe came in and we stood there as it filled in the dirt and tamped it down. They replaced the grass, adding turf as needed and tamped it in place.

They showed us the inscribed tablet earlier and everyone commented on how beautiful it is. The worker placed it on the ground next to my dad and asked us if it was okay where it was placed.

My brother said, “Move it closer [to my dad].” The worker moved it an inch closer.

I turned back to my brother and he said, “Closer.”

The director came over and said, “We’ve never had anyone ask to move a grave marker closer. But I’m sure it’s okay, but we can’t move it right next to his.”

The worker moved it an inch closer. I turned back to my brother and he said, “Closer.”

An inch closer.

Finally it was within six inches and my brother said, “Good.” It was a subtle moment and was my favorite part.

They prepared the cement and placed the marker. Then the director got two temporary vases and put water in them for the two bouquets, one that I brought and one that my nephew brought. I placed one in my dad’s vase, probably the first flowers that have been there since my aunt and I and son visited the grave in 1997. My brother put the other bouquet in mom’s vase.

It was cold by then, not a typical Southern California day. But then, nothing was typical. I had on my down parka I brought from Washington, but no one else was prepared. My nephew and his mom left. My cousin left. Then my brother and wife left. My husband and friend and I finally got in the car and started down the hill.

I said, “no, no…wait, I have to go back.” We drove back up the hill and I asked the worker to move the truck. I took this photo and others like it, their grave sites free and unencumbered.

In the night Monday I couldn’t sleep. I awoke processing the day. Then I thought of this image and smiled and felt a subtle peace.

It is done. Their graves sit on a hill overlooking the city of Glendale and the downtown Los Angeles skyline in the distance. They were married just down the hill at Wee Kirk O’ the Heather. They have a view,…maybe not ideal these days, not like it was the day they were married when smog was still to come, not a view of the ocean or the mountains that mom always loved, but a view, nonetheless. A view of where it all started.

Certainly what we gathered to do was purely symbolic. But as my brother said, “It was the right thing to do.”

I feel a strange euphoria intermixed with deep exhaustion. Today we are resting at my brother and sister-in-law’s in the mountains outside San Diego. A cold, rainy and untypical day.

It is also mom’s birthday and we are going to celebrate with with chocolate sauce on chocolate ice cream, her favorite. A perfect tribute. The right thing to do.

 

Advertisements

Circle closed

(Note: It looks like mom’s tablet isn’t even, but it’s the angle I took the photo

and the fact that the tablet was placed higher in the ground than his.)

Mom always liked a view. Although I do no believe she’s there on any level, “she” has a view of Glendale and in another angle a view of the downtown Los Angeles skyline (on a clear day), which is where they lived when he died.

Still taking care of mom, but not much longer.

We left Washington on the most beautiful spring day we’ve had so far this year. Before we left I took a few minutes to stand under my flowering plum that had just bloomed in all its glory attracting the bees that always arrive like clockwork. One day the tree is quiet, and the next it is abuzz. I like to stand under the tree with the bees inches from my head and listen to them and take photos (which I will post later.)

At 11 a.m. we were on the road. My good friend caught a ride with us to visit her daughter and grandson who live in Glendale, where we were headed to bury mom’s ashes. About an hour and a half down the road, I realized that my waking nightmare that I would leave mom’s ashes behind became so real I asked husband to stop so I could check to make sure they were still in the back of the car. I felt a little crazy asking him to stop but breathed another sigh of relief that indeed, we had not left mom at home.

We drove 18 hours and arrived at 5:30 a.m. and crashed on her daughter’s sofas for a few hours before being awakened by their insane puppy attacking my face. After another hour or two of attempted sleep we got up and daughter’s boyfriend took us for a ride from Glendale to downtown L.A. where daughter was working at The Standard, an upscale restaurant. Too crowded though, so we walked to Johnny Rocket’s burger joint.

On the walk I saw the Los Angeles Public Library, a photo of which I would attach, except it’s on my iPhone and I’m now sitting in a hotel bed with my computer to lazy to get up and download the photos,… but check out this link to a Wikipedia article about the library and the architecture. The library system was established in the 1880s, but the main building was erected in 1926, the year mom graduated from high school. I’m not sure she was ever in the building, but it wouldn’t surprise me if she was. My dad’s dental office was not far away in Hollywood during the 40s before he died in 1947.

Boyfriend took us on a drive through Ellysian Park, an area I never knew existed overlooking Dodger Stadium, canyons, trees and the Los Angeles skyline through the haze. Rural and beautiful juxtaposed against the downtown skyline, which I also found beautiful. I was surprised.

I used to spend time in other areas of Los Angeles when I was young on visits to my grandmother’s and a few cousins, but L.A. remained largely a mystery and mostly unattractive to me because of the large number of people and the smog.

Sometimes I imagine it through the eyes of my grandfather who viewed it for the first time about 1905, immigrating from Nova Scotia as an enterprising young man. He eventually acquired property in Hollywood, but lost it all in the 1929 stock market crash.

My mother was born near Chicago in 1909, and came west with her parents as a five-year-old. They settled in Alhambra and Monterey Park. Already there were more than a million orange trees in production, an industry that had begun in earnest in the L.A. basin in the middle 1800s. There would have been no smog and unbelievable vistas to the Pacific Ocean to the west and the snow-covered peaks of the San Gabriel mountains to the east.

But by the 1970s the orange trees were fast disappearing due to urban sprawl, smog had enveloped the city, and mom had already been gone from the L.A. area for more than 20 years.

If my dad had lived, most likely I would have grown up on a piece of property near the coast, minutes (or hours depending on traffic) from my dad’s dental practice. I would have gone to USC as they did and Los Angeles would have been my home. Who I would have been I don’t know. It’s one of those questions I’d like to ask when I leave this earth.

Tomorrow at noon I will hand over mom’s ashes to someone at Forest Lawn Cemetery. They will place them in the ground next to my dad. I won’t be completely done, but I am trusting it will bring a closure that I have longed for, a closing of a circle long broken. Except for a few ashes remaining, I will be through taking care of mom.

Monica

The mother and grandmother of my dear friends, made her transition a few hours ago. Her family and friends watched Monica walk into a cloud of dementia the past few years, losing her to a cruel disease. But just weeks ago I went with my friend and her children to see her, and although she was in a state of confusion and decline, we still saw that sweet spirit within, a desire to reach out and touch, her blue eyes holding a spark of the infinite.

I knew I would not see her again, but I was grateful we had made the trip, to touch her, to photograph her with one of her six children, three of her grandchildren, and one of her great-grandchildren. Later I photographed a larger group of her offspring and partners (below).

Even though I rarely saw Monica, I will miss her presence. And knowing that my friends will suffer the grief of losing their mother and grandmother brings me to tears.

It is unavoidable. It is the way of things.

Today her family gathered around her bed to see her off. My friend and two of her children were traveling from the east side of Washington to the West Side of Washington over Snoqualmie Pass when they learned their mother and grandmother was transitioning. They made their own transition, as did the rest of the family, into the valley of being motherless children and children without a grandmother.

It is the private club we join when our mothers leave us.

Whatever work you had to complete here on earth was a fine production, Monica, (evidence below, missing a few people). We are sorry to see you go, dear lady, but glad you are free of the body and mind that failed you. Now you are not just a human free spirit, but truly a free spirit. Thank you for blessing us all. You left a grand legacy of love.

 

Be Here Now

Be Here Now. Remember that book? By Ram Dass, about being very spiritual and enlightened. About being in the moment and how cool that was?

I loved that book. However, I was never able to live by its tenets. More recently Ekhart Tolle wrote The Power of Now. Another great book. But again, I’ve been unable to live by the tenets.

I project. I plan. I worry. I get heart palpitations.

But all of this drama with mom’s ashes is teaching me the power of now. There’s nothing I can do about what anyone else is doing, not doing, or intends to do.

SIL#1 was planning to be at the burial of mom’s ashes with her son and his wife and her granddaughter, my great-niece. I received an email last night that said that wasn’t going to happen because my great-niece has a dress rehearsal that afternoon for an upcoming recital.

I want both of them there. I want my great-niece to see her family–even though some will be missing–as a whole unit, not fractured pieces. But that’s my idealism. My wanting our family to be other than it is.

Mom used to say the family was fractured, but over the years when they came to see her and stayed at my house and we had family dinners and I took family photos, I created the illusion that we were healing the fractures. In some ways, that’s true. But not like I thought.

Life intervenes, crushing us from every side with distractions and things that seem most important in the moment. And then there’s the remembering that what is important to me may not be important to someone else.

I can’t tell my nephew that having his daughter attend the burial of her great grandmother’s ashes is important. That us all being together is important. That closing the circle broken 65 years ago is important. It’s important to me. But it’s not their story. It’s my story. It may not be important enough to skip a dress rehearsal.

I understand. I know he’s torn. He doesn’t want her to miss a recital she has practiced for. And even though I think there’s going to be more rehearsals, more recitals, that people make concessions for memorials and burials and family rituals, it’s his decision. He gets to choose, even if his choice disappoints me.

SIL says she’s going with the flow. Just like saying, “Be Here Now.”

Then she said, “Isn’t life funny sometimes??”

I replied, “Hilarious.”

“BeBe on a tear today,” Donald Goudey, 1939

While sorting mom’s things to put back in the cedar chest, I came across a notebook my dad kept while he and mom were on a trip east to pick up a car in 1939.  I think they flew out and traveled from D.C. to New York and Boston, up through Maine to Quebec and over to Michigan and back to Monterey Park, CA.

He kept accurate expense accounts and anecdotes. For example: “Mobile Gas 10 g @ .19 $1.90. Lunch .70.”

In Bingham, Maine, they rent a cabin for $2.

“We are all set in F….’s cabin No. 1 by 9:15 P.M. but we haven’t eaten. We toss off a straight one, warm scotch carried from New York and decide to walk into town and eat and see if there is any excitement. Ask … for key but  upsets him considerably  (second time he’s been upset – first time on acct of no shower) scampers down line of cottages looking for key behind posts. Finds me. Doesn’t work. So we let it go and walk into Bingham.

Barbershops in full swing. Beer & ale at Thompsons. We order a hamburger on dark well done. Comes on white. Goes back. Comes on dark raw. Goes back. Comes back cooked. Like to take picture of it right. Lady says, ‘Coffee?’ Syb say beer. Ladies [sic] jaw drops two feet. ‘B-B-Beer?’ Beer or Ale.’ ‘Beer,’ we say. She say, We have B-B-Budweiser and _____.’ ‘Budweiser fine,’ say we. Now we wish we know what other kinds she have.

10 P.M Sat. nite. Hamburger on two slabs cold bread and bottle of beer – Contrast with Zuccas.

Upset man in store by asking for ladies home journal. He said his wife just stepped out. He didn’t know much about it. She’ll be right back.

Guess we’ll have to go back. 10:45. Not a sound to be heard except for Sybil’s paper wrestling and fussing. “This darn fly.” Guess I’d better go and do something.

A.M. Sun. Raining – gentle. No thunderstorm. …  Awakened 5 a.m. by roosters crowing. Trucks yesterday. Same difference.”

My dad referred to mom as BeBe, a nickname I had never heard.

“BeBe says write in book about Maine. How can I on this rolley coaster road.”

Later, in Canada.

“Plattsburg Military Barracks. Penna (?) cowed by soldiers. BeBe wants to pop one in face.

Ausable Chasm

$1.65 per person. It’s a racket. BeBe doesn’t want to spend $1.65 to take a walk down a canyon. Bad for her claustrophobia. Anyhow Schroom Lake beautiful stuff but on another road.

Fort Ticonderoga. $.50 per. BeBe doesn’t want to spend $.50 to see a pile of stones. Lunch .60. BeBe demands service. Gets it. BeBe on a tear today. Very mad.”

Sounds like mom.

I have the photo album and it occurs to me that I’d like to recreate the trip they took, although gas will be $40 for 10 gallons rather than $1.90.

A new treasure. Besides a letter my dad wrote mom in 1931 and some biology notes from dental school, this is the only piece of writing of his that I have.

Lost in translation, part eight

I’m fairly certain I’ve named other posts, Lost in Translation, but it is so fitting after yesterday’s post.

After yesterday’s misfired communications, I received an email from my nephew’s mom this morning.

“He is very excited about the paintings, and the wedding dress,” she said. (That after explaining that the paintings were going to New Mexico and him saying he didn’t want the dress.)

Alrighty then.

I have decided to disconnect all electronic communications from said family until we arrive on the California border, where by then it will be too late to change my mind about any decisions I have made or have not made.

As for the family heirlooms, if they want any of them, they will know where they are–in the cedar chest or on the hutch with proper notations of what belonged to who and when.

I keep thinking I can resign as family  historian, but since I’m actually starting a business as a personal historian, that is unlikely. It seems to be in my blood, fostered by my mother who kept old photos and letters and journals and her wedding dress and my Tyler and Porter aunts who did family genealogies and recorded family stories.

Since last night and before receiving this latest email, however, I have decided that I’m going to display the dress in an heirloom memory box with the shoes, rather than keep it stuffed in a bag in the cedar chest. Then it will be obvious: this is an heirloom. No dress-up. No stuffed in a bag. An heirloom.

Maybe some years in the future a great grandchild of my mother’s can display the heirloom dress along with the 1935 wedding photo on their wall and I’ll be grateful (eternally) I didn’t offer it for dress-up or leave it wadded in a plastic wrap in the cedar chest. Or, in the end, it may end up in an antique store with the same demise as if it I had kept it in the cedar chest. At that point, I really won’t care. I will have done my part.