Tuesday, June 21, 2011
Sitting in the living room of my brother Geoff''s Seattle area home I noticed the copper box on the mantel. "Is that Mom?" I asked my sister-in-law. We were leaving early the next morning to take the ashes of both our parents to their final resting place very close to where we grew up in North Idaho.
"No, that's Dad," she said. He'd been stored away for the last twenty years because Mom wanted him close and then buried with her. I looked at my brother Mark, sitting next to me, then back at my SIL.
SIL turned ten shades of pale, shrieked, and went for the phone. Mom's ashes were at the funeral home and they'd forgotten to get them earlier in the day. By the time of our conversation, the place had been closed for over an hour.
It looked like we were going to have a burial service for Mom without Mom.
Mark and I looked at each other again, and had to look away because we were both on the edge of giggles. And it was at that point I knew I'd finally let go of my last lingering expectation for how the weekend needed to go.
In the previous days I'd found myself wondering if I was going to have to retract all I'd said about the legacy of love that was our mom's best gift to us. During the planning of her burial service, every lingering bit of family dysfunction popped to the surface as we struggled to communicate through our grief. My hopes for the weekend of our saying goodbye to Mom were first tipped off-kilter, then turned on their head, and finally shattered completely.
I had struggled to accept the changes, to resist declaring big sister edicts, to hang on to my belief that none of us were really in control of how things turned out. Once I grasped that the fantasy weekend I'd created in my mind was more about my little girl need than anything else, and that I could take care of that in other ways, I began to let go and look forward to the surprises.
My ability to laugh at the possibility that Mom might not even be at her own burial told me I'd achieved the equanimity I was working so hard for.
Of course everything turned out better than any of us could have hoped for.
Ten people: Mom's four children, two daughters-in-law, two grandchildren, a favorite cousin, a friend. Each of us there because her life mattered to us, and because we loved her enough to drive the many miles and brave the blustery weather to gather and say goodbye.
Mark led the ceremony, and as he told stories about Mom's life that made us laugh and cry, I thought about what a gift he has for speaking. Frank, the older brother, had organized the tent and chairs and flowers in addition to making all the reservations for the weekend. He reserved a room for the dinner afterwards and created a game involving facts about Mom's life that had us talking about her and our growing-up for hours. Geoff had taken on all the responsibilities around Mom's care for her later years, including the end-of-life jobs of the last days.
And he managed to get someone to open the funeral home and give us Mom's ashes on Friday evening.
My role was small. I read a letter to Mom at the service. I asked tons of questions and shared information. I stood back, and looked for ways to help. I released my expectations, stepped out of safe roles, and kept my whole and best self as present as possible.
As we placed the ashes of our parents side by side in the small hole, and left them with two roses—one white, one red—there was a definite sense of completion. Mark had shared with me a vision he had of Mom walking away from her old body into the light—radiant, forever young, joyful. I walk forward now in a world without a mother. Missing, perhaps always, the lost possibilities, but free in ways I'm just beginning to realize. Backlit by the place of all Love where she is finally at rest, and walking in the company of my beloved brothers.