Right near the middle of 2013, I wrote fairly openly about the passing of my parents—my father finally drinking himself to death after 15 years of trying, and less than a month later, my mother succumbing to the aggressive lymphoma she’d been diagnosed with about 15 months prior.
Ever since, I’ve been in a bit of a quandary in regards to what to do with their final remains—a euphemism that the mortuary industry uses in place of “corpse” or “ashes,” delivered with an air of elegance so thick it should have its own line item on your receipt. Each time I heard it… “final remains” … I felt like I was at one of those posh, pretentious restaurants that serves French fries, but they fetch $12 an order because they’re listed as pommes frites on the menu.
They both wanted to be cremated, though neither of them had any specific instructions or requests regarding what to do with the ashes, and I suppose it never really crossed my mind to ask. I passed on the fancy urns—outrageously marked up to reassure you that you’re getting the VERY best for your recently departed—and instead asked for their most modestly priced receptacle.
(^ I don’t think she got the reference.)
After going through the insultingly large hurdles of paperwork and government/court regulations that I had to pay lawyers thousands of dollars to translate, I received the ashes inside two ugly, nondescript boxes that still somehow cost somewhere around $80 each. Inside each box, there was a sealed bag holding the ash… ahem, final remains… of one of my parents. “It’s not a totally even consistency,” the woman said when I came to pick up ma. What? “There’s usually some tiny bone fragments. We like letting people know so they’re not alarmed if they decide to scatter them.”
I was pretty sour at my dad in the last few years of his life. Just when you thought he couldn’t fuck up more, he would… and boy did he seem to like trying to take everybody else down with him. Regardless, I never considered doing something unkind with his ashes. Despite his shortcomings, I knew that this was an opportunity to lay him to rest… in peace… something he unfortunately wasn’t able to find for himself in his time here. I may have lost my respect for him, but I still wanted to have a chance to honor his life and thank him for his sacrifices.
On the other hand, my mom and I were nearly as close during the last year of her life as we were during the very first year of mine. I’d originally wanted to scatter bits of her ashes in different places I traveled, but given how terrible the TSA is, I never did think having a small bag of a strange, white-ish powder in my suitcase would be a good idea.
So I kept the boxes in my house and waited until the right opportunity presented itself. I didn’t dedicate any brain space to actively thinking about what I wanted to do to honor them, but one thing I knew for certain was that I didn’t like the idea of keeping their essence… alright, their final remains… locked away inside of a plastic cage, completely removed and detached from all that is alive, changing, shifting, and co-evolving on this floating rock in space. Divorced from the place from whence they came.
My parents had a rather contentious relationship to say the least. Divorce was arguably the best thing that ever happened to them, but even good things must come to an end, so they say. After a decade of separation, they remarried, against pretty much everyone else’s better judgment. They moved into my grandparents’ old home, a beautiful respite overlooking Canyon Lake in Southern California that I’d always loved visiting as a kid. It reminded me a lot of the house from On Golden Pond, a film my parents used to watch pretty often. It shares the story of a family that’s been through their share of growing pains over the years, and their heartfelt struggle to heal old wounds during a visit to their summer cottage, and for whatever silly reason, I jokingly named my grandparents’ place “the On Golden Pond house” when my folks tried rekindling their wickless relationship there.
About a month after moving to New Hampshire, my friend BuMps played a music video for me called “Granite State of Mind”, a parody of Jay-Z’s “Empire State of Mind” that gives a shout-out to all the neat stuff that comes from NH. And just around the minute-forty mark, up pops the movie cover from On Golden Pond. I froze and felt a tear cascade down my cheek and fall from my jaw, agape in disbelief. It turns out that it was filmed at a cabin right on Little Squam Lake in Holderness, NH, just under an hour from where I now call home. It was one of those moments where you really question coincidence and wonder if there are little encrypted messages like these scattered throughout your life’s journey, covertly hinting that you’re somehow in the place you’re supposed to be and to keep exploring this chapter you’ve chosen to open.
My aunt and uncle came out to visit and witness some of the stunning autumn foliage changes that New Hampshire is famous for, and it seemed like just the opportunity I’d been waiting for to place my parents’ final remains to rest. We went to Little Squam Lake, thoroughly enjoying the warm, rich colors nature had painted just for our drive. We found a quiet, secluded alcove along the water and solemnly sprinkled mom and dad back into the great circle of life… two more loons now returned to nest on Golden Pond. 🙂
“Don’t hang on. Nothing lasts forever, but the earth and sky. It’s there always… and all your money won’t another minute buy.”
Read more information on natural burials [Wikipedia]
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