Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Ashes to ashes

Mother was the impetus behind the creation of the memory garden at St. Michael and All Angels. 

She and Daddy had bought some boxes in the columbarium, but she always liked the idea of her ashes being placed directly in the ground. 

In order to create the space, the church had a good deal of construction to do, and we've been waiting for its completion before burying Mother. She's been in a beautiful blue velvet box on the sideboard since her remains were returned to us over a year ago from Southwest Medical Center, to which she had donated her body.

You could say Mother was the first thing planted in the memory garden: No one else was buried there before her, and there are no plants yet, except for two big live oak trees. Mother's space is midway between them. 

The box of ashes was draped with a lace cloth and placed on a small table near the garden. Father Kevin Huddleston, who said the memorial service for Mother, and whose classes she had enjoyed at St. Michael, read the burial service. None of us knew exactly how this was going to go—Father Kevin kept telling Daddy he didn't know either "just don't forger the ashes!"—but we wanted some personal touches and we decided to sing. 

On Thanksgiving, Mother always had us gather around the piano while Susan played and everyone joined in singing "My country tis of thee," "America the beautiful" and other patriotic songs from the Episcopal hymnal. The ritual always made guests slightly uncomfortable the first time, and none of us started out singing very enthusiastically, but after a verse or so, and a glass of wine, everyone made their joyful noise unabashedly. 

So that's how it was at the burial. Travis and David, at least, are regular choristers and they carried the rest of us singing "Fairest Lord Jesus" before the service and "All things bright and beautiful" afterwards, both hymns chosen for their references to nature. We all remember singing "Fairest Lord Jesus" in the children's chapel at St. Phillip's Cathedral when we lived in Atlanta. And, oddly, I found a folded tissue in Mother's prayer book marking that hymn—but I didn't see it until after we had sung.

There was a hole already dug, and we took the ashes to the grave for committal, each of us taking a turn to put in some ashes, then each of us scraping some dirt over them. It was thick blackland prairie clay, and it smelled good. The brown leaves on the ground reminded me of the woods behind Mother's childhood house on East Clifton Road in Atlanta. 

At the end of the service, Daddy read a beautiful prayer from a book of prayers collected by Rev. Mark Anschutz, a former rector of St. Michael, and a good friend to us all. Father Kevin put the brass plaque with Mother's name on the wall by the garden and we all went out to breakfast. 

The whole event was brief, simple, graceful and lovely, just the way Mother would have wanted it, and yet another lesson from her in how to live mindfully.

 Instead of feeling sad when I think about it, I smile. 

I'm going to get the prayer from Daddy, and put it here.

March 31: Big Britt, Uncle, just called; he wanted to hear how the weekend in Dallas went. He said he was thinking of us Saturday, early afternoon. It's been raining (of course) for days and days in Portland, but that afternoon, he and Liz were startled to suddenly see rainbow "lightbirds" flying around the room. The sun came out briefly and started up the rainbow machine Mother gave Cole some years ago after he had visited the apartment and seen the little rainbows everywhere. He called them lightbirds. 

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