wild grasses grow tall
the mulberry matures
and the scent of lavender wafts by
from I don’t know where
but death seems stronger than life
when I remember how
I held her in my arms
and felt her body become still
as the last breath left her
then cried as my beloved was
carried away wrapped in a quilt
Stephanie K. Hansen © 2009
This is my little altar to the loved ones we have lost, where Kassidy is watched over by our beloved Nanna Neville and my Aunty Peggy. Her golden angel bear watches over her too. She would have been two years old on Sunday, toddling around after her mummy, learning to say `Grandma’, and we would be planning her party and buying her presents. But we will all celebrate the little life that means so much to us. We will light her candles and remember her with gratitude and love. Happy birthday, darling. We miss you so much.
At 5 o’ clock today my dog Kelly finished her life. She was in pain and far from herself. I am beside myself with sadness at the loss of my incredibly friendly and affectionate companion. She was a wonderful creature who brought a lot of smiles to a lot of faces. She healed me with her unconditional love over the course of this last year in a way that nothing else could. I am in her debt. The silence and stillness in the house is profound. I don’t know where to put all my kisses. I may have to shower love and affection on my fellow humans now.
Rest, my love. You were a sweetheart. You made me happy when nothing else could. I love you forever.
She was asleep in the sun room the first night I was there, in that magnificent house overlooking Death Row. I actually came to see her daughter when J and I were returning from seeing the Healing Rinphoche in Sebastapool. Her daughter was a doctor at San Quentin, the first (and oldest) prison in California.
The morning after we arrived, I wandered into the kitchen. An elderly woman was sitting at the kitchen table reading the paper. She greeted me with a bright smile as though she was truly happy to see me. She introduced herself as Alice. Alice told me J was still sleeping, then asked me if I wanted some homemade banana bread or zucchini bread. Who could refuse either? Not I! We chatted for hours and got to know each other. She was funny, opinionated, lovely, and a total delight. I don’t really remember the other details of the day (other than waking up to the sounds of a loud speaker releasing inmates to work assignments and breakfast). However, I do remember clearly that being the first day I met Alice.
Now I didn’t mention this, but the house was large, two story, had a courtyard and other structures behind it, terraced front yard, and beautiful gardens. (When I slept in the master bedroom while Alice sitting once, I felt like I was in a tree house!) The view while sitting down was stunning! The house was on the Marin side of the bay looking towards Sausalito. On clear days Oakland and San Francisco were in the picture. But standing up, one noticed first the prison…which really didn’t spoil the view, in my opinion. I think it made the view quite interesting.
Alice spent part of the year at San Quentin and the remainder at her home in Utah. She had leg surgeries and eventually moved into the house at San Quentin full-time. Since the house was on a hill, the only way to get there was to climb over 20 stairs. After Alice’s surgeries, the inmates carried her up to the house. Everyone that lived in San Quentin village knew Alice as did others that worked (and some that lived) at the prison.
Anyway, we spent many weekends with the Dr. and Alice. The Dr. had the best parties (especially Halloween)! Everyone would greet the Dr. then head straight for the sun room where they would pay homage to Alice. Alice would be dressed, sitting on her bed, legs stretched out in front of her, heaters going near her bed, and guests on a bench. She was a vision of royalty. EVERYONE knew Alice and stopped to greet her first thing. My husband would always jump in bed with her for a quick cuddle then fill her glass with vodka. It was his ritual greeting.
I loved sitting with Alice during the parties as she would fill me in on the guests I didn’t know. “Humpff. There goes a strange one. Used to be a man. Was an assassin in Viet Nam. Always in a bad mood. Watch out for that one.”
A friend and I were going to the opera in San Francisco one Saturday. We arrived late Friday night and woke Alice to let her know we were there. Opening the sun room doors I saw Alice laying in bed lit by the high candle powered prison lights. There she lay in her red waffled flannel nightgown and pearls. I mentioned her pearls when we woke her and she replied, “I was so happy you were coming, I dressed up!”
Unfortunately, the good times at the house at San Quentin came to an end when the Dr. retired and moved to Seattle. Knowing Alice would help with the unpacking, I wrote notes to Alice on the paper I used to wrap the dishes. After endless trips up and down those stairs, I packed my car with treasures the Dr. had given me…including Alice. She was staying with my family and I for a week until the moving truck reached Seattle.
Our dining room was turned into a downstairs bedroom for Alice. It had all the comforts of home. The kitchen was close and she could use her walker to get to the bathroom. Living with Alice was easy. All she needed were five things to keep her happy…bread, cheese, vanilla ice cream, crossword puzzles, and vodka. She was a dream to live with.
My 12 year old daughter and Alice had incredible talks every day after school and before bed. The youth and the elderly are a perfect combination. I loved seeing them together on the bed sharing stories of their childhoods; one so long ago, one still in progress.
My husband and Alice teased each other constantly. Scott decided he needed to teach Alice how to respond appropriately to teasing by saying, “Oh, bite me!” He reminded her often when it was the proper response and she finally came out with it on her own. He was so proud you would have thought he had taught his firstborn how to say “Daddy.”
The night before Alice was to fly to her new home in Seattle, mutual friends arrived with Mexican food and we celebrated Alice. Her bedtime came early so it was an “eat and run” kind of evening. Morning arrived early and we were all getting ready for work, school, and the airport.
We have three bathrooms in our house, one downstairs. Scott was in the downstairs bathroom when I heard Alice’s walker hit the kitchen floor. “Scott!” she yelled. “Scott! Get out of that bathroom!” Here comes Alice through the kitchen in her cashmere sweater, pearls, black panties, white socks and tennis shoes pushing her walker. “Scott! Hurry up! I had Mexican last night and you need to get out of that bathroom! Now!” As she zoomed through the family room, I heard the bathroom door open and footsteps running up the stairs. The upstairs bathroom door slammed just as Alice closed the downstairs bathroom door. “Made it!” she hollered.
Alice made the flight to Seattle and slept in her own bed that night. She had a stroke the next morning. When her daughter called, I made the appropriate responses but also said, “Tell Alice thank you. Thank you for not having a stroke at our house!” Scott added, “I’ll know Alice is fine when she calls and says ‘bite me!'”
Alice had a rough time and her recovery was slow but steady. The Dr. and I spoke every now and then. One night the phone rang and Scott answered. All he heard before the caller hung up was “Bite me!” “Alice is alright! She’s back to her old self!” he cried with joy. I didn’t understand what the heck was going on until he told me about the phone call. That was almost two years ago.
I received an email yesterday morning.
My mother Alice expired this morning at my brother Pat’s in Miami. As was her wish, she died peacefully, at home, in her own bed. My brothers Dan, Pat, and I are blessed by her incredible life.
Thanks for all of your support of Alice and me.
Good-bye my dear friend, Alice. I will see you again someday. Scott and I will lift our eyes to the sky, our glasses of vodka in a toast, and our voices in love as we read this cake aloud eating in your honor.
Thank you everyone who left kind words and supportive comments regarding the sad situation with my dog Kelly.
She’s a great dog with a charming nature. She inspires loyalty. We were out walking one day when a much larger dog charged Kelly viciously snarling with teeth bared obviously intending to attack. Kelly’s an older dog and truly no fighter, certainly no match for the enormous Sheppard bearing down on her. Without thinking, I pulled her behind me and took on the attacker myself. Terrifying!
The big dog got a couple of well-placed kicks and one whomping smack that knocked the fight out of him and left him cringing. I felt just awful for striking an animal like that, but the damage he would have done to poor Kelly would have been heartbreaking. It wasn’t until a couple of moments later, still shaking like a leaf, I fully realised how badly mauled I could have been.
I have had a strong instinct to protect Kelly sicne she came to me a year ago. I adopted her because I was painfully lonely and longing for someone to take care of. I was a mother for a long time and was not coping well with being so suddenly childless after my Seanna’s death and her sister’s move wholly into her birth mother’s life. There’s no other way to put it than to say I’ve been using Kelly to make myself feel better. To heal my own wounds.
And now she needs me to make her feel better. Quid pro quo. I owe her deeply for what ease she has brought to my life. I think it’s a good bet I’d be in much sadder shape without the continuous solace of her affections.
I can say exactly the same about Seanna, and there’s where my greatest unease comes in. Seanna had an illness that would eventually claim her life. I lived too long watching desperately, with growing panic, for signs that she was nearing the end of her life. I have not healed from that experience and am floundering finding myself in a similar situation with another living being who has brought so much to my life, to my Self.
I’ve been waiting for the news to really hit home for two days now. The vet called to tell me my dog Kelly has malingnant cancer and that it’s a matter of time. I feel like a shallow jerk for saying no to his suggestion of chemotherapy for her in a town about a half hour’s drive away. She’s just had surgery to remove a large lump in her mammary gland and is healing well it seems. She has three different infections going on right now to fight and the cancer isn’t helping.
She’s been a saviour to me. I feel like hell for not being able to return the favour. The vet says the lumps will reoccur within 2-3 months somewhere else, most likely the chest and lymph nodes. The hardest part to get my head around is that it’s almost impossible to tell when she’s sick and suffering. I have to watch for signs of deterioration to know when to let her go peacefully, put her out of her misery. She’s not a whiner, though. She had such a terrible uterine infection that she was dripping blood everywhere and never flinched or gave a sign that anything was wrong. She’s just the sweetest natured dog in the world. I am heavy with the responsibility of divining her time to leave this life. How will I know? I am afraid that I will keep her here too long, and afraid too that I will let her go too soon. What an awesome responsibility to be in charge of deciding the life and death of another living soul, such a sweet soul as Kelly’s. I fear greatly that she will suffer quietly for too long before I see what is happening to her.
Love will have to be my guide.
I remember standing at this spot in 2005 with Darryl. His cancer had returned and we came here so that he could show me exactly where he wanted to be scattered. I remember we cried and held one another and I promised that I would meet him here one day, that we would sit with our feet dangling in the cool water.
According to his wishes we scattered Darryl late in the winter of 2007 after his death on January 19th 2007. If you look carefully you can see some of those ashes on the stones at the edge of the water.
When the Victorian Bushfires ravaged this whole area on February 23, 2009 I was shattered, but had little comprehension of the ferocity of the fires that razed this area. It took me awhile to visit, mainly out of respect for the people who actually lived here and lost their homes. But then, during the week before I sold our home in Fitzroy North, I felt compelled to drive back and see what remained.
Incredible as the destruction was, I found that the place retained its Qi, that the beauty had not been erased. Perhaps more importantly there was plenty of evidence of regeneration. My fears were quelled and I knew that we still could meet here again and again.
I don’t always know what Enough is, but I know that too much is what is stuffed and piled and packed around my house. In an effort to lift myself up spirit, mind and body I have been culling my bookshelves and drawers ruthlessly boxing things up and carting them to local charities. I even took to shredding numerous old journals that are really nothing but scribbled out drivel that I needed to empty from my crowded mind so I could concentrate on other things. I thought I had done away with the journals when I found a few more today. They were tucked into the hard little overnight case put under the computer table here to put my feet on like a makeshift footstool. They were the last three years worth of day-to-day scribble of life stuff.
I sat down beside the shredder and opened up the cover to the first page of the first notebook and saw written at the top of the page August 11, 2006. My daughter, Seanna, died that same day one year later in 2007. The date stunned me. I turned off the shredder and just sat staring at the date thinking, “I didn’t know. I didn’t know.” On that day in 2006 I didn’t know we only had a year left and my writing reflected that. I talked about summer things and children’s squabbles and things I looked forward to and the things I didn’t look forward to. On all the pages that followed it was just our lives as they were then. Love, pain, fear, more love, more fear… And in between every line I saw pictures of us today, Seanna and I, doing the stuff we did the same way every day. The way we touched, the way we looked at each other, the way we sat together, played together, bathed and dressed and napped together. And I just kept thinking, “I didn’t know. I didn’t know.”
Eventually I had read my thoughts and details of the time between then and her death when I stopped writing, where the journal abruptly ends, and I set to shredding them all up while the tears gathered in my throat and just bulged up there. Soon the shredder was too slow and I was too…something…and I simply tore all the remaining pages to shreds and deposited them in the recycling bag. There were no special details about things Seanna and I did together that needed to be saved in those journals. All the details that mattered then or now are in my mind and heart. But I had a question that begged answering: If you’d known on that day you had exactly one year left together what would you have done and what wouldn’t you have done with Seanna?
It’s been a long evening since the journals met their fate and I’ve spent nearly all of it sitting quietly listening to a clock tick and wondering, “What would I do that I didn’t do?” I didn’t know. We were very affectionate and I told her constantly all the things I loved about her. So I wondered, “What would I do more of?” Still, I didn’t know. To be more affectionate or spend even more time in each other’s company would have been ridiculous as much as we were already huggy-kissy-hand-holding people. So I wondered, “What wouldn’t I have done?” I thought I’d dig up a few answers here. I spent a long time on this one, but I still didn’t know. We struggled to make sure she got the most out of being alive by putting our faith in the truism that ‘change is life’ and insisting she grow and learn to be independent as possible when she struggled as hard as she could to maintain the total dependence that was easier. I know that independence made her happier than she would have been otherwise. I wouldn’t take back any of the struggle.
Sitting here after all that musing I have to admit we didn’t lose anything by not knowing. Lord, but that’s got to be worth something, something real big, you know? I’m having trouble feeling that specifically. I still just have those tears in my throat and a knowing that I ‘lucked out’ big time in one way but still hurt too much to feel lucky yet. It’s been a while since her death now but I’ve been avoiding myself and herself, if you know what I mean, for nearly all the time since. It’s good I got rid of those journals, those makeship placeholders. Time passed needs to be acknowledged and I need to stop waiting for some mysterious future date to start living and enjoying my life again. This waiting, however, is not new to me. I’m a wait-er. Thankfully, I’m also a ponderer and I’ll give some more thought to this knowing/not knowing business.
Time has done little to ease the sense of loss that I have felt since the death of my husband Darryl. Two years after his death I am facing another major transition as I prepare to sell and leave the home we established over twenty six years. Carnforth is on the market and I am closing a book, shutting the pages of an era. At this time the words of John O’Donahue palliate. Knowing others know makes all the difference.
When you lose someone you love,
Your life becomes strange,
The ground beneath you becomes fragile,
Your thoughts make your eyes unsure;
And some dead echo drags your voice down
Where words have no confidence
Your heart has grown heavy with loss;
And though this loss has wounded others too,
No one knows what has been taken from you
When the silence of absence deepens.
Flickers of guilt kindle regret
For all that was left unsaid or undone.
There are days when you wake up happy;
Again inside the fullness of life,
Until the moment breaks
And you are thrown back
Onto the black tide of loss.
Days when you have your heart back,
You are able to function well
Until in the middle of work or encounter,
Suddenly with no warning,
You are ambushed by grief.
It becomes hard to trust yourself.
All you can depend on now is that
Sorrow will remain faithful to itself.
More than you, it knows its way
And will find the right time
To pull and pull the rope of grief
Until that coiled hill of tears
Has reduced to its last drop.
Gradually, you will learn acquaintance
With the invisible form of your departed;
And when the work of grief is done,
The wound of loss will heal
And you will have learned
To wean your eyes
From that gap in the air
And be able to enter the hearth
In your soul where your loved one
Has awaited your return
All the time.
Grief: Longing for the lost one
…. The time of grief is awkward, edgy and lonesome. At first you feel that it is totally unreal. With the belonging severed, you feel numbed. When you love someone, you are no longer single. You are more than yourself. It is as if many of your nerve endings now extend outside your body towards the beloved and theirs reach towards you. You have made living bridges to each other and changed the normal distance that usually separates us. When you lose someone, you lose a part of yourself that you loved, because when you love it is the part of you that you love most that always loves the other. Grief is at its most acute at death. There is also a whole, unacknowledged grief that accompanies the breakup of a relationship. This indeed can often be worse than death, at least initially, because the person is still around and possibly with someone else. The other is cut off from you. Grief is the experience of finding yourself standing alone in the vacant space with all this torn emotional tissue protruding. In the rhythm of grieving, you learn to gather your given heart back to yourself again. This sore gathering takes time. You need great patience with your slow heart. It takes the heart a long time to unlearn and transfer its old affections. This is a time when you have to swim against the tide of your life. It seems for a while that you are advancing, then the desolation and confusion pull you down and, when you surface again, you seem to be even further from the shore. It is slow making your way back on your own. You feel so many conflicting things. You are angry one minute; the next moment you are just so sad. After a death there are people around you, yet you feel utterly isolated: no-one else has the foggiest notion of your loss. No-one had what you had, therefore, no-one else has lost it. Yet when friends try to gently accompany you, you find yourself pulling back from them too. In a remarkable collection of modern elegies to mourn the loss of his wife, the Scottish poet, Douglas Dunn, ends his poem ‘The Clear Day’ with this verse:
I shall sieve through our twenty years,
I almost reach the sob in the intellect,
The truth that waits for me with its loud grief,
Sensible, commonplace, beyond understanding.
Because your loss is so sore, something within you expects the world to understand. You were singled out. Now you are on your own. Yet life goes on. That makes you angry: sometimes, you look around at your family or the others who have been hit by this loss; it does not seem to have hurt them as much. But you remember that behind the facade they are heartbroken too. You have never experienced anything like this. During grief, the outer landscape of your life is in the grip of grey weather; every presence feels ghostly. You are out of reach. You have gone way into yourself. Your soul lingers around that inner temple which is empty now save for the sad echo of loss.
Grief is a journey that knows its way
Despite its severity the consolation at a time of grief is that it is a journey. Grief has a structure; it knows the direction and it will take you through. It is amazing how time and again, one of the most consoling factors in experience is that each experience has a sure structure; this is never obvious to us while we are going through something. But when we look back, we will be able to pick out the path that offered itself. Experience always knows its way. And we can afford to trust our souls much more than we realize. The soul is always wiser than the mind, even though we are dependent on the mind to read the soul for us. Though travel is slow on the grief journey, you will move through its grey valley and come out again onto the meadow where light, colour and promise await to embrace you. The loneliest moment in grief is when you suddenly realize you will never see that person again. This is an awful shock. It is as if all the weeks of sorrow suddenly crystallize in one black bolt of recognition. You really know how total your loss is when you understand that it is permanent. In this life there is no place that you will ever be able to go to meet again the one who has gone. On the journey of grief this is a milestone. You begin thereafter to make your peace with the shock.
We grieve for ourselves
Gradually, you begin to understand more deeply that you are grieving primarily over your own loss. The departed one has gone home and is gathered now in the tranquillity of the Divine Belonging. When you realize that it is for yourself that you are grieving, you begin to loosen your sorrowful hold on the departed one. Part of what has had you holding on so desperately is the fear that if you let go, you would lose them for ever. Now you begin to glimpse the possibilities of being with them in a new way. If you loosen the sad grip of grief, a new belonging becomes possible between you. This is one of the most touching forms of belonging in the world: the belonging between us and our loved ones in the unseen world. It is a subtle and invisible belonging for which the crass obviousness of modern culture has no eye. Yet this invisible belonging is one in which so many people participate. Though the silent weeping of your heart lessens, you get on, more or less, with your life, a place is kept within you for the one who is gone. No other will ever be given the key to that door. As years go on you may not remember the departed every day with your conscious mind. Yet below your surface mind, some part of you is always in their presence. From their side, our friends in the unseen world are always secretly embracing us in their new and bright belonging. Though we may forget them, they can never forget us. Their secret embrace unknowingly shelters and minds us.
The bright moment in grief is when the sore of absence gradually changes into a well of presence. You become aware of the subtle companionship of the departed one. You know that when you are in trouble, you can turn to this presence beside you and draw on it for encouragement and blessing. The departed one is now no longer restricted to any one place and can be with you any place you are. It is good to know the blessings of this presence. An old woman, whose husband had died thirty years earlier, told me once that the last thing she did each night before sleep was to remember him. In her memory she went over his face detail by detail until she could gather his countenance clearly in her mind’s eye. She had always done this since he died because she never wanted him to fade into the forgetfulness of loss.
While it is heartbreaking to watch someone in the throes of grief, there is still a beauty in grief. Your grief shows that you have risked opening up your life and giving your heart to someone. Your heart is broken with grief because you have loved. When you love, you always risk pain. The more deeply you love, the greater the risk that you will be hurt. Yet to live your life without loving is not to have lived at all. As deeply as you open to life, so deeply will life open up to you. So there is a lovely symmetry and proportion between grief and love. Connemara is a dark landscape full of lakes and framed with majestic mountains. If you ask a person here how deep a lake is, they say that they have often heard their ancestors say that the lake is always as deep as the mountain near it is high. The invisible breakage of grief has the same symmetry. Meister Eckhart said: ‘Depth is height’ and there is a haunting poem from the third century BC by Callimachus which imaginatively captures grief and the richness of absence as memory:
They told me, Heraclitus,
They told me you were dead.
They brought me bitter news
And bitter tears to shed.
I wept as I remembered,
How often you and I
Had tired the sun with talking
And sent him down the sky.
But now that you are lying,
My dear old Carian guest,
A handful of grey ashes,
Long, long ago at rest.
Still are your gentle voices,
Your nightingales, awake –
For death he taketh all away
But these he cannot take.
(Translated by William Cory)
Some thoughts on the latest extremes of weather, and the terrible events Australian territories have been enduring in the past week. The hot wind of the past two weeks burned the leaves on plants city and country alike. It was a real worry to see healthy plants sizzling in the conditions, unable to do anything about them, due to this hot wind. However, this week a fine show of new green shoots arrived, against the odds. The weather is cooler, though still summer heat, but there is still relief. It didn’t seem there would be any, in the thick of the wildfire period, which devastated the nations’ soul. Prayers went out to all concerned, locally and around the world, and this tree then is a symbol of rebirth, as everything gradually heals with love and time. Blessings also to the people of the northern climates, who have been stricken with such an excess of water as has made life very difficult for them. I hope things improve for everyone as time goes on. Truly a land of extremes, these weeks have tested everyone completely, and compassion has shone through, just like the persistent green foliage coming through.
(copyright Imogen Crest 2009.)
This little statue is in a hidden corner of the Chinese Gardens of Friendship in Sydney. My children love this baby Buddha, we took them to the gardens often and always had to seek it out so they could stroke his head and sit with him for a while.
I place him here in gratitude – Buddha for us is the essence of goodness and all we try to follow in our lives. And I have so much to be grateful for. Our Lana, our treasure, our lovely girl and her beautiful children were spared their lives – so many miracles combined to save them. And our gratitude overflows for another narrowly avoided tragedy on that terrible night. What can I say for all these blessings?
I wanted to come here to the Temple of Solace, where so many broken hearts have lain, and say thank you, thank you to the angels who watched over them, thank you for the love of friends and family, thank you most of all for reminding us that angels and miracles do exist and that life is filled with purpose and meaning. There is so much sadness and loss, and we grieve endlessly for those who go on ahead, but sometimes fate is kind – and for this reprieve I am truly, truly thankful.
Legend hath it that Cerridwen had two children. Creiwy was the most beautiful girl in all the world. Afagddu, her son, was the ugliest boy. They lived on an island in the middle of Lake Tegid. To compensate for Afagdddu’s ugliness, Cerridwen decided to make him highly intelligent. So according to a recipe contained in the books of Vergil of Toledo the magician (hero of a twelfth century romance), she boiled up a cauldron of inspiration and knowledge, which had to be kept on the simmer for a year and a day. Season by season she added to the brew magical herbs gathered in their correct planetary hours.
When finally Gwion thrust into his mouth some drops of the mead he at once understood the nature and meaning of all things past, present and future.
The 19th of January is the anniversary of my husband, Darryl’s death. He lost a fierce battle with cancer and I am still to understand the meaning of all things past, present and future.
In honour of his memory I am asking those, who want to help in some way, to stop and think of us and add some magical herbs and other ingredients to this cauldron, in the hope that one day all will become clearer.
January 18th 2009
love you today and always Darryl
You all might think I’m daft for not realising until so recently what the quilt buying was really about, but it is true, I didn’t know I was on my own ‘comfort rugging quest’.
It was time to scatter Jerry’s ashes. A few of us gathered in the woods near his house that brisk January 1st morning of 1995. His ashes were placed in a large glass punch-bowl perched on a small table on the wooden pier Jerry had built. It extended partway over his pond. Since none of us had ever scattered ashes before and couldn’t contemplate our reaction to handling the remains of our close friend, a man who died way too young, we allowed for each of us deciding at the moment whether or not to participate in the ritual.
Flute in hand, Carol moved down the hill to stand in an open area near the pier. The waves of mist and fog made it hard for us to discern her, but we were able to catch the plaintive notes as they drifted up through the Arkansas woods Jerry so loved. This was his wish–to be scattered on his pond where he always swam in the hot summers, where he sat to meditate and contemplate. The stillness and beauty of the pond and the surrounding woods were a balm to his spirit in an increasingly difficult world. He had been diagnosed with cancer on his thigh; shortly thereafter his leg was amputated. It never healed properly as the cancer continued its relentless spread. How could someone who was so dedicated to living off the land and being independent, how could he deal with this huge impediment to his way of life?
Those of us gathered had tried to help Jerry on his journey and be supportive as he attempted to continue to live his chosen way of life. Preparing food, cleaning his home, a cabin he lovingly built by hand, stacking firewood and hauling water from the pond for washing dishes, all these things were but temporary stops on his way to finally needing constant care in someone else’s home.
And now we gathered to say goodbye, Jerry back on his land once more. The seven of us strolled through the fog, following the notes of the flute down to the pond. We each shared what we brought to read or say in his honor.
Then a pause… a long pause. Would anyone be able to scatter Jerry’s ashes? I kept thinking I couldn’t possibly put my hands into his ashes… I had just seen him alive. How could I do such a thing? This was Jerry, his actual body, burned down to dust and ashes. How could I touch those burnt remains? Yes, I knew there was a Styrofoam cup on the table we could use, but even so, how could I dig into his ashes and let them sink into the water? I knew very well the real Jerry was fine and beyond all this, but still, how could I honor his remains by scattering them? Could I, even knowing it was what he desired?
As I pondered my own images, my preconceived notions, I saw Carol walk to the table on the pier. She scooped up some ashes in the cup and gently spread them on the water. Another of his friends then did the same. And another.
Finally I was ready – sort of. It was time for me to approach the table, but I still didn’t know what I would do or if I could do anything. The crisp winter air tinged with woodstove smoke from other cabins sprinkled throughout the valley invigorated me to at least resolutely head onto the pier as it gently rolled under the weight of my steps. The wood creaked a bit as I crept forward and then I stood before what remained of Jerry. I took a deep breath in preparation…Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.
I plunged my bare hands into the ashes, letting myself relax into what felt right at that moment. No barriers of gloves of Styrofoam to the experience. And was I surprised! The ashes were not all ashes. There were chunks of bone throughout. Ohhh, Jerry’s bones! A moment of reeling with the knowledge; then came an infusion of energy. I grabbed two large handfuls, flung my hands up and out, releasing ashes, dust and bone high into the sky accompanied with the cry, “Go, Jerry! Go!” He was free and flying to the heavens.
The breeze seemed to reflect my exhilaration and joy as it caught the ashes and bone bits, carrying them further into the heavens before returning them to the pond Jerry loved. I knew then that the phrase “ashes and dust” was a fallacy, a euphemism for ashes and bone fragments. But I also knew a deeper truth. Jerry was not those ashes and bones; he was spirit and joy!
(published in Sage of Consciousness)