Monday, April 17, 2006

All That Cremains

It was Saturday, and my young Abercrombie-and-Fitch-Model funeral director was on the line: "Just wanted to let you know that you can pick up Mom and the death certificates anytime."

How odd that sounded -- "pick up Mom," as if I were picking her up to go out to lunch. Of course, the other term for what I was picking up is cremains, which sounds overly cutesy -- sort of like craisins. I'm fine with ashes, because that's what they are -- a perfectly serviceable, succinct Anglo-Saxon noun.

But, anyhow, that's what I did today. No bouts of the weepies; this was just the next thing I had to do, so I did it. (The next next thing will be to arrange the interment, but after the Holy Week marathon I'm cutting my pastor some slack. At this point there's no hurry.)

And here's what it comes down to, once you've left this mortal coil and you've asked to have your body cremated: It winds up in a little box, maybe the size of a decorative glass brick. It's surprisingly heavy -- like a serious dictionary or a small sack of flour.

Yes, it's weird. And I honestly think the "ick" factor, and not theological concerns over misunderstanding the nature of the resurrection of the dead, is why Christians have until recently been somewhat reluctant to practice cremation. Although it's not nearly as icky as, say, the once-common practice of leaving a corpse in a tomb until the flesh is decayed away, then cleaning up the bones and re-interring them somewhere else. That is not a task I would care to perform. I'll take the little box.

The handing-off of the box was a bit awkward. The funeral director -- generally when he's come barreling down the stairs of the funeral home in his stocking feet, it's like Tom Cruise in Risky Business; all that's missing is Bob Seger playing in the background -- was actually wearing a dress shirt today, and he didn't descend with quite as much joie de vivre. And when he gave me the box there was a rather hesitant moment -- I think he was waiting to see if I'd burst into tears or faint or throw up, all of which I suspect have happened in the past.

But I just took it in the crook of my arm, like a book or a baby, and thanked him, and went to my car and placed it in the trunk next to a bag of birdseed, where it wouldn't jostle around. My first thought was, "This is the strangest thing I have ever had to do in my entire life." But my next thought was what we tell people on Ash Wednesday at our church as we're smudging palm-charcoal crosses on their foreheads: "Remember that thou art dust, and to dust thou shall return...and on the last day Christ shall raise thee."


Rachel's Big Dunk said...

Hi LC,

I have two ash stories to tell. When my grandmother died, her body was cremated per her request. We took her ashes to the island in Georgian Bay were she spent her summers. My children were along, ages 3 and 7. We poured some of the ashes into the lake and the little waves carried them back to the shore. My boys were utterly fearless and completely fascinated. They knew this was their great grandmother's body... but curiosity won.

When we were cleaning out my Grandmother's house, we found an artichoke jar in her cabinet. Inside was a small handful of my grandfather's ashes. When we opened the lid of the jar, we found a picture of the island pasted inside. His was a room with a view...

David Huff said...

When my much beloved uncle died, he and my aunt were living in St. Pete Beach, FL.

It was against the law to scatter ashes along the beaches there, but it didn't stop their many children from giving their dad his final resting place. They just each took a small handful in their swimsuit pockets and waded out into the surf one evening at Pass-a-Grille Beach and, somehow, the pockets got emptied.

I think about my Uncle George everytime I walk along that beautiful stretch of sand... :)

Katherine said...


You are such a fabulous writer, even about the really, really tough stuff. Thank you.

Kathryn said...

Thought about you, and this post, so much yesterday...I was intering 2 sets of ashes in the churchyard here and both families were so lovely and focussed (one was the family about whom I blogged just before Holy Week)and actually those few moments were incredibly precious (even in the rain and howling gales that we had yesterday...I am DEEPLY thankful we weren't trying to scatter anything anywhere)
Don't rush things. One step at a time, yes? x