Earlier this week I had a parking-lot conversation with Pete Snow, whose wife had died two weeks earlier. Somehow we got to talking about cremation. I listened to his opinions and stories on the topic and then, to illustrate my related opinions, I asked his permission to tell one of my two stories. I told him that at one point in my life I had three boxes of cremains on my closet shelf. It wasn’t at all creepy; they only waited for my full attention, and life was very full at that point. Paul (my first) had died in October and after that I was completely occupied with the care of his two elderly (88 & 89) parents—along with keeping my real estate advertising magazine business going and the other stuff of life. The following March, Paul’s dad had a stroke and died shortly thereafter. In between the two deaths, I had shown Dad a pamphlet on cremation, and, much to my surprise, he became convinced that was the right action for him and for Mom. Add a box to the shelf. Then in May, Mom slipped into a coma and died in her sleep. Box number three.
Of course there’s much more to the story, but in case you’re interested, I have four cemetery lots in Chicago and two lots in Grand Rapids I’d be glad to sell you.
Instead of the traditional burial, Ben, Quinn, Taylor, and I went shopping at the local nursery for appropriate plantings to adorn the yard of the house they occupied for only a few months, but where Ben still lives. Frank got a prickly bush; Florence got a rose bush. Paul’s box traveled with my earthly possessions to Newberg when I married Mauri, and my kids and I had a similar “planting” in the rose garden in our yard.
Some time back, I found a book of stories, each containing exactly 55 words. So I took the challenge and used the above as my topic. To understand it, you need to know that the rose garden began with Margaret-Rose’s cremains:
They had met long ago. Only letters spanned
the intervening years. Nothing romantic developed;
their hearts belonged to others.
“I wish you’d known him better,” she said.
“I wish you’d known her better,” he said.
No jealousy exists as the two watch
from some celestial porch.
“They remember us in those roses.”
“And our children.”
Believe it or not, that’s not the story I intended to write when I sat down here at the computer. While I mentioned the rose garden to Pete, I described an earlier scene that involved my parents. My mother died in May of 1988, and her body was buried in a traditional graveyard in Jacksonville, Florida. The following October my dad, at age 84, was mailing a letter in the Jax post office on a Sunday night when someone came out of the shadows and mugged him, straddling him and beating his face on the marble floor, then leaving him for dead. Somehow he managed to get to his car and drive the wrong way down a one-way street to the church where he’d planned to attend the evening service. The greeters recognized his car, not his appearance, and they got him to the hospital. When the call came, I quickly booked a flight from Michigan to Florida, where I spent my days in the ICU waiting room and my evenings at my dad’s house. For two weeks I drove back and forth between the two. On the last night of my stay before heading back home, my brother rode with me. As we passed the cemetery, he said to me, “There’s where our dear mother is buried.” It was the first time that fact ever entered my mind! And we had just had her service months earlier. After all, my mother was not there! It confirmed the fact that I have no attachment to the body no longer occupied by the soul and spirit of my loved ones.
Pete listened intently and we had wholehearted agreement on the topic. Not everyone feels this way, and I certainly do not judge those who have other viewpoints. On matters so personal, each is entitled to own an opinion. But now you know mine!
Yes, my dad recovered. It was quite remarkable to be allowed into his room for 15 minutes every three hours. His face was pieced together with wires, making talking impossible. But that didn’t stop him from “witnessing” to the nurses and doctors. He used a clipboard to invite them to church. He lived another eight years with a crooked face and double vision. But he never became fearful or bitter. And just for fun, here’s a picture of my dad. His eyes were never level after that, but he was never without his “V” (for victory) sign.
Dad died only two weeks after I brought him out here to finish his days on earth. He’s buried next to my mother in that Jacksonville cemetery. I don’t get to decide for everyone. But it doesn’t matter. My heart holds them all the same.