I scattered some of my mother’s ashes in my backyard on All-Saints Day. My mother hated funerals. She didn’t get the whole “closure” and “gathering together” thing. She thought of them as rather tacky and unnecessarily burdensome to the family.
When my father died, we took the ashes out to an Indian casino after the requiem mass. We left my mother on a seat at a slot machine because watching us scatter my father’s ashes was the last thing in the world she wanted to do. My brother and a couple of cousins and I drove out into the desert a ways to scatter the ashes. My father loved the desert. He also maintained, throughout his life, that he was part Native American despite the complete absence of any confirming evidence. It was a nice idea, but we were clearly inept at scattering ashes. It is harder than you think. It is windy in the desert. There are kind of a lot of ashes. As I tried to release my father, body and soul, to the Great Spirit, my brother kept yelling that I was getting dad all over me. None of the attendees was sure how I was going to go back and face my mother at the casino with a thin veneer of my father’s cremains all over me. Let’s just say that event did nothing to change my mom’s opinion of funerals.
Even though she didn’t like funerals, I knew my mother would have had no objection to her family having a service for her if we felt it would be helpful for us. I always thought I didn’t care whether we had a service or not. My brother didn’t want a service. I figured that I would take her ashes back to California and we could scatter them near where we scattered my father’s ashes. Still, after she died, I did ask the cremation services company to divide her ashes into several smaller quantities on the off chance that I decided to do something different. A few weeks later, it suddenly, for no discernable reason, seemed important to me to scatter a portion of her ashes behind my house. Theologically and symbolically, I believe my mother is a saint in Heaven now, so I decided to do it on the evening of All Saints Day.
I picked out a passage from The Book of Wisdom in the Bible. If you have never heard of The Book of Wisdom and can’t find it in your Bible, please don’t think I made it up. It is one of those books that appear in Catholic and Episcopal Bibles, but is not part of the canon in many Protestant churches. It struck me as strange that, as I am exploring a change in church, I found the very words I wanted in a version of the Bible that a lot of Christians don’t even include. Still, I found comfort in Wisdom:3, which refers to everlasting life. The passage I picked reminded me that it is foolish to think my mother is really dead. She lives in joy in Heaven and I will see her again one day. As I walked up and down the back yard scattering the ashes, I sang the Irish Blessing. I sang that song to her every day for the last two weeks of her life. It sort of became “our song” during that last season of good-bye. When I got to the last line of the song, “And, until we meet again, may God hold you in the hollow of His hand,” I began sobbing. It was the first time I have really broken down since before her death. I feel like I’ve been remarkably calm and composed, especially for me.
I think I know why the blessing song triggered this outpouring of emotion. The song works both ways. The song told my mother that I knew God was holding her in the hollow of His hand in Heaven now. The song also was also telling me that my mother is waiting for me. She is trusting in God to hold me in the hollow of His hand until the day we are reunited forever.
I feel kind of empty since my impromptu funeral. I think some of the grief that poured out of me with the tears left a space inside me that isn’t quite filled up with acceptance and contentment yet. I don’t really feel like me, but I can’t say what I do feel. What is kind of weird is that, maybe for the first time in my whole life, I feel okay living in whatever is. As odd and uncharacteristic as it seems, I am content to float along and experience the life that I am living without feeling a mad compulsion to make that life what I think it should be.
Maybe Saint Dorothy is pushing me into the hollow of God’s hand.
Different people have different thoughts and traditions around death and funerals. Have you ever experienced a ritual that brought you a little “good grief,” as my song to my mother brought me? Please tell us about it. Please share your perspective by leaving a comment. In the alternative, you can email me at email@example.com.
May God hold YOU in the hollow of His hand today!