Let us remember to love,
and you me,
and we will rise above ourselves
Know us for what we are—
miracles that build fires from timbers in winter.
Let us.Francis Daulerio, “Post Script,” published in “If and When We Wake”, 2015
You’ll live to dance another day,
It’s just now you’ll have to dance,
for the two of us,
So stop looking so damn depressed
And sing with all your heart that the Queen is dead”Frank Turner, “Long Live the Queen”
I toured the cemetery in a Death Cab for Cutie t-shirt and a set of pigtail braids.
No, not the area with the tall headstones cloistered together. I toured the other one, in the “new” area which looked more like a field in a vacant lot. It’s easy to miss the sign that identifies what this ground is used for. In the center, a community scattering ground for cremated ashes with one semi-large monument in the middle. The writing begins with “In loving memory…” and currently carries a collection of maybe ten names. At first, that would seem to be the only thing here, but a walk through the grassy, weeded grounds reveal perhaps a dozen more stones and rocks spaced out; each commemorating the life of a loved one who has died in the past two years.
This area is simple and quiet, with an understated, almost semi-private feel. It reinforces the feeling that the space is “a little secret” between those in the ground and those who are seeking them out. I imagine the few who reside here whispering softly underfoot of visitors. I wander and glance at the stones of my future neighbors. A thirty- eight year old man, also gone before his time; A seventy year old beloved “wife, mother, and grandmother…”
The younger man’s stone has rocks and shells around it, that no doubt mean(t?) something to him or to his family. I think about my son Jack, and how much he would love to decorate the area around my name stone with some shells and rocks he collected. I decide that I like my future company, and my fellow fertilizers for this field.
The “new” area is reserved for people that have decided that they wish to have a natural burial. One that is free of formaldehyde and other environmentally harming chemicals. One that substitutes a heavy, closed casket for a quiet shroud. The idea is to let us decompose. To become food for worms, and to allow us to help grow these grasses and weeds that lie above us.
It wasn’t until I learned about the idea of a “natural burial,” as a viable option that I found tranquility of mind with today’s modern post death practices. I mean, they are really quite disturbing when you think about them. I don’t want someone manipulating my body and pumping it full of chemicals in order to set it up for a “pretty” viewing. I want people to remember me as the “me” they knew me as when I alive. No last images of Heather on display like some wax museum imposter overdone version of her former self are necessary.
The other major alternative (cremation) is no less disarming to me. This is not like the cremation ceremony of old, where I am nobly placed on a boat, then alighted with a fire arrow on my way out to sea. Nope! Today’s cremation is literally just a slapping of my naked corpse and toe tag on a cold metal conveyer and rolled into an inferno. Product in, product out, all in another day’s work. No thank you. Uh uh. Not at all.
But a natural burial? This is a simplicity I will take. Just clean me, cover me in a shroud and give me a respectful burial. Please place a small stone to mark the location and to remember me by, and then give me my literal opportunity to “push up daisies.” I will take that. Humans were meant to decompose, just like all of the other animals. And just like them, we were meant to give our nutrients back to the earth, instead of poisoning it further with chemicals.
I can picture my family visiting me here in this understated lot, perhaps near the shade. I can see my daughter planting flowers. This lot is just a block and a turn away from downtown Yellow Springs, the hippie capital of southwest Ohio. I wonder if, when they visit, they will stop by the iconic Ha-ha pizza or some other local establishment to help support it, perhaps while sharing some memories of me.
These visions of the future haven’t always been so peaceful. For the longest time, they filled me only with a deep, deep sorrow. Resentment over having to even make these plans in my early forties. Mourning over the irreplaceable loss of not getting to stay here with my family. I avoided the song, “Long Live the Queen” for the longest time, because I just couldn’t process this tragedy in a celebratory manor. I wasn’t ready yet. But over the past year or so, I have been doing the hard work. The inside work. And today, I allow the visions to come.
In my darkest moments (as exemplified in my last post, “Losing Exits”) I question whether my inner work has been successful. But in moments like yesterday and today, I am able to know that it has. Staring directly into the eyes of lives lived beyond yourself takes a level of awareness that few are forced to grasp until they are very old. Taking a walk past your future consciousnessness and finding peace there, instead of anguish, is quite a thing indeed.
What I have found is that not only am I able to do this now. I need to do it. So that my husband knows what my wishes are; and so that he does not get stuck having to make these decisions at a later time. I need to take care of this now, so that when I pass away later he needs only to pick up the phone and call the funeral home to take care of everything else.
Coming into this “planning and finalizing” phase, I fully expected to be weirded out by it all. Which burial plot should be mine? What type of shroud should I wear? How will my body be handled? Weighty decisions for a lady in pigtail braids and a concert t-shirt. But the truth is that it wasn’t really strange to me at all. It turns out that I was far more ready to do this than I had given myself credit for. It’s actually comforting to know exactly what will happen- logistically- after I pass, and exactly where I will rest out my bones.
This realization has opened the door and allowed me to finally have some of those other big discussions, which I was previously unable to handle. Discussions of what my wishes are for my family after I am gone. It’s not lost on me that there will likely be 40 years of life remaining for my husband after I pass. Do we plan for him to be interred next to me? What if he finds somebody else?
While I won’t disclose everything spoken of, I did let him know that I am okay with that (moving on) if some day he chooses to. We both agreed that he wants to continue to raise our children as we would have raised them together, and I trust that he will do that with every ounce of my being. But there is more to it than just that. I am asking him to not take those moments for granted. I want him to see them for me too. I want him to celebrate the milestones with me. I want him to dance for one more of us.
So he finally told me what he wanted to do with the payout from my life insurance policy. The term policy which I purchased so inexpensively several years ago, never imagining then that we’d actually ever use it. He’s going to buy that property by or on a lake. The one that WE had always wanted to buy together. The house that WE would bring our children on vacation to. The house that our grandchildren would happily come visit us at when we got older.
No sight fills me with joy more than the sight of my children- my family- having fun. And I can clearly see them there. Spending time with each other and creating memories with each other. Memories of love, and memories of laughter. I see future grandchildren dancing around and filling Abe’s heart and home with love as he grows older. Maybe a tree can be planted there in my memory that can grow older too.
It was OUR dream, but now it must be theirs. At one point, I would have focused on the dejection of being cut out of that dream. But today no other thought could fill me with a greater harmony or pleasure. It will not just be a gathering place for them. It can be family legacy. A BETTER legacy than the kind passed to me. A legacy that I created. And as these years spin into decades, you will also find me spinning, as the dance is carried forward for just one more of us.