Monday, July 16, 2007

Laying Lois to Rest

A friend will help you move; a true friend will help you move the body.

The female cousins got together last week. My cousin Michal and her husband Bud came out from Ohio; my cousin Nancy came over from Soap Lake; and Nancy’s sister Charlotte, my other cousin, came up from California. We are cousins through the Litchfield line – my father and their mothers were siblings.

My father had three sisters: his older sister Thelma, and his younger sisters Lois and Vivian. Michal is the daughter of Lois; Nancy and Charlotte are the daughters of Vivian. Thelma and Lois hated each other. We do not know what lay at the bottom of this sibling war; we do know that it went with them to their graves.

Oh, wait. I forgot. Lois doesn’t have a grave.

Lois, Michal’s mom, was the last surviving sibling. She passed on back in 2001. She was cremated, and her ashes sent to her only child, Michal, who lives in Ohio. Michal knew that it was her mother’s wish to have her ashes scattered in the ocean, so she put the container with Lois’ remains on a shelf with the uneasy knowledge that Lois hated Ohio and would not want to make it her final resting place.

Lois hated a lot of things and people. You always knew where you stood with Lois: on the defense. She was not without love and laughter, but when we remember her we remember, holy cow, what a piece of work she was. It is a lifetime assignment to make sense of a parent who both loved and scarred you.

Michal decided that it was time to lay her mom to rest.

Lois was returned to the West Coast in a small, heavy box. The female cousins convened, and we discussed where and how to scatter the ashes.

We found was that when you’re talking about disposing of human remains, the atmosphere gets swingy, going from laughter to tears and back again within minutes. Our conversation shifted back and forth from talking about Lois as if she wasn’t there, to talking directly to the box as if she was.

We had a ceremonial opening of the box, and then the tin inside, to view all that remained of Lois. I suppressed the urge to say that she looked like she could use a good moisturizer.

The next morning we all squeezed into the rental car and went out looking for a final resting place for Lois. The main requirements were that it be water, and that we could quietly have a little ceremony without being disturbed, or caught.

We drove until we came to a place that seemed to be the right place, and pulled over, and we walked a ways until we were close to the edge.

Michal stood there for a while looking at the water. Finally she said, “Mom, I love you.” She paused, she shed a few tears, and then she said, “And I know you loved me.” She upended the bag and released Lois to the water and the earth and the ages. We watched in silence as the waves’ action began to distribute Lois’s remains, then we all hugged, and wiped our eyes, and laughed.

We remember these parents and aunts and uncles who raised us. We’re the older generation now, but we remember each other as young and cute and starting life with the infinite optimism of the untried. We remember each other before the boyfriends and husbands and children and divorces and layoffs and illnesses and accidents and deaths. Before all the crushing realities of adult life, we were kids together.

There is something sweet about growing older in a circle of love with people whom you have known, and have known you, forever. We hold, and help, and heal one another. We put things into perspective, and we help each other lay our loved ones and our old sorrows to rest, and, always, we laugh together from the centers of our souls. That is the deep sweetness of family.

I had to live this long to find that out.

1 comment:

Laurie said...

Hi, Mary. You don't know me, but I feel as if I know you after having been introduced to you through your writing by my parents, those wild kids out in Hollywood, David and Jane Shepherd. I'm grateful to "know" you and look forward to hearing your thoughts on all manner of things. Blog on!