Burying Mom

Mom surrounded by my brother Zed, myself and brother Reid at a family reunion in April, 2006. Photo by cousin Jane Anderson.

She’d made it plain for years:  “When I kick the bucket, I don’t want a fancy funeral.  I don’t want you to spend any money on a casket.  I just want to be cremated and buried in your father’s grave.  No extra burial plots.  They are too expensive.  Just take a spoon or something, dig a hole and dump me there.  But don’t get caught. It’s illegal, you know. You could be fined or maybe arrested.”

She’d fought long and hard with the local authorities over the cost of dad’s plot in their community cemetery and she continued to rant for years about it.  I’d listen, laugh, let it go in one ear and out the other.  Months later she’d bring it up and we’d have the same conversation all over again.

For a long time it seemed like she’d outlast all of us.  As time passed she got feistier and more demanding about what she wanted.  Then she was diagnosed with lung cancer.  She underwent chemo, lost her hair and started asking us to choose belongings of hers that we would want when she finally “kicked the bucket.”  She would dutifully put our names on pieces of furniture, paintings, appliances, etc.  She’d occasionally change her mind and want to take back what she had promised but in the end everyone in the family had what they wanted.

So it was on Thanksgiving Day, 2008, that my brothers, my nephew with his wife and daughter met my husband and me at the cemetery where my dad had been buried.  It was located in a small New Hampshire town where my parents had once lived.  The wind was howling, whipping snow flakes through the air and the sod around my father’s bronze marker was already somewhat frozen.  My brother Reid hacked away at it with a spade he’d brought along just for the occasion while the rest of us danced up and down trying to keep warm.  We kept watch for the authorities mom had warned us about. Looking over our shoulders as cars approached, we’d tell Reid to stop, and all gather together around the grave to hide our illegal grave digging.  We laughed and giggled and I think we all felt like we were all playing roles in some great American farce.

When Reid had managed to carve out a six-inch square, Zed poured a handful of ashes into the shallow grave.  We tamped the sod back in place, barely leaving a sign that the earth had been disturbed.  I suggested that we pause to a say a final farewell to her, but the wind pushed and prodded us to keep moving.  A thin blanket of snow began gathering in some of the more sheltered areas around us.  Later over roast turkey and all the fixings we laughed about how we had pulled it off.  She got what she wanted and we once again laid claim to the unconventionality that seems to forever be the trademark of my family.

Mom died 4 years ago May 21, 2007.    It took well over a year to bury her.  I scattered more of her ashes under the Smoke Tree Bill and I planted in her memory at our home in Virginia where she’d spent most of her last seven years living with us.  She had smoked cigarettes up until the day before she died, addicted and constantly denying their role in her demise.  That Smoke tree is lovely in the spring covered with large clusters of tiny pink flowers that resemble plumes of smoke.

My brother, Reid, died a year ago on June 1st.  His ashes are scattered throughout the woods of New Hampshire where he spent hours in the warmer months gathering wild mushrooms.

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14 Responses to Burying Mom

  1. patricia says:

    I can’t say why, but I love this story. Not the deaths of your loved ones, but the obvious being they and your are. Love you

    • jzrart says:

      Thanks Patricia. Yes, you might say we’re kind of a crazy bunch. Most likely shocking and horrible to some, but definitely one of a kind. Love you right back!!

  2. Virginia says:

    Like Patricia … I love your story because of the way you tell it and the way your experiences resonates with my own … being with, releasing, and eventually burying my father, mother, and brother. I suspect we’re related in unknown yet deeply experiential ways beyond our being brought together by Jen Louden in our group of four at the 2010 Writers Retreat in Taos, reminding me that there are no accidents. Synchronicity abounds! I appreciate you bringing your light, energy, experience, and perspective to this ‘virtual’ world and look forward to whatever comes next.
    Hugs and blessings,

    • jzrart says:

      Virginia, I agree there are no accidents and if we had the time to sit down together and share our stories with one another we’d find so much more that we have in common. That’s how this being human thing works. We hide who we are out of shame and fear only to discover that we are not alone and that being open about ourselves brings us closer to one another. Thanks so much for your comments and for reading my words!

  3. Clara says:

    You have a wonderful way with a story, Joan. The writing is beautiful throughout, and the last paragraph, for me, is particularly graceful and lyrical. Thanks for adding a note of grace to my day.

    • jzrart says:

      Thanks so much, Clara, for your kind words. Adding grace to your day is a humbling thought and I am grateful that is so. It is the greatest compliment that I could receive.

  4. I’m so proud to come from such an ornery lineage of women… 🙂 Grammy Jo’s ashes are also high atop Brushy Mountain here in North Carolina…. although whenever we go there, we lovingly call it Grammy Jo’s mountain, and every time, we imagine her joining us for a picnic in the spot where we scattered the ashes…. we’ll have to bring you up there one of these days…. it’s a long hike, but soooo beautiful.

  5. jzrart says:

    We are ornery, aren’t we? I would love to climb Grammy Jo’s Mountain with you especially in the fall as the leaves turn and we move into the season of peace and quiet living.

  6. kara says:

    I read this in my reader earlier this week and was very amused and touched by it. Ornery is a very good word. My parents didn’t want funerals either but we didn’t do anything so interesting with their ashes. Thank you for this story. I will think of you and your mom when I see a smoke tree. I love the way those look in the spring but now I have this story to deepen the connection.

  7. jzrart says:

    Thanks, Kara. That the story is amusing and touching was what I was hoping for when I wrote it!

  8. Becca says:

    This is a beautiful remembrance, and I think you honored your mother in just the way she would have wanted. It made me smile, but also shed a tear.

    I love that you planted smoke trees for her- they are so unusual – and I bet she’d get a real kick out of that!

    • jzrart says:

      Thanks Becca. Yes, I still hear my mom laughing from her grave when I chose the Smoke Tree to be her tree. She could be extremely difficult but she had a fabulous sense of humor.

  9. Sharon says:

    Here we meet again on the field of fond, ornery memories. It is almost a year since my mother died and her ashes still linger with us because we have not figured out quite what to do with them. I had promised her that we would plant a fruit tree in our yard and plant some of her there. When the drought passes, we will do so.
    Love the ornery – love the story – love the writer.

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