Ah, it comes to all of us, kings and peasants alike, as the feared Grim Reaper engages in his really tacky hobby of snagging ever more friends for his Deadbook page.
Even more feared, after death, is the Dim Sweeper, whose motto is: Dust to dust. Ashes all over everything.
Yup, that would be me. I’m telling you, my brother Pete would have lived forever—or at least been buried at sea—if he thought there were the remotest chance I might ever be in charge of any part of his cremated mortal remains.
After all, I hadn’t done such a great job for Our Sainted Mother….
Mom died in 2001 after one helluva run that saw her make it to 94 with a full sack of marbles. Always the practical one, she made her own funeral arrangements that included, according to what she always told me, an appropriate urn for her ashes.
Things get a little hectic when you’re the executor of an estate and a few things slipped through the cracks over the months following the funeral, like Mom’s remains (hey, I was busy and it’s a fair hike to the town where she lived.)
Fortunately, my daughter was at a friend’s cottage nearby and I called Sam to pick up the ashes on her way home.
You know how young people are. “Yewww, Dad, that’s totally creepy” she complained. “What am I supposed to say when I go to the funeral home?”
That’s easy. Just say: “I’m Sammy Lovelace and I’m here to take my Nana for a ride.” That didn’t improve her attitude, but she arrived with the goods. A lot of goods. A great heaping plastic bag inside a cardboard box filled with, well, Mom. There was no urn, either, and a call to the funeral director confirmed that my mother had not been able to decide on an appropriate repository and just abandoned the search.
No big deal. Her instructions for disposal stated she wished a small portion of her ashes to be buried beside Dad’s in the family plot back in New Brunswick while the rest were to be spread from a bridge overlooking a favourite spot on the Rideau River. Not having a recipe book to shed light on measurements for these two drops, I decided to do the NB thing first. But I wasn’t about to make a special 1,000-mile return trip for just that purpose and so poor Mom spent more months in her box in my filing cabinet waiting for our fall fishing trip to our camp, also in NB.
After arriving at my aunt’s place in St. Stephen, NB, I called the cemetery to see what would be involved in a little addition to the contents of a plot and was advised of an entire production involving hired diggers, a preacher, funeral director, etc. Well, screw that.
It’s the thought that counts, not bulk, and it was apparent Mom would be rejoining Dad in much reduced circumstances buried in an urn that would necessarily be small enough not to set off local radar. And probably around midnight under an overcast grave-robbers’ (make that grave-adders’) sky.
But the local funeral director had only giant full-body buckets that would require a backhoe and a mortgage. Give the guy credit, though, he actually steered me in the right direction by sending me off to buy a stainless thermos from Canadian Tire (local rules dictate that ashes must be buried in stainless steel).
Smaller is better, except when you’re trying to spoon your Mother into a pretty tiny opening. Tough at the best of times, but even crazier after my aunt’s lawn care guy Charlie innocently threw open the door to the garage in which I was performing my forensics, allowing access by Hurricane Grizelda. The winds immediately attacked the wide-open funerary box swirling an amazing percentage of Mom into every corner of the garage before I got the lid back on.
Charlie totally freaked until we sat down with a couple of beers to determine protocols demanded by the situation. It didn’t seem right to sweep up Me Sainted Mother along with all the other crud on the floor, but Charlie needed the mower and it might react badly to inhaling the fine cinders. So, to bring a little more dignity to the scene, we used a Shop Vac.
It’s at this point, I should advise strangers to the site that the late Thelma Lovelace would have loved all this kerfuffle and has an eternity to tell the story a gazillion times if there is web access in Heaven.
And Mom’s travels and travails were far from over. Because we needed darkness for our sneaky cemetery raid, we put off the deed for the return trip from the camp, allowing Mom to travel to the lake and enjoy a week’s vacation in her thermos in the glove compartment of our Ford fishing truck.
The big night finally arrived and that presented some complications. We normally pulled out of the camp around noon, but lingered awaiting the timing required to arrive at the cemetery at dusk. Alas, that free time in the afternoon was dedicated to finishing off the beer and we were consequently a little buzzed when our teetotaller designated driver pulled into the bone yard. Plus, being rotten relatives, we hadn’t visited the family plot in years and would have trouble finding it during the day, never mind at night. It was hardly a stealthy operation as a half-dozen tipsy miscreants created a light show with their flashlights stumbling around peering at gravestones.
But, by God, we finally found the consecrated ground zero and had Mom deep under in no time, the digging and undercover nature of the job interrupted by over-moistened gang members, including brother Pete, taking flash camera photos of the less-than-solemn commitment ceremony. A couple of weeks later, I completed the journey by choosing a totally windless day to launching the rest of the ashes off a bridge in the small Ontario town where Mom had enjoyed almost 30 years of retirement. A relative of Hurricane Grizelda lurking under the span grabbed the remains and shot them back up to cover the car—and me—before carrying them off toward the masses assembled for the town’s annual picnic. I think I heard a hearty guffaw coming from the general direction of The Hereafter. It’s a good thing Mom loved to visit strange places and meet new people.
A decade later, despite everything, I went down to Cape Cod this summer to pick up some of my brother Pete’s ashes to take up to a reunion in Kenogami, Quebec, where our family lived wonderful times from the late 1940s through the 60s.
Someone better call ahead to have them lock up the cemetery and close all their windows ….