When I die, I want my ashes to be made into projectiles. Like guerrilla gardening seed bombs. Just a pinch of me in a bundle with the seeds from big, hearty, colorful flowers. Maybe some glitter. Wrapped in tulle bags like the ones they throw at weddings.
I don’t know who I could ask to do that for me. To turn my ashes into party favors. I don’t even know if it’s legal. What if I put a basket of them at the door to the service, and just gave everyone the choice whether to take one? Maybe find an appropriately sentimental way to explain what they are holding so that not everyone is horrified:
“Do not stand at my grave and weep;
I am not there. I do not sleep.
I am, however, in this bundle you hold.
Assuming my executor did what she was told
And unless human ashes don’t make you chagrined,
It would be wise, when you throw this, to not be downwind.”
I envision bits of me being hurled from scenic overlooks and carefully planted in gardens. Taken on vacation and scattered someplace poetic with the relief of having finally “done something with that.” Thrown from car windows on the way home from the service, or “accidentally” left behind on a parking block or the reception desk of the funeral home by the squeamish. Languishing in a jewelry box or the back of a closet. Some will take me somewhere I would have wanted to go, or someplace they loved and let me become a part of it. Others may get more vindictively creative – I leave their closure to them.
When my father died, I returned to the hospital room for a forgotten item. I stood there for longer than necessary, fixated on the indentation in his cheek made by the breathing tube. It sounds horrible, I know, I’m not sure what made me stay. Shock? Disbelief? Closure?
I heard someone say that they felt the presence of God in that room, the night he died, but the only presence I felt was Death. My father was not there. This form on the bed that looked like him was not him – it was just my mind attaching light to a memory. He did not look like he was sleeping. He did not look particularly peaceful. We passed in the hall that night, Death and I, each on an errand; and it was in that moment that I understood that I was never going to see my father again. I understood the meaning of forever.
I sat and listened as a pastor of a church to which my father didn’t belong stood before us behind a podium, and tried to delivery a eulogy for a man he didn’t know. They met when my father agreed to a last-minute baptism in the kitchen sink to quiet the growing broken-record anxiety that is my mother’s trademark. Left with very little to draw from, he shared stories coaxed from a grieving widow whose memories and anecdotes had that desperate, shell-shocked feel that only those left behind can understand. He stumbled through a story my mother had told him about crows that roosted in our yard; the laughter that followed was so hesitant and half-hearted it was nearly an afterthought.
Every winter the crows would gather in the trees on my street. They favored a cluster of ugly, lurching pines in the corner of our yard where they would gather and sing the stark, grating song of the apocalypse. So many the top of the tree would sag from the weight, all those black feathers forming a giant mass of jeering doomsday heralds. My father hated those damn crows. Everyone did, and once in a great while a single gunshot from an anonymous suburban outlaw would pierce the silence of the gathering dusk, and hundreds of those horrible birds would take flight at once. A few minutes later they would settle again, in the same spot, cawing triumphantly. My father didn’t like guns. Instead, he would go outside and beat the hell out of the trunk of that tree with a metal pipe. Determined to outlast them, he would scare them away and then watch as they landed and begin again. His tenacity was something to see, but the birds won. They always won.
I thought the story made him look crazy and foolish, and I silently raged at my mother for choosing that memory. Jesus, in thirty-nine years of marriage she couldn’t think of one goddamned thing that didn’t make him the butt of a joke? I had a thousand. Why didn’t I speak up?
I sat there and hurriedly scrawled out a letter, trying to make up for my silence. Thank you for your sense of humor, I wrote. Thank you for your love of reading, and for not being afraid to cry. My words were bland and insufficient, and I felt childish and stupid as I slipped them inside his lapel.
Weeks later I had a moment when I didn’t feel that immediate internal swoop of grief when I thought of him, and in my mind the years stretched out before me in a series of hills, the crest of which held a moment in time where I would be but he would not – the birth of my children, my mother’s inevitable death, rites of passage and anniversaries in the unstoppable progression of time. And I understood, once again, the meaning of forever. That we move forward whether we want to or not – the only thing we control is how present we are when we do.
After we are gone the stories people tell of us are not for us – they are for themselves, however they need to reconcile those memories. We can be the best people we can but how they choose to remember us is up to them, as filtered through their own experience. I am probably not who I think I am. I am probably not who you think I am.
When I die, I want my ashes made into projectiles. I hope someone buries me in an exotic botanical garden where I can be part of every sunrise as much as I hope someone chucks me into the swamp where I can become alligator scat. I will feel neither of these things more than the other – but the potential brings me vicarious joy today. Closure is up to those who are left behind.