We scattered my grandmother’s ashes around her farm last week.  Not all of them, because the family wants her to be buried in the cemetery next to her husband.  Most of the ashes are still in the plastic bag, closed inside the black and green plastic box that “Cremains” come in (“cremated remains”, trendily shortened and combined, like “Craisins”).

My grandmother died almost three weeks ago.  She got in her car to drive to church, and was found the next day by the person who came out to fix the tractor.  She was still in the car, key in the ignition, battery dead.  I went home for a week and a half and stayed at my dad’s place, running errands and mowing grass and generally being helpful.  I can get up to three weeks of labor credits from Twin Oaks to come home for a family “emergency” like this.  It’s nice to not have to worry about making up labor when I get back to the community.  I like being able to be at Home for all of this intensity, and I realized a while I was there that it’s as much for my own mental health as it is to be helpful to my family.

I’d been curious about my lack of emotion after responding to the initial shock of hearing she had died.  I expected more grieving, more crying, more sadness.  I found myself experiencing it more on an intellectual level, thinking about what death might be like and philosophizing on the nature of dying, and the nature of Life (much like last year, when my aunt died).  People would hug me and tell me how sorry they were for me, and I didn’t feel any sorrow, or any need for theirs.  I would say that I was glad to be home with my family, which was true.

Grief finally came at the memorial service.  My family sat in the front row of the church, and two enlarged photos of my grandmother were resting on easels just a few feet in front of us.  Every time I looked at one of the pictures, it became real for me in a way it hadn’t been up to that point.  I had busied myself with being the helpful daughter, dutifully taking care of details and supporting my dad, encouraging him to be emotional and running errands with my rented car.  It didn’t feel like a defense against hard emotion — in fact, I wanted to be feeling something deeper.  I went out to her farm with my journal and wrote, I walked through the woods that had been such a key part of my childhood.  I looked thorough old photos and I read through letters on her desk.  Nothing really made it into my emotional center, until the service last Tuesday night.  The power of ceremony, making it real.  Even though the Methodist jargon didn’t quite resonate, I was able to translate most of it to be meaningful and significant in its own way.

I found my deepest emotion with the ashes at the farm the next morning.  My brother and my dad and I went out early, before my brother headed off to the airport.  We put some of her ashes around the peace pole we erected a few years ago in tribute to Grandmother and her late husband.  We took some up to the “picnic spot” and scattered them in the fire pit where we roasted hot dogs and marshmallows as kids.  We threw some into the wind, towards the wild pastures and forest.  We scattered some in the flowerbed in front of her house, and watered them into the soil.  I realized we had honored the four elements, and at the flowerbed, after watering, I sang a song I learned here at Twin Oaks: “The river is flowing, flowing and growing, the river is flowing down to the sea.  Mother carry me, your child I will always be.  Mother carry me down to the sea.”  We finished by putting some ashes in the old garden (“to new growth!”, I shouted), and then emptying the rest of our small portion into the stump of a recently-cut tree, dead and decaying from the inside (“for companionship in decomposition,” I whispered).

I’m back at Twin Oaks now, getting back into the swing of life here.  It’s muggy and hot, especially in the tofu hut with all of the steaming bean curds and boiling water.  Whew! The garden is in full swing (strawberries at every meal, and snap peas and snow peas and broccoli and zucchini…) and the fruit trees are abundant.  I eat mulberries right off the branch for breakfast after I go for a morning swim in the pond.  I love my life here, and I love my family and home in Cincinnati.  While I was in Ohio, I imagined what it would be like to move back there and live out at the farm, build a community there.  Being back here, it becomes a much more complicated question.  Am I willing to walk away from here yet?  What of this could I bring with me?  Am I willing to start from scratch, and build it?  Who?  How?  Money?  When?  Really?

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