Grief, Laughter and Ashes


I promise it’s not as sad as it may sound.

It will be two years soon. Seven hundred and thirty days. Sometimes it feels like thousands, but then I think we all know that the passage of time can move fast or slow depending on an individuals’ perception.

To be honest, I have been dreading this month. It was weeks of anguish that ran so deep, I truly thought it must be a nightmare that I would wake from. But every day I got up, got into the car, drove to the hospital. Every day was a little worse than the last. Hallowe’en was a big downswing. While I was reading to her, she had another heart attack. It was an awful day. Maybe no worse than the others, but it felt like it at the time. And into November we trudged.

I read somewhere recently that many people are made to feel guilty or it is insinuated that there is something wrong with them, when they ‘grieve too long’. I can remember when we first moved to Calgary, a lady 2 doors down from us had lost her husband 6 months previous. It was two years after that she finally spoke and decided she could wear a colourful outfit other than black. That was her journey…and one she undoubtedly is still on. To mourn, to grieve, to live without-of course it’s going to be different for each individual since we are, as individuals, unique in our own ways. No one person has the identical memory as another. No one person experiences that identical experience as you have. It may indeed be similar-but not the

I still have boxes left to go through. I’m embarrassed, in a way, to even write that down. The words stare back at me on my tablet questioning whether I should delete them or not. After all this time I still haven’t found the courage to complete, what I think could possibly be, a final goodbye…but I know, there never really can be a final farewell.

What is left of her material things are waiting patiently; they aren’t going anywhere. Neither is she-not yet…No, what is left of her physical remains are in the hallway, underneath a small, polished table. On top of the table are as follows; a rosary from the Vatican, a novel of Beatrix Potter, a ceramic music box, a leather bound book of Psalms and finally a poem, framed in pewter, given to me by a dear friend.

What remains of her sits in a sealed box underneath this makeshift shrine of sorts…and I smile while I write this because I can hear her say “How grim!”.

But really, it isn’t so grim. It is a reminder that she isn’t so far away. Even if I do believe her soul is in heaven and she isn’t in the box-her physical body is there.

She’s heavy too! I mean, for a tiny women who shrunk to a child’s body; the box is a workout to pick up! Just ask my brother who travelled with her and his new bride. From what I understand they spoke with her occasionally on the way to see us, commenting every so often about her apparent weight gain…

He delivered ‘the box’ at the end of the summer; after unpacking the car we sat down to chat but not before he hefted a black bag (the box inside) over to me and laid it by my feet, declaring cheerily “There you go Mom! Here’s Marg!”!

We were supposed to separate her ashes during his visit. We had decided to divide her up, gifting each of us 1/4 of her ashes. We had a small memorial of sorts. We talked about what we most fondly remembered about her. Then we went about vacationing while Mom sat back and took in all of nature…just as she would have done. The decision to not take her canoeing with us I believe was a wise one…in particular had she been in my brother and sister in law’s canoe, which unfortunately capsized at one point.

At the end of the vacation, it came time to divide up the ashes. My brother and sister in law were leaving the following day. I had read what I needed to know about dividing the ashes. I had explained to my brother some time ago that I didn’t want an ear lobe or a piece of her bottom or boob and that since I was the one dividing them, I would get choice pickings. Some levity was gravely needed, and as my brother and I abashedly chuckled about such a macabre thought, I am quite sure she was laughing along with us, albeit with the occasional “Oh dear! How awful!” thrown in for good measure.

We were like that, us three. Have my brother and I to a funeral and God help us, we couldn’t sit together…although there really is nothing terribly funny about any of it; the dark humour that bubbles beneath, coupled with the loss, is apparently an anecdote for entirely uncalled for and inappropriate mirth.

I think Mom would have understood why we waited so long to collect her and then have a memorial…she may not have agreed that we waited so long, but she would have understood (my brother apologized to her on the way home from the funeral parlour for being late and then, for old times sake, swung by McDonalds and picked her up a McFlurry).

Anyway, that is what she did. She spent her life being the understanding one, although until she found sobriety, her understanding was mired with guilt and regret but no matter-she was always there for us when we needed an ear to listen. After her sobriety, or her second life as she would often say, she became the women, mother and granny that we all so dearly miss.

Mom and I would joke pretty much about everything. God, it was a gift that has been so very hard to live without…

We could be involved in the most serious of conversations, and something would slip out from one or the other-and off we would go, laughing until we cried (or peed) or both! When Richard, Mom and I would get together and hit a ‘mood’, the hysterical laughter that would ensue was off the top. We were, after all, the three musketeers…and with that came the wonder and sometimes anguish of being part of such a tight knit unit.

So here we were, two out of three musketeers, discussing how we would divide the thirds’ earthly remains like they were a bowl of raviolis we used to bicker over as kids.

And then, well, then came the ‘I knew this would happen’ conversation.

Over coffee, the day my brother and his wife were to leave, I asked him to come and help me so we could get the job done.

Finding an appropriate place for ‘the division’ was kind of important. I mean, the kitchen was out of the question (if someone turned on the fan I would never be able to cook again without thinking she was part of the meal). The bathroom was just not appropriate…(funny yes, but definitely inappropriate). Bedrooms were out of the question (although I may not have had a problem thinking that a remnant or two of my mother was floating about our room, the man I sleep with would have another opinion). And so that left very few rooms to chose from, but as it turns out, I needn’t have given it as much thought as I did because of the conversation that followed.

Brother: “We spent, (well really Noemi spent) hours last night trying to fit everything into our luggage. We’ve shopped a fair amount and it seems we’re going back with more than what we came here with”!

Me: knowing what was coming next “um hmm”…

Brother: “ I don’t think we’d be able to fit one more thing. Even in our backpacks”!

Me: blank staring, “and..”

Brother: “I just don’t think Mom will, well, fit, ya know? Maybe you could UPS her out to us, when you’ve divided the ashes”?

Me: smiling.

Me: not surprised.

Me: staring.

Me: still not surprised. “Okay”.

We both knew that neither one of us were quite ready to open up that box. To systematically divide what remained of our mother into Glad freezer bags like yesterday’s leftovers.

And so, ever the patient Mommy, she hangs out in my hallway- fully together…well, not really. But she hasn’t been divided yet. She hasn’t been scattered to the winds or across the forest floor. She hasn’t dipped into the ocean or flown with the birds…Each one of the four of us will be ready, one day, to share that exceptional moment in time with her.

Until then, she waits in my hallway for the day that I have the courage; when there are not too many tears and when my matter of factness is in prime condition. Until then, she earnestly listens to my ramblings. She is there and yet everywhere and yet somewhere in particular-that I know.

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