This is what I said this week in the WALLA WALLA UNION-BULLETIN:
It’s been a somber time in my little hometown.
On Dec. 30, a frosty Friday morn, a man most of us knew and from whom many of us craved plumbing expertise was gunned down in what everyone says to be cold-blooded murder.
The weekend was pulled taut by a long string of dark hours while a massive manhunt ensued. Families holed up in their homes, furiously communicating with nervous relatives and neighbors via Facebook and cell phones.
On Sunday, which dawned lighter in color than previous days, my family went to church. Following with a visit to the city’s cemetery seemed right. Death had shrouded our hills and streets like a pervasive mist and reminded us of our own dead.
As longtime readers recall, going to the cemetery is not a chore to my kiddos and me. Even through our tears, we appreciate the history that connects us to this place and the complete harmony only those done with daily life can render.
It also put a point on that morning’s pastoral message – to every thing, there is a season. Ecclesiastes 3 tells us so. “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven. A time to be born and a time to die … a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance ….”
Like so often happens, the sermon dovetailed nicely with an ongoing conversation we’re having at my house, the one I call “What To Do With Dad. And Uncle Dwight While We’re At It.”
Some of my kids have advocated for their father’s ashes to rest in the cemetery, where our family already takes up a bit of space. And that’s been the plan all along for my brother Dwight, gone now more than four years. His name is carved in stone next to our mother’s, and no one liked to stare at that more than my developmentally-disabled sibling. Whenever he could and for as long as I let him.
“You put me there, Ann,” Dwight would ask, using his name for me since my birth. “Next to my mom?”
I will, I told him. I promise. I just didn’t say when. I wasn’t ready and I’m the youngest so I’m getting my own way. I like having Dwight close by, keeping David company when I’m not there.
However, I realized that this coming summer presents the best possible moment to change things. My family will be here to help send me into a new marriage. Most of us can be on hand to watch our darling Dwight go where he so badly wanted to be. Well, his ashes, not his soul. Dwight was no fool, he made it clearly understood he would be dancing with Jesus the second he ceased to need this world.
Upon the heels of that revelation came the wave of knowing that this perfect opportunity for Dwight would be the same for David. As much comfort as I’ve drawn from having his ashes at home, my children have felt differently – as if I’m holding Dad hostage for my own emotional needs.
They want a place to go, my daughters tell me, a place to decorate, to weep, to point to on the hill across from our house. The sitting room shelf is not cutting it.
Ecclesiastes nailed it. My time to mourn is indeed passing and the time to dance, and laugh and love, is here.
You’d think that would be the happy ending here, right? Here’s the deal, however. Camo Man, in good planning mode, had his late wife’s marker engraved with his own name included. It’s a beautiful stone, with symbols of their shared life adorning it. It’s next to their darling daughter’s grave. It’s perfect for his family.
And my late husband’s smaller stone will go on our family plot, next to the brother-in-law he loved like a son.
Camo Man here, David there.
What about me?
It’s completely ridiculous, but I’m feeling pre-abandoned. Of course, his descendants will troop to the cemetery to visit the memory of Camo Man and their mother-grandmother-great grandmother. And David’s and my offspring will come to visit us. He’s their father and I’m their mother – we should be next to each other.
And it’s just ashes. Dust. I’m not actually planning to be there.
But what about the grandbabies who will grow up to know us as their grandparents? What about those 30-plus years we hope to have left together? What about occupying a small piece of land as co-owners forever? I don’t even want to whoosh away in the wind without Camo Man, or float down a river to someday become rain as a single entity.
There is no real answer here, nothing pure and un-contrived. They don’t talk about this stuff in the bridal magazines.
Funny. I lived my whole live without Camo Man save for the past seven months, but I can’t bear the thought of being separated ever again.