Wednesday, December 09, 2009

PLANTING THE ASHES

[Note: This is part of a book Christopher is working on about his lessons and experiences with Dolores' death, and how they both dealt with issues of death during their marriage.]

As Dolores wished, her body was cremated. In about three weeks after her death, a brown box was delivered to me which contained her ashes. It was heavier than I expected. We received it too late for the Memorial we held in the back yard a week and a half after she died, otherwise we might have planted a tree that day.

The search was on to find the ideal tree to plant over Dolores’ ashes. The first choice was breadfruit, a Hawaiian tree, in honor of Dolores’ love of things Hawaiian, and her feeling of a connection to those islands, and the memory of her having lived there. But there was no breadfruit to be found. If anyone would have a breadfruit tree, I figured Steven Spangler of Exotica would have it, but he told me that the tree would not grow here unless in a greenhouse. That wouldn’t do.

So then I tried to find a terebinth tree, rich in symbolism and seemingly ideal to memorialize Dolores. But could not find one. I was told by a botanist at the Huntington Garden that there weren’t any of these trees in North America. I sought a certain species of fragrant lilac, a certain variety of deodar, and other trees. Each of these inquiries took time, and it was clear that we should not wait too long for such a memorial.

We had felt the presence of Dolores very strong through December and early January, but she seemed further afield now in that different sort of work that someone must be engaged in once their body dies. So I decided to plant Meyer lemons, a tree that Dolores enjoyed because not only did it provide food, but also fragrance and medicine, and it was drought-tolerant.

Finally, we planned the event for Saturday, February 7, 2009 at 3 p.m. Alvin Toma provided the two Meyer lemons – we planned to plant two trees, symbolic of all things two, like frontal column and spinal column, like Boaz and Joachim. We planned the trees so that Dolores’ trees would watch over and overlook where her dogs were buried.

On Saturday, Talal and I spent an hour finding the just-right spots for the trees. Where I first placed them, still in their pots, seemed symmetrical, but as we looked at it, we realized one would have much more shade than the other. So we moved the trees and finally found the just-right spots, where one would walk down the path and through the two lemons, into the dog cemetery. We dug two holes and built up the hillside on the outer edge of the holes so they’d be secure and not wash away.

Soon guests came. Prudence, Julie, Racina all helped with the site preparation. Nicole and Candace came, as did Mike, and Ben, and Jonathan, and Mel. Even an Hungarian woman showed up after seeing the notice in the L.A. Times. I beat the sacred Taos drums as guests arrived, drums passed down in Dolores’ family, now to me.

We began by filling and touching our cups, and sharing a Toast to Dolores.
We read poesic arts works, and discussed death. A few words were spoken about Dolores. Then we went to the trees. Everyone gathered around. I cut Dolores’ last garment in two, the garment that she wore on her last days. It was a long gray cotton night shirt, and I put half in each hole, explaining how it would be also good for the tree to maintain moisture during dry times. I cut a few inches of my hair and added it to each hole. We put some Otis (our pot-bellied pig) manure into each hole.

Then it was time for the ashes. The dust from which we came and to which we return. I opened the brown box and found a plastic bag inside. I opened the tie. Inside was the dense white ash. I knew that Dolores was no longer her body, but I also knew that this was left of the body within which Dolores resided. I reached into the plastic bag with my hands and took a handful of the powder and placed it in one hole. I put about half of the power into each hole. My hands were white with Dolores’ ash, which gave my hands a silky feel. I saved a little ash to see if anyone else wanted to save some, but no one did. Everyone had been so very quiet. (I was later told, privately by four different people, that they had never seen human ash before, and that they were a bit shocked that I handled them with my bare hands. Prudence told me it seemed like an act of Love. I can only say that it seemed like the right thing to do, to not have fear or repulsion for the ashes of my beloved, but to touch them.)

Then we planted the trees, everyone pitching in to get the trees aligned and watered.
When done, everyone put a rock around the base, and added a little water to the trees. We read more readings, looked at Dolores’ beautiful and unique photography. I smoked Luther Standing Bear’s pipe, blowing smoke to the four directions, to honor Dolores’ site, where her ashes will nourish the trees, where the fruits will absorb the nutrients from that ash, where we will one day consume lemons nurtured by Dolores’ essence.

The weather was perfect for the event. The rain stopped as we began, and the sky had a unique shade of blue, as large billowing clouds filled the sky. It was the sort of skyscape that you expect to see in classical European art.

Finally, Racina sang a wonderful rendition of "You Lift Me Up" and John Denver’s "Country Road." It was beautiful.We cleaned up and departed, and wished the very best to our dear friend Dolores.

My friend Christopher Reamer could not join us that day, but he wrote, "I am one person who was inspired by Dolores, and will continue to be. Peace to you and her in this awesome journey of life. Christopher Reamer."

2 comments:

robert.blair said...

Dear Christopher,

What a beautiful memorial. I am sorry that I have not been in touch and did not know of Dolores' pasing, or I would have wanted to participate in the honoring of Dolores and the planting of the Meyer's lemon trees.

So ironic that I got a copy of The Talking Leaf's newsletter on 12/9/09 from you, exactly one year to the day of Dolores' passing, and read about it for the first time that evening.

It is also ironic that this past week at my wife's Korean Christian church, the pianist played one of my grandfather's favorite hymns, "O Gentle Presence", otherwise called the Mother's Evening Prayer, during communion.

(My grandfather, "Papa Dan", died on Christmas Eve, 1985, a week before I turned 21 years old.) He was, in truth, like my real dad, because I grew up in his house and he and my mom's mom, really raised me. Now there was a man, my grandfather.

The music of "O Gentle Presence" was written by Frederick C. Atkinson and the words, on page 207 of The Christian Science Hymnal, were written by C.S's founder, Mary Baker Eddy.

The tune is actually called "Morecambe". Apparently, Atkinson had named it this and written different words, but Mary Baker Eddy wrote her own to the melody, and renamed the song, because she loved it so much, and it was adopted as one of the hymns of the Christian Science Church.

This evening, before reading your memorial of Dolores and that she had practiced Christian Science type of healing, I had gotten my grandfather's old Bible out off of the shelf, and Christian Science Hymnal, too, to discover "what song that was that the Korean pianist had played this past Sunday at church".

I knew it was my grandfather's favorite hymn.

My wife read me the composer's name of the song in the Korean Christian Hymnal and it was F.C. Atkinson.

From there, it was just a matter of looking up the composer's name in one of the C.S. Hymnal's indexes, and there it was, Morecambe, page 207. It's first words are "O gentle presence, peace and joy and power; O Life divine, that owns each waiting hour..."

As my wife practiced playing the melody on our $100, used piano we bought a month ago from a local Mehtodist church, I sang the words of my grandfather's favorite hymn: "O Gentle Presence", to my wife.

He used to sing it with us when we were going to church on Sunday mornings and we were afraid about something that was going on in our lives. It was always comforting.

Maybe my grandfather's spirit and Dolores's was there as well, right with my wife and I, alst night, as we sang...

Then I went upstairs to go to your site, for the first time, to see if I could send you an e-mail, and was blown away when I read in the memorial about Dolores and the reference to Christian Science. I am also blown away that I am the first comment on this post.

I do believe in synchronicity and in God. I do lean towards Native American spirituality as did Dolores and you. Yet I was born Jewish, and raised in Christian Science by my beloved maternal grandfather.

Amazing the connections between friends.

robert.blair said...

(Part II)

Originally, when I received your newsletter, I thought it was a coincidence because it is a survival newsletter, and I am running in my first 100 mile mountain trail race, starting this Saturday, at Bluejay campground in the Cleveland National Forest, between Lake Elsinore and San Juan Capistrano.

It is going to be very wet and very cold, and it will take a survivalist's mentality to finish, let alone finish well.

My race bib number is 91, for the 91st Psalm, which was my grandfather's favorite, (his book mark was left in that place in his Bible as well) and which because it seems, so coincidentally also, like it was written specifically for an ultramarathoner, I call "The Ultrarunner's Psalm".

Read it sometime. David, or whomever wrote it, definitely knew about the feelings and thoughts one has when traveling through the mountains day and night, the feelings of fear and the thoughts of several threats to one's life out there.

It is a wonderful Psalm (song) and prayer, actually, as well as a testament to the writer's faith in God protecting him from all of the threats that could overcome a traveler during a journey through the mountains.

Though we are not actual brothers, and though we do not always see each other for long stretches of time, thank you for being like an older brother to me since I first met you in the summer of 1996.

May God bless Dolores' spirit, and yours as well, with everlasting life.

I hope to see you again soon.

I also hope to finish this 100 miler safely. Please say a prayer for the safety of all the runners embarking on this adventure this weekend, December 12-13.

Thanks.

Your friend,
Robert Scott Blair