Dealing With The Dead
The six-year anniversary of My Little Mom’s death was yesterday.
My half-brother, half-sister, and I decide it’s the right time to finally take Our Little Mom’s ashes down Island to the cemetery to be buried in a plot I bought many moons ago when I was married to Good Man.
But to do justice to the short story I’m about to share, I have to go back to 1983 when my dad died.
When my logging truck driver dad died, my mom was a mental and emotional mess (see memoir), so my aunt acted as executor.
Mom and I didn’t inquire where he’d been buried.
mentioned, Mom wasn’t coping well after he died and I was eleven years old and numb from it.
Many years later when we were curious enough to find out, my aunt had by then developed Alzheimer’s and my dad’s other siblings were hanging out with him in heaven.
We knew he was in the Rose Garden but I couldn’t find a Rose Garden Memorial anywhere in B.C.
Finally, a week before the 20th anniversary of my dad’s death, my mom was cleaning out old files and found his death certificate.
He was in Cedar, B.C. a 90-minute drive south of us.
But when I called the cemetery, they said he wasn’t buried there, only cremated.
The next week, on the 20th anniversary of my dad’s death, MLM and I drove down to Cedar to investigate.
Walking the lush grounds of the cemetery we found The Rose Garden.
Being of poor farmers’ upbringing, and with the cost of a simple burial being highway robbery, my aunt likely took it upon herself to sprinkle my dad’s ashes amongst the bright buds, off the record, of course.
Well, that was it, the plot-selling rep had us. Like those roses, we were ripe for the picking…
One forest plot, one granite bench, one cheesy inscription, two inset portraits, three cremations, and nine thousand dollars later our future end was set…
MLM and I had secured a spot in the forest near the rose garden fertilizer that had been my dad.
Little did I think at the time that etching my then-husband’s and my names on a granite bench wasn’t a wise investment.
Ah well, it’s only money. And granite.
Flash forward to yesterday.
The drive down to Cedar is filled with silly laughter, sentimental memories, and soppy tears.
We don’t talk about OLM as much as we get to know each of our early histories.
The three of us are years apart; my brother is eleven years older than I am and my sister, is eighteen. We didn’t grow up together.
By the time we get to the cemetery, our hearts are full and our energy is empty.
We go into the office with the little box of ashes that feels heavier than it should.
The receptionist smiles, “Do you have an appointment?”
She goes to find someone to help us.
Out comes a woman that looks like she might be called Rose, though later we’ll agree she was mostly kinda prickly.
She leads us to a room with a table and chairs and urns and full-sized samples of elaborate headstones and eloquent name plaques designed to make us feel we loved our mother less because she’s in a plastic bag inside a cardboard box.
She asks, “Do you have the cremation certificate?”
“No, do you need that?”
She looks at her laptop, “It says here that [your ex-husband] is on the title. We’ll need his signature on the …”
“We still need his signature.”
“I got the plot in the divorce.”
The way she looks at me I want to tell her he got the house we lived in, but in all fairness he deserved it.
Instead, I say, “Do you want my divorce agreement?”
“If it indicates you got the plot, that’ll do.”
Then she goes on to inform us they also need my mother’s Will indicating my sister was the executor.
“Do you have that?” She asks already knowing the answer.
We shake our heads, trying not to laugh.
My sister asks if we can just sprinkle her amongst the ferns.
Thorny Rose explains it’s not allowed, something environmental, but while we don’t believe her, we remain silent quietly exchanging knowing glances…
Meaning, they need to charge $580 to plant a bag of ashes because dealing with the dead is a business, after all.
Thorny Rose asks us if we’d like to make an appointment to come back for the burial when all the paperwork is in.
We tell her we’ll get back to her when we know our schedules.
After we leave with mom in tow, we decide to take a stroll through the rose garden where my dad seasoned the earth but roses are no longer there, now it’s a rhododendron garden—maybe ground bones aren’t so good for roses?
We head over to the forested area where the granite bench with my ex-husband’s name and mine and my dad’s and OLM’s resides.
“We should’ve just came straight out here and sprinkled her.”
“$580 to dig a hole!”
“Dying is big business.”
“And a lot of paperwork.”
“What if my dad wasn’t even deposited in this rose garden?”
After a moment of consideration we all laugh.
We ponder as we walk back to the car.
On our way out of town, we pass a sketchy-looking pub with a fish ’n chips special and decide to grab some grub—dealing with the dead makes a family famished.
My sister giggles, “Should we bring mom in?”
I add, “Right?! What if the car gets stolen?”
My sister, “What if mom gets stolen! You never know these days.”
My brother, “We’ll put her in the trunk.”
The three of us stand over the trunk as the little box that contains Our Little Mom gets deposited in the trunk of my brother’s car alongside bits of tree debris and the smell of diesel (he’s a tree cutter).
He says, “Sorry about the mess, Mom.”
My sister says, “She won’t mind. She’s probably laughing.”
I say, “It’ll remind her of the logging camps.” She loved those days.
As we shut the trunk my sister says, “She’ll be safer in there. You’ll be safer in here.”
We turn around to see a couple watching us suspiciously and probably wondering who’s in the trunk and why three unassuming serial killers feel the need for fish ’n chips mid-slasher-mission.
My brother and sister each get a pint and the bartender/server asks me if I like lagers.
“I love loggers! The truck driving kind. But can I get something with vodka, not too sweet, please.”
This turns out to be a Paloma and it’s my new favourite drink even though I almost never drink alcohol.
The drive home is uneventful other than a lot of yawning.
Dealing with the dead aka attempting to bury the ashes of a loved one plus greasy carbs and booze equals three sleepy survived-by siblings.
After my brother and I drop off my sister, my brother and I continue chatting about why we should pay so much to dig a hole.
Him, “If your dad wasn’t there, we could consider other resting places.”
Me, “Well, the rose garden isn’t even there anymore even if it was this one.”
Him, “If we wait awhile, we could just come back and sprinkle her in the forest.”
Me, “I wonder if there are cameras in the trees.”
Him, “Oh right, probably. Of course, you’d think of that.”
Me, “See, all those true crime shows are paying off.”
After a minute, I say, “Shawshank Redemption!”
Him, “Tim Robbins, great movie. But… relevance?”
Me, “Devise a way to drop ashes out of our pant legs.”
Him, “They’d end up in our socks and boots.”
Me, “Mom might want some of her to come home with us. Again.”
Me, “I mean do we really need the end date etched on the bench?”
Him, “When we’re gone no one else will go out there.”
Me, “We likely won’t go there even when we’re not gone.”
The next day, I message my sister with the list of documents I no longer have and add, “What if we find a different place for her to rest in peace?”
She offers, “Well, we do have family with acreage right nearby that’ll stay in the family forever. She would be closer to visit and we could keep the family together…”
I reply, “Let me check with our brother!”
So… we are saying F-you to the thorny, costly establishment, they can keep my nine grand, but we’ll always have the memories of plotting to Shawshank their overpriced burial plot!
What have I re-learned?
- That granite bench with my ex’s and my names on it has long outlived my marriage but it won’t outlive the dead.
- Dealing with the dead is a lot of work for the living but when the living love laughing together, every mishap can be a comedic adventure.
- Be careful what you pay for upfront!
Investigate re-sale options for cemetery plots. #smacktoforehead