My mother was a tough nut, but I made peace with her before she died. “I love you,” was the last human sentence she heard. I spoke it. I also whispered it at the funeral home as I watched her body slide into the crematory oven. The technician shut the door, lit the burner, folded his gloved hands, and smiled kindly. I watched for a while before retiring to a stroll in the surrounding cemetery. I was given more than a year to prepare for my mother’s death. What I had forgotten was that the process of death, unlike birth, has an industry, but no product.
Outside, ashes were falling from near the crematory chimney. As I reached out to catch a large gray flake drifting through the air, it suddenly blew away. I understood how crematories operate and that flying ash could only come from a hearth-fire in a nearby residence, but I hoped it was my mother. A few minutes later, as I sat on a shaded bench, a small gray squirrel scrambled up to my feet. It stood on its hind legs and looked straight into my eyes. Squirrels have always been good to me, so I bent to give its head a friendly scratch. I wondered if my mother had sent it. The little emissary hurried away before I touched it, before I mistook I could touch my mother.
Memories of the dead often dart like unexpected swallows in the evening sky. Sparked from our cloudy minds, they wheel on sharp wings before dissolving in a mist. A friend calls them grief motes, though they sometimes make us smile. My mother was a bigger bird, swan sized, with wings to crack a man’s head. She should therefore spark a bigger mote with a trumpet call to scare the Hell out of me. Instead, she’s mostly soft and mute. Neither a hurried squirrel nor darting bird, she hums softly in the garden, leaving my other grief motes alone.
Life is the product of birth. Memory, imagination, and death, are processes of life.
May 27, 2013