Saturday, June 2, 2012

two headstones for Mom, or the curious business of death

Half a century ago, my mother's parents bought a piece of a cemetery in their home town in northern Minnesota. I'm not sure how many grave sites they bought—my guess is eight or twelve. I think they imagined their descendants returning in death to gather for eternity.

That ain't gonna happen.

My brother and his family have lived in New Mexico for decades. They're part of a church there. They have no reason to transport their bodies or ashes thousands of miles to be buried in a place they never loved.

Emma and I are back in Minneapolis, and my instructions for my body are simple: whatever Emma wants to do. I've always admired the Zoroastrian Towers of Silence and American Indian burial platforms. I'd kind of like to be stuffed and placed by the door where I could hold coats and umbrellas at parties, but the cost wouldn't be worth the joke. Burn me, bury me, scatter me, stuff me, or leave me to rot where I won't inconvenience anyone—it's all good. If my spirit will linger anywhere, it'll be somewhere more interesting than the last bits of my body.

These are my grandparents' graves in Minnesota:


Mom used to talk about donating her body to science, but she mentioned that less often in later years. When my sister died suddenly, they buried her ashes in a small country graveyard near her farm in Manitoba. Mom decided to be buried next to Liz, and Dad, who, I suspect, wanted to die at sea in a storm and never found a storm strong enough to kill him,  has agreed to be buried with them. Currently, half of Mom's ashes are buried by this marker:


Mom mentioned to my niece once that she would like half of her ashes to be buried with her parents, so I accepted the job of making that happen.

Which may've been a bad idea, because at a basic level, I just don't understand graveyards. If you want to spend money on someone, spend it on them while they're alive.

I understand memorial services. They're not for the dead. They're for the grieving.

But I don't understand spending money to mount a piece of rock in a field that could be a park or farmland or a nature preserve. If you need more than your memories to remember someone, keep a photo or something that person had. In my living room, I have a small metal pitcher that was in Mom's bedroom when she died. It's more than enough for me to remember Mom.

I wanted to plant something over her ashes in Minnesota, then decide whether there should be a formal marker also, but my brother and my niece want a headstone, and I love them, so there'll be a marker in Minnesota as well as Manitoba. Something that should look nice near Mom's parents' graves will cost about $700, which is either too much or too little to spend on remembering someone you love, but that's the business of death for you.