Sunday, June 17, 2012

The Other Side of the Knife Edge

I missed the Blade Show.

My mother passed away unexpectedly and we had to hightail it down to Florida.  It was a long two-day trip hampered by rain and traffic jams.

Every family does it differently.  Mom wanted to be cremated and returned to the Gulf.  She loved the ocean.

Cremation isn’t that easy.  The funeral parlor is required to wait 48 hours.  Concurrently, the doctor has 72 hours to sign the death certificate.  Some sign right away, others don’t.  Only after the death certificate arrives can they put Mom in the queue for cremation. 
Cremation is very popular in Florida.  It’s legal to dispose of the ashes off any pier, bridge, boat, shore or toilet.  No wonder.  With the high percentage of elderly, the high cost to transport bodies to family plots would be quite a handicap to many families and Florida would run out of land if everyone wanted to be buried there!

Because of the backlog, we had about a week between her death and the services.  My wife and I spent that time organizing and cleaning the kitchen and laundry room for my dad.  I knew my mother was a pack-rat, but this was ridiculous.  We found hundreds, really hundreds of clean, used bread bags stored in other clean used bread bags.  And why pen caps?  Not pens, but a shoebox full of mis-matched pen caps.  

Several years ago there was a science fiction-fantasy show about a missing room in a desert motel chain.  "Artifacts" from the room had strange powers and effects on people.  One of the more humorous ones was a bus ticket which deposited the holder on a road somewhere in Nebraska.  

My mother must have had the one that returns lost pen caps to her.

We scheduled a special trash pickip for all the trash bags
We scheduled a special trash pick-up for all the stuff Mom had packed away.  One exception was a defunct grass cutter which scavengers had already picked up.
We will not even begin to talk about all the open bars of soap she liberated from motel rooms when they traveled!

Father Pat should have presided over the small service my father wanted.  He was strangely unavailable and out of communication with us or the funeral home.  The rectory was closed, nobody was home, messages not returned.  A really different way to run a ministry.    At the last minute Farley Funeral Homes got a fill-in, Father Mike.
Father Mike was an older priest with curly white hair and the map of Ireland written on his face.  He said hello and the service started.

You read off a prayer sheet with little notations like (his/her) or (departed) inserted in the text.  The priest inserts the name or gender of the person to make the ceremony a little more personal.  After all, the normal “donation” is 100 bucks for less than a half hour of work.  That’s a rate of $400K per year if you can find steady work.  In Florida you can come pretty close.

We prayed for a while and he said, "...we pray for Debby."  Mom was June, but my sister Debby was handling a huge part of the burden of arrangements, finding accounts, overseeing so much, she needed a few prayers too, so I didn’t think too much about it.  After about the third time, we realized he had the wrong name……   We corrected him.

Funerals are for the living.  Part of the ceremony is to pray for the living.  So when he got to mentioning my father, “Jack”, we were a little jarred because his name is Frank. 

 We got that straightened out right away.

“Please!  My father’s name is Frank,”  I interrupted. 

My sister Debby, who apparently had been buried earlier in the ceremony, chimed in with “His name is Frank!”

So Father Mike looks at Dad and says “When I met you I called you Jack.  Why didn’t you correct me?”

Dad looked at him and said, “I didn’t want to be rude.” 

I suspect my father’s poor hearing didn’t let him hear correctly so he just assumed the priest had the right name.  I still think we should have given the priest a blood alcohol test.  I bet the level of the cooking sherry was down an inch or two back in the rectory!

The next day everyone wanted a small portion of Mom’s ashes.  This wasn’t unexpected so I searched earlier in the week for small metal containers.  My wife thought she knew where some were sold, but they didn’t have any.  My father's response was to start pulling out amber-colored prescription bottles he uses for small screws and nuts.  I said no to that.

We finally found small metal cans with a clear plastic window in the lid and a magnet on the bottom.  I’m told they are spice containers and the magnet helps them stick to other containers.  Spice containers?  I was out of ideas.   So I told everyone it was a window that Mom could see out of and they could stick it to their refrigerator.  The idea of having your mother’s ashes watching you from the kitchen refrigerator door was strangely comforting to my sisters.  I don’t know where they got this quirky outlook on life from, but my father chose an empty camera filter case to hold Mom’s ashes.  Go figure…..

My absent brother wants to have his own service with Dad, so I planned to leave some ashes in the original container, but my sister said no.  It wasn’t elegant enough.  She chose a thick ceramic container with a metal latch.  Okay….

So the rest of my mother’s ashes are in an old ceramic cheese jar.  Who are these people?

We went to a pier where Mom and Dad fished at, found a nice spot and mindful of the wind, we slipped her ashes into the Gulf and said good-bye.

Mom's finial resting place in the Gulf of Mexico
Mom's at rest in the Gulf of Mexico.

It was a strange and peaceful moment.

1 comment:

Wedgehead30 said...

So sorry to hear of your loss. You have my condolences.