I’ve always planned to be cremated when I die. I’m not keen on the idea of blowing thousands of dollars on a fancy box so I can sit in the ground and decompose and be eaten by mold and bugs and worms. I’m also pretty certain I don’t even want my body to be embalmed. I started leaning toward this decision when I’d read that the practice of embalming started, in part, to ensure a person was dead before they are laid to rest. The idea of using toxic chemicals to pickle my body just seems… wrong. And then, because I want my body cremated, I can only surmise the toxic chemicals that would be released when cremating a body filled with formaldehyde and the other fun stuff they use for embalming.
The initial appeal of cremation probably came from hearing my mom talk about it. She’d shared similar opinions about cremation, and I’m sure it had a large influence on my own opinion. She would say to me and my brother, Mark, that she never wanted to be buried, she just wanted to be cremated and spread someplace beautiful, on top of a mountain, perhaps. I’m so grateful she was open with these thoughts, because when she died unexpectedly at 47 years old it certainly made many of those decisions that come with death easier for us. There were some small hurdles, as it goes: my dad had known about her wishes to be cremated but had forgotten or never heard about the “spread somewhere beautiful” part and almost got sucked into buying a cemetary plot by the funeral director. And then, once her body was cremated, there was a bit of family dissention about what to do with the cremains. My mom’s dad, who had never heard any of my mom’s wishes from her, really really fought the idea of spreading her ashes. He wanted to inter the ashes so he’d have someplace to visit her. My dad had never specifically heard my mom mention the idea of spreading her ashes, so he wasn’t sure which side to take but was willing to support whatever my brother and I wanted to do. And my brother and I, still being mostly kids ourselves, had a hard time really saying no to our grandpa. So, it sadly took us awhile to deal with the issue, as we offered compromise after compromise and since none of them fit the exact idea my grandpa had, they were handily rejected.
Finally, about four years after mom died, we decided it was unfair to everyone and disrespectful to my mom to do anything but what she’d specifically wished for. We realized there wasn’t going to be a solution that pleased everyone so we sought a solution that would be most pleasing to the most important person – Mom. Since she loved the Adirondacks, where my grandparents lived, and where we spent many vacations, and where Frank and I decided to have our wedding a couple years earlier, and since she’d even mentioned the idea of a mountaintop, that’s what we went with. My aunt Carolyn, mom’s half-sister, who also lives in the Adirondacks, came up with a couple ideas for places to spread the ashes, and we decided on Mt. Baker, near Saranac Lake. The view from the top is lovely, and an added bonus is that it’s not a particularly difficult climb.
So four years after she passed away we made a family trek up the mountain — my dad, my brother, Frank and I, my aunt & uncle, another uncle, and a bunch of cousins — and we spread her ashes on and over an outcropping of rock that serves as the peak’s overlook point. One unexpected benefit of having waited so long was that the hike was much more upbeat than it might have been years earlier. We laughed and made jokes and fondly remembered my mom amongst ourselves in a much lighter mood than we could have mustered closer to her death. The “LifeGem” concept had just been in the news, and we spoofed about having Mom’s ashes made into a diamond, which I could wear and show people and tell them, “It’s my mother.” And they’d say, “It *was* your mother’s?” and I’d reply “No, it *is* my mother!” We milked that joke for all it was worth. My brother got the honor of wearing the backpack up the mountain that held mom’s cremains, which were in a plastic box. He kept whining that Mom was poking him, and it was funny. My mom was really sweet and nice when she was alive, and living in a house with me and my brother and dad, who are sarcastic teasers, she was often the innocent target of our sardonic humor. Poor thing, she couldn’t even escape it in death.
The whole experience, while mostly fondly remembered and satisfying, did leave me with the regret that we didn’t stand up to my grandpa sooner. Mom’s ashes waited too long to be properly ‘interred’ and I hate that they waited so long in an impersonal little box all that time. I’m not the type of person who feels much regret about anything. I’m not a worrier by nature: I think worry is fear that future events will turn out poorly, and regret is like a projection of that fear on something that’s already happened. I tend to be fairly immune to both, so that I do feel true regret in regards to this incident stands out pretty significantly. I can probably count on one hand other things I feel a twinge of regret about, but I’m not sure given the chance I’d change anything about those other things, because to change them could potentially change the whole outcome of my life to date, and I like where my life is right now. But spreading Mom’s ashes sooner, exactly to her wishes, I can’t see how that would wreak havoc on my current existence, and I’d be more proud of keeping to her specific wishes and doing so in a timely fashion.
This post is part of Kate‘s weekly blog post theme. This week’s is “regret”. I’ll update this with the links of other people who are participating, or if you can’t wait, hop over to Kate’s blog and follow the links from there, as she’ll definitely have them before I do.