Does This Urn Make My Butt Look Big?
Grace and I had the bittersweet gift of knowing our days together would be few. We didn’t dwell on it, but we didn’t ignore it, either. Each day started with kisses, and ended the same. I told her I loved her and would miss her. She told me she loved me and would stay as long as she could. She taught me to make mittens, sort of, and we talked about finances. She gave me instructions for the sale of her fabric stash, then changed her mind, came up with another plan, changed that one, and then changed it again. I haven’t a clue. She wrote her own obituary. She told me she loved me again. I kissed her again. And still there was so much left unsaid, and now she’s gone.
That she wanted to be cremated was clear, even before cancer was on the horizon. What she wanted done with her ashes, not so much.
I had a surreal meeting at the funeral home, all forms and formalities, and then the man in the suit said, “Will you be identifying the body?”
He led me up some stairs, down a hall, and stopped at a door. “Take as long as you like,” he said, opening the door.
She was lying on a narrow platform. It was covered with the whitest sheet I had ever seen, as was Grace, up to her neck. There she was. I thought I would never see her again, and there she was. She was still wearing her favorite crocheted hat, chocolate brown with pink trim. The steroid-induced swelling was gone and she looked like herself again. She was impossibly still.
I told her I was sorry. I told her I missed her. I told her I loved her, always have, always will. I have no idea how long I stood there silently. Here lay the center of my universe, my reason for being. I was undone. After some time I lifted my arm and touched her cheek with the back of my hand. Cold! Cold as ice, cold as death. There she lay, but she was not there. She was somewhere, is somewhere, but not there.
Back with the man in the suit, he asked what I wanted done with the remains.
Ummm… what are my choices? We agree that I will return in a few days with an urn.
Of the many decisions I was never prepared to make, near the top of the list would be selecting her receptacle. Seriously, the topic never came up, and if it had, I’d bet you dollars to doughnuts that Grace, a huge Big Lebowski fan,would have insisted on a coffee can. Sorry, Grace. Not an option.
I decided the best plan was to choose something from the house, something she had appreciated enough to buy. I settled on a beautiful but unusual Asian container. She had an ever-growing collection of blue and white porcelain, but this was her only piece that was straw-colored with dark jade green filigree. I liked that, but more important was the shape. Tall and thin, like an elegant Chinese cereal box.
When I brought it to the funeral home, the suit matter-of-factly asked if I would be scattering the ashes. Again, I mostly blithered, finally asking why he needed to know now. “If you are, we’ll leave the lid loose, but if you’re not we’ll superglue it down.” Made sense, but I still didn’t have an answer. Scatter her ashes? Scatter Grace? First of all, where? And secondly, I was still getting used to the idea that she was gone. I wasn’t ready to let go of any part of her that I could hold on to. WWGD?
Tokyo? The place where our lives were turned inside out and upside down. Where the refiner’s fire seared away our hesitations, our inhibitions, where we first learned to live with wild abandon. “No regrets, no apologies,” we promised, and that’s how it was, happily ever after.
Bass Creek? Bear Creek? Blodget, Tin Cup, Kootenai? Places we went to be alone, to shut out the world. On a warm autumn afternoon, we could be completely alone, completely together. A world with a total population of two. No jobs, no bills, no pressures, no expectations, no disappointments.
Arches National Park? Time stood still. There was no past, no future, only now, and now we were together. For all I know, we are still there now.
Ghost Rails Inn? The place where each of us worked harder than we had ever worked before. Exhaustion was a constant condition, sleep deprivation was a way of life. And we laughed and loved and lived for five years in our wonderful, haunted B&B. We collected stories like jewels and made friends like spring flowers in a garden, each one surprising and beautiful. The Bed & Breakfast evolved into a quilt retreat center, introducing us to dozens of talented, funny quilters, and introducing them to Stump the Chump. Also that’s where Wild Abandon Woolly Mittens sprang into existence, the unassuming recycled gift that was about to become our next career.
“In my whole life,” Grace once said, “the place I was most happy was Ghost Rails Inn. It’s the best thing I’ve ever done.”
In the end, I decided not to decide, at least not yet. Someday I will probably find a suitable way to return Grace to the empty lot where Ghost Rails Inn once stood, but not yet. For now I can’t stand to be separated from her, and I think she would want to be near to me.
I returned to the funeral home the next day and — I am not making this up — they’d lost her. Men in dark suits didn’t know whether to express condolences or apologies. Several employees who had not yet been awarded their dark suits walked briskly around and behind everything while receptionists made hushed phone calls. They were all far more upset than I was. I could’ve told them. This was just Grace being Grace.
Eventually three men approached me, one carrying the green urn, and one carrying the generic black plastic receptacle they use when an urn is not requested. One hesitantly began, “We all three agree. The urn just isn’t quite big enough.” Oh, great. As if Grace didn’t have enough body image issues already, now she won’t fit into her urn. “We could fill it and dispose of the excess,” suggested a suit.
I took the empty urn and the full plastic receptacle home. They agreed to transfer her ashes later if I find another slightly larger urn. In the meantime, I looked around the house again. The centerpiece of her collection of blue and white porcelain is a striking piece about the size and shape of a small, round watermelon. There’s probably room enough for me to join her in there someday, but the problem is the shape. I can just hear her.
“Does this urn make my butt look big?”