I did it. I brought what remains of my mother’s ashes to rest with her first husband Joe in a cemetery in France. (Please read previous post first for more background). It was a powerful and truly wonderful experience. What clearly stands out for me in this experience is the amount of grief that we inherit from our parents (and perhaps other ancestors as well). I was brought to the grave site by a kind retired military man who now has a job of helping to manage this cemetery and assist the guests as needed. He was kind enough to pick me up from the train station, rub sand from the beach at Normandy into the etched information on the gravestone (to make it stand out against the white stone cross) and stay late after normal closing hours to allow me more time at the grave. When he left me alone, I lay down at the grave and sobbed. Deeply, heavingly sobbed. Not your ordinary tears, but serious gasping, yell moaning tears. It felt like I was experiencing my mother’s grief. Remember, he’s not a blood relative of mine, but when I was lying there, it really felt like I got to experience the same grief that my mother felt when he died back during the war. I feel like I understand her (and the grief people go through when their partner dies) so much better now. To intimately know someone’s grief is to know them well.
What I’ve just written feels quite important, so I want to underscore it. We can work hard to process our own grief for the losses we have incurred in our lives, but I promise you that I just learned so very clearly that we carry grief that is not ours, that belongs to our ancestors. No wonder there are hatreds between peoples around the world that last for centuries or perhaps millennia. When we as Americans kill innocent people in other countries, or even their soldiers, there is an explosion of grief that happens that I think is larger than the bombs that are dropped. What I think we fail to realize is that the grief not only extends to the parents or children of those who died, but it also continues on in the ensuing generations. Killing as a path to peace can never truly work as it’s unfortunately not a finality. Fatality yes, finality no. Generations of people with wounded hearts are spawned, and unfortunately most people don’t have the wisdom, support or capacity to deal with the hurt and instead allow it to transform to anger and revenge.
What also stands out from this entire event of burying these ashes is how little it really was about me. I know I had written in the last post about my more personal reason for doing this as well. That stuff really seemed to vanish. What was honestly, truly, 100% there was the rightness of this reunion. It was doing my mother and her Joey a huge favor by bringing them together again. I started by digging a hole up near the headstone, but soon realized that the best place for her to be placed would be near his heart, so I filled that hole and dug another as close as I could approximate where the location of his heart would be. I dug a nice tight round hole about a foot deep and kept the plug of sod to replace at the top of the hole once I had placed her inside.
Before doing so, they played “Taps” over the speakers there for me and I stood at the grave and saluted Joe and cried more inherited grief.
Before placing her urned ashes in the hole, I sang a song for them which I had learned from a reel-to-reel recording of my mother singing the song once with her father Max. It’s a beautiful, beautiful simple song called: “Once in a Blue Moon.” I wish I could sing it for you here so you’d understand how lovely it is.
Once in a Blue Moon,
You will find the right one.
Once in a Blue Moon
Find your heart’s delight one.
Then with a thrill,
You’ll know your heart is true.
Once in a lifetime,
When the moon is blue.
I placed the ashes in the hole, refilled it, replaced the sod plug and tossed away the remaining dirt. I then put her music on “shuffle” on my iPod and let her serenade. The first song she sang was “Lazy Afternoon” which was perfect. She was now lying with her man in a beautiful quiet field.
It’s a Lazy Afternoon,
And the beetle bugs are zoomin,
And the tulip trees are bloomin,
And there ain’t another human in view.
Just us two.
It’s a Lazy Afternoon,
And the farmer leaves his reaping,
In the meadow cows are sleeping,
And the speckled trout stop leaping up stream.
As we dream
A fat, pink cloud hangs over the hill,
Unfolding like a rose.
If you hold my hand, and sit real still,
You can hear the grass as it grows.
Its a hazy afternoon
And I know a place that’s quiet,
‘Cept for daisies running riot
And there’s no one passing by it
Come spend this lazy afternoon with me.
Mom, you always had a flair for song choice, and this time you couldn’t have picked one better.
Away I went, walking barefoot through the cool grass and the lowering sun, feeling very pleased that at last Lu (that’s what he called her) and Joey (and she, him) get to be together again. Feels a bit like the end of a chapter. Actually it feels much more like the end of a book. And brother Jeffy, I want you to know you were very present there with me and I felt some of your grief as well. It is wrong what happened back then in 1944, but you’ve turned out to be someone very dear to me. I’m so sorry you had to grow up not knowing the wonderful love of your father, but now at least your parents are together again. I love you brother.
Rest well mom and Joe.