My mother, who passed last December, is – technically speaking – very much with us. In fact, she resides at the top of the closet of the guest room closet, at my sister’s house.
The sad truth of it is that my sisters and I have not come to a decision on what to do with her ashes, and as she left no will or final wishes, we are at a loss.
I loved my mother. But she was a difficult woman. A difficult human, rather – I am not sure it actually had anything to do with her being a woman. She was a recovering alcoholic and though being manipulative and selfish are part of an addict’s personality, I think she might have been that way even without the chemical addiction. She was irresponsible, careless with her money, thoughtless. She didn’t drive. She was an animal hoarder.
I loved her, I truly did. I loved to talk about books and perfume and music with her. I loved to listen to her curse and laugh, I loved to watch her eat a fish sandwich (she always wanted to eat the same thing, no matter which restaurant we dined in). I could be so incredibly angry with her but then we would just fall into our easy pattern of chatter and it would be forgotten.
My breath catches in my throat now, even as I am writing this, to think that I will never do any of these things with her again. At least, not in this life. Not as who we are to each other now.
However, in death she was nearly just as difficult as when she was living. None of her affairs were in order. She had appointed none of us power of attorney or executor – something we should have pushed for, I realize – and she made no will and expressed no final wishes, except for one. Being that we take in her two Himalayan cats (again, without regard to whether our living situations were amenable to an extra two animals).
Between the three of us, my sisters and I paid for her crematory costs (around $1700), we contacted the proper channels who might need to know of her passing, we cleaned up her rental home, and we divided amongst us some items that we wanted to keep to remember her. She did not have much of value, but she certainly had a lot of stuff.
Now we are left with a cardboard box three quarters full of her earthly remains. Human ashes are much heavier than you would expect them to be. I remember my sister cradling the box as we walked somberly from the funeral home to our car in the parking lot.
“These are the arms that held me”, she wept softly, looking down at the box.
And so the box of our mother still sits, heavy with ashes and memories, at the top shelf of a guest room closet. Maybe five months is not long enough to sort out all of our feelings about her. I suppose we have all the time we need, though. She’s not going anywhere.