Friday, September 21, 2007

In Which Quin Buries Her Father

I joked about the urn and TSA.

I laughed about sneaking around and digging a hole to said urn into the family raised grave in St. Patrick's here in New Orleans.

We often would say, "Get PaPaw out, he'd like this show." or "Make sure you grab PaPaw and put him in the car."

I never cried for my father. I keened when I saw him lying there, that day he died two years ago. It was a moment of intense grief, seeing him dead, knowing I'd never hear his voice again...even if that voice had gone querulous with his disease. That few minutes was the last time I really cried, thought of, gave time to my dad's death.

Today, we left with a trowel, his urn in a velvet bag and headed into the city. My Aunt A, my mother and I spoke of a number of things, mostly the city, of the changes that had occurred. Aunt A pointed out various neighborhoods that were struggling to come back, we joked a bit about this and that, and finally came down Canal to St. Patrick's.

My maternal grandmother and my Uncle G are also buried there, in a different part of the cemetery, so, Aunt A dropped mother and I off to find my family's tomb among the ocean of tombs there.

New Orleans has a number of her City of the Dead. We bury our dead above ground, because we are below sea level, so, burying someone IN the ground means, well, the bodies tend to pop up and out.

You can rent a tomb here in New Orleans. For 99 years, a family can rent a tomb, and put their dead there. Since the bodies turn to bone bits and ash in around a year or so, it's a good option for those who can't afford a tomb, some of which are larger than New York apartments.

Aunt A dropped Mother and I off, and she went to put flowers on Uncle G's tomb.....Mother and I started the search.

We had a good idea where it was, but, even when you know, well, you get lost. It's no as if you can tap someone on the shoulder and ask directions.

We walked straight out from the main oak tree, and wandered graves.... looking at names, some of the headstones knocked over from Katrina.

I was hot, tired, and keeping an eye on two employees who were digging a grave legally at the far end of the cemetery.

Suddenly... there it was, right there in front of me. My biggest worry, that a stone top had been put on top was needless... only dirt and some weeds were there. To keep the employees from wondering what was on, I hopped up and started to dig at the weeds, pulling them out of the dirt, then taking photos of the names carved in the marble and granite. My grandparents; John F. Catherine A. My uncle, Dominick, who was 5 when he died....TheInvestment shares his birthday with this long dead great uncle and from the strong resemblance shown in their childhood photos, he gives us a good idea of what Dominick would have looked like had he grown to manhood. My great-grandfather, John J. is there, along with his step-son, Thomas....they died two months apart in 1908.

I can't imagine losing your husband and 20 year old son two months apart.

Mother started digging, but, she threw down the trowel, announcing she wouldn't do it and I took over. We weren't sure how deep to go, even with the custom of flattening out the caskets, I didn't know, nor did I want to think about, if I'd hit something. Aunt A pulled up with the car, and we took the urn out.

After I'd dug six inches, Mother laid the urn in sideways, covered it up, and insisted we leave.

I turned back, still feeling somewhat.... I don't know, flat by it all. I checked, and didn't think it wasn't deep enough, one good rain, and it would be exposed.

"Dad would hate to have his bits showing." I laughed, that mirthless laugh we do sometimes in life.. Suddenly, I was somber. "I have to pour out the ashes." I said to my mother.

"I can't watch", she said as she got back into the car.

I was frantic in digging up the urn... the employees had driven by when we were doing the pretend weeding, and I was worried they'd be back. But, it was more than that... I had to settle this. I started to dig with my hands, pulling out his velvet bag, and the urn inside. I made the hole wider and deeper with my hands, now working in an area where my grandfather was buried, a man I adored.

I opened the bag, and uncapped the urn, which had a plastic bag inside, tied tightly with string. I didn't have scissors or a key, no way to cut into the bag, and I was frantic at that point to get him where he was supposed to be, where I knew he had asked me to bury him. Where he insisted he be buried.

I took the trowel and tried to push it through the plastic, ripping a hole in my palm and in that plastic, embedding bits of dad into my skin. As I upended the urn, shaking the ashes into the hole, I started to sob so hard, I didn't realise it was me crying at first. My mother had left the backseat, and she stood over by the car while I reached in and pulled his ashes out, patting them into the dirt, telling him I was sorry it took so long, telling him I missed him, finally...finally grieving.

I covered the spot, and turned dirt over everywhere so it didn't look as if anything had been done.

I'll call in a month, and order the plaque to be placed by the V.A..

It was the most intense, surreal, emotional experience of my life.

I do not wish it on anyone.

There is burying your father, and there is burying your father.

It has allowed me to accept something I put off for almost two years. I kept a spoonful of ashes to bring with me, I didn't want to lose all of him. My brother, Dar, has a small handful that he will spread one day, in the mountains where he and Dad loved to camp. He'll do it when he's ready, I reckon.

And, as I sat here typing this, I noticed something in my shoe.... there it was, a bit of white. I went outside and threw it into the wind, because he wanted to be here, in his city....

And he loved it here at Aunt A's house.

So, one little bit of him is still here.... I'm just not telling her.


golfwidow said...

Have some gumbo for him.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Peter Varvel said...

(deliberately ignoring previous comment)

Quin, thank you for this entry, heartbreakingly beautiful, beautifully heartbreaking.

Paul Zindel writes about doing a necessary symbolic act when saying a crucial goodbye like this, and I believe this was yours.

I feel privileged that you would allow us a good, close-up view to such a private and personal matter.

Bud said...

I'm very touched by your account of this. My Dad died in my arms and I left shortly thereafter to let his wife deal with the arrangements. It's complicated. No regrets, though. I didn't need to say much to her. I made peace with him and that was enough.

Actress Andrea said...

Okay, I too, am going to pretend I didn't see "anon's" rude.

Wow, Quin, I would have never have been able to do what you did. I would have been more like your mother - knowing it had to be done, but unable to watch. I'm glad you were able to grieve, though. Here's giving you all of my love...!

Richard said...

I won't ignore Anon's comments, although I'd rather be able to respond to him by email, as I have to Quin's post.

I will question why he feels the need to attack something written from the heart and for personal reasons. As a 'Britisher', I can only remark that if only a tiny percentage of my co-nationalists could use our language with the skill, elegance and economy that Quin does, perhaps we would still be 'Great Britain'. Using English with skill does NOT however imply an attempt to appear British, and Quin's words clearly reflect her origins, her experiences and personality.

Oh, and the word should be "Briticism". It's our wrapping paper, so do try not to tear it like that, there's a good boy.

Why you feel the need to attack her in such a small-minded way I do not know. I could surmise that you feel the need to bark at her the way my dog used to bark at passing cars.

He was very good at barking.

Couldn't drive for shit though.

Perhaps, dear Anon (at least my dog owned a name), if you're REALLY nice for a couple of weeks, your Mummy will remove the parental filters and you can go back to abusing yourself in your room, removing the need to abuse others.

Or don't you know how to do that either? (If not, I'll post a movie of my dog licking himself - a difficult skill to master I'm told, but I'm sure you'll find it worth the effort).

I apologise to Quin if my comment has sullied a beautiful post, sharing one of life's most intense experiences, but as she knows, sometimes 'he' comes out and cannot be denied.

Quin said...

thank you, all.

bud, i cannot imagine.

richard, yes, 'he' does. bless.

we had gumbo last night... it was great.

Eric said...

Beautiful. We all need closure and it's an amazing experience when you finally find it, especially when you might not be aware you need it.

Quin said...

eric~thank you. and, yes, you are right...i didn't know i needed what i needed.