Tuesday, November 16, 2010

silk flowers for four

"What do you call the place in the wall where one's ashes lay?" I asked. "At a cemetery, it's a grave. What is this?"

"Well," said the nice woman in the second instance of a tone of voice I can only describe as intended delicacy. I'd phoned earlier to ask if certain bits would be there on the grounds. The folks didn't come across as false, but I'm aware that they probably feel they HAVE to be this gentle.

Death. Grief. Loss.

Be nice.

"Well, the wall is called a mausoleum," she said. "If the burial site is large, it's called a crypt. If it's small, it's called a niche." She pronounced it "nitch" and not "neesh."

"Really," I said. "A niche?" My mistrustful issues still churning, I later Googled it. I'd never heard of that before.

{Just now - I am so ADD! - I found a website describing 'solutions for cremation'. Suddenly I'm planning my funeral. Hello! Back to the present moment!}

This is about my mother. And this is about me as well.

My Dad and my brother are buried at Mt. Olive Memorial Park in a gawshawful part of L.A. that used to be near what once may have been called the City of Commerce. I chose that place for my father's burial because he and my mother chose it for little David's funeral. Yes, I've thought of having them moved elsewhere, but that's really taking control issues out into way way left field. After my mother died in August of 1997, three days before Princess Diana, I asked if she could be buried there. "No."

It's a Jewish Mortuary. She's not Jewish.

My half-sister and I found Pacific Crest Memorial Park for our mother Helen. It's in North Redondo Beach. I don't remember why we decided upon it. But I have visited it over the years, mostly perfunctorily. On this most recent trip to L.A., I almost admitted to myself that in my mere 48 hours there, I'd not be visiting my Dad and brothers' sites. I knew however that I needed to visit where mom's ashes lay.

When I last visited in June, it was during an absolute whirlwind L.A. la-la whoosh. For 9 days I dashed from one thing to the next. On that day I was on the phone in the car and while walking over to her corner. That's not on. This time, I very much wanted to be present. I wanted to leave silk flowers for her. There are funky little plastic urn-vases they sometimes have hanging around and other times do not (hence my phone call of the day before). Yes, they would make sure a supply of the little vases were out nearby. Yes, they would make sure the pole was there too, since I can't reach the vase holder.

I went to Michael's Arts and Crafts - you know, the chain that's everywhere - and found some fall offerings on sale for 80% off. I took at least 15 minutes trying to find the perfect combination. I was drawn to their attractiveness rather than the allure of scoring a deal. They had to feel right and look right. Four little bunches for the four of us. I paid $1.71 for them. A dollar seventy-one. They felt as though they were worth much much more.

I don't recall if I always cry when I go there, but I did this time. It was very important to me to have those silk flowers firmly anchored into that nondescript vase. "Stay," I breathed. "Stay. Let others see that someone cares for this woman who lived and died, whose own mother came to this country as an immigrant." I imagined her saying, "I really like these, Danni. Thank you for bringing them for me." Danni was my nickname. My brother David couldn't pronounce "Dianie" when he was very little.

"I'm sorry we had such a hard time," I said.

"Yes, I know," I imagined her saying back.

It was a gentle visit.


  1. A beautiful, poignant post.

    Visiting our dead, communing with them, is an incredibly important thing. It's a way of touching them across that limitless abyss, beyond time. To close your eyes and say, "I'm here. I remember. I love you," and know that somehow, they hear you and smile. And the flowers are a beautiful statement of family, as well as saying, "Here is someone who mattered, who is cared about and remembered still," to the world at large.

    The interesting thing is how silly all of the little arguments and hurts seem when one goes to visit the cemetery. It all peels away, like layers of winter clothing when the sun comes out. And an incredible lightness afterward. May you carry the lightness within you.

    By the way, wanting your father and brother closer, or at least closer to your mother isn't out there at all. Don't we all wish our families were together, whether now or after?

  2. You're so wise. Would God bless that we might meet someday. Thank you for your shared gems, "Anonymous."

  3. A gentle post. I felt it. I've seen in Jewish cemeteries, one leaves a small stone on the tombstone to mark the visit...I don't know the significance of that specific custom, but plastic flowers, a stone, a candle, a sigh...all a way to remember and acknowledge. You honor your mother's memory with the visit, and with this post. And you honor God, since "precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints." (Psalm 116:15)

  4. Bless you, Steve. I will remember the small stones or candles next time I'm in L.A. And your words until then.

  5. What a perfect thing! And a way to remember throughout the year. When you see a particularly lovely stone, think of your father and brother, and pick it up. If a better one comes along, replace it. By the time you visit L.A. again, you will have two perfect stones, full of love and selected with care, to leave.

  6. What a blessed idea... what heart in such stillness!

  7. Hope you have a lovely Thanksgiving, full of joy!