≡ Menu

Saying Farewell

On Sunday, we said farewell to my mother at St. John’s Church on Floral Avenue. It was not a sad event but one in the spirit of a woman who, over decades of tennis, won many trophies but was always proudest of winning “Best Partyer” seven times. Hundreds attended along with more members of my immediate family than I’d seen since her hundredth birthday and whom I know I shall not see together again in this life. My mother was the last of the World War I generation and the last with enough spirit to draw us all into the same town. Her ashes were there with us beneath a cloth at the altar.

At the reception, stories were told and memories shared as is the way of such things. At one moment I stood back from it all and, looking on, thought of Christopher Wren’s epitaph in the middle of the great St. Paul’s cathedral that he had built in London:

“Si monumentum requiris, circumspice” (“If you seek a monument, look around you”)

And there we all were; not for the first but certainly for the last time. And after a bit, we all dispersed, friends and family alike, back to our separate lives as is the way of such things.

Last week while helping my family sort, box, and clear out her apartment I’d opened a locked panel in the desk that was by her right hand whenever she rested in her chair. Inside was a small clear container of coarse ash. On top was a nameplate with my father’s name on it. He’d died over 40 years before but was never replaced in her heart or her life and was, as I had just learned, never very far away from her.

* * * * *

On Monday it was a fine and cool morning in Chico and Tom and Jeff and I went to a place in Bidwell Park where she used to love to picnic with us and with my father. There we blended the ashes of our parents and, taking turns, spread them onto the grass and under the oaks and upon the stream.

And then we were orphans. But not, we know, for long.

I bequeathe myself to the dirt, to grow from the grass I love;
If you want me again, look for me under your boot-soles.

You will hardly know who I am, or what I mean;
But I shall be good health to you nevertheless,
And filter and fibre your blood.

Failing to fetch me at first, keep encouraged;
Missing me one place, search another;
I stop somewhere, waiting for you.  — Whitman 

When my father died I took his ashes to a place in Paradise where I put them into a stream higher up in the same canyon system…

The place we have come to is where the pines lean out
from the rounded boulders lodged above the stream;
where what the stream saves builds up in the backwater,
making in the mounds of matter an inventory of the year:
Rusted tins slumped under the fallen sighs of weeds,
diminishing echoes of the blackbird’s gliding wings,
laughs buoyed in the hollow belly of stunted trees,
gears, tires, the bones of birds, brilliant pebbles,
the rasping whoosh of leaf fall crushed to dust,
the thunk of bone on bark, the thud of earth on wood,
the silence of soft ash scattered on chill waters.


Is this life all that is and, once life lost,
the end of all that was, with nothing
left to be, with no pine wind to taste,
nor sun to dapple mind with dream?
Is all that is but ash dissolving,
our lives mere rain in circles falling?

Or are we still the center of such circles,
our fall a rise above the shawl of night,
where all shall shine contained within
that single soul, that heart of stars;
that interface where souls and suns
and Earth’s far scattered waters meet?

Meet in that one hand whose palm
still remains held out forever,
held out and for forever holding us
even in the coldest light of day.  —  For My Father

So long for now. See you both a little further down the road.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Casey Klahn July 24, 2019, 9:06 AM

    Epic life and well noted by this post. I am honored by this company, and undeserving personally.

    Who doesn’t love to told of a great woman?

    Take care, Gerard.

  • Uncle Mikey July 24, 2019, 9:07 AM

    It is a fine thing to know you and read your writing. Love you brother

  • Monty James July 24, 2019, 9:47 AM

    I’m glad to set down my morning ominous tidings, and borrow a little grace and beauty and warmth from you for a while. Helps my mind. Thanks, Gerard.

  • David Spence July 24, 2019, 11:53 AM

    This is why we come here and why we come back each day. God bless you and thank you for this site.

  • Aubrey D July 24, 2019, 2:32 PM

    Sorry to learn of your Mother’s passing. I’ve been reading about her here for several years. Through your writing your love for her was evident.

    May God hold you and your family close in the days and months to come and comfort your hearts with pleasant memories.

  • Roger.45 July 24, 2019, 3:51 PM

    Thank you for sharing. May God bless and keep her soul.

  • R Daneel July 24, 2019, 4:44 PM

    A celebration of a life well lived!

    Would that can be said of us all.

  • Grace July 24, 2019, 4:48 PM

    They are still with you in spirit.

  • teresa July 24, 2019, 5:30 PM

    That was really beautiful. Your parents must have been very proud to have such a son.

  • Odysseus July 24, 2019, 5:32 PM

    My condolences, my father also passed earlier this summer.

  • McKiernan July 24, 2019, 5:43 PM

    Vita mutatur, non tollitur, Life is changed, not taken away.

  • Rick July 24, 2019, 6:51 PM

    Wonderful! Your mother was honored by your presence all of you by hers. What more could any of us want than the love and respect of those that know us best. You had a wonderful mother, she had a wonderful family. There was no luck involved, she and your dad raised you to be who you are, they did well.

  • Walter Sobchak July 24, 2019, 7:58 PM

    May her memory be a blessing to you and to your family.

  • Terry July 24, 2019, 8:15 PM

    Gerard, you have not been abandoned by any one of us who is a follower of American Digest. I hope I go before you, brother. I have only my dear wife Susie and you.

    Be well.

  • Graceia July 24, 2019, 10:34 PM

    I concur with an earlier poster – your lovely mother must have been so proud of you and all the family. She and your father raised a gentleman and a wise man. We all make our mistakes along life’s path, but if we age to a time when those are faint memories, and the present is filled with love and graciousness, we have lived a good life.
    Prayers are with you this evening and in the days to come as you settle into your new reality.
    Blessings >

  • Rebecca July 25, 2019, 6:56 AM

    Oh, Mr V. …
    My deep condolences to you.
    May her memory be eternal.

  • Bob July 25, 2019, 12:29 PM

    You were truly blessed to have such fine parents, and your mother for so long!! My condolences. I was really surprised by this news because for so long every year you’d write about her on her birthday and we could see how active she was. But, as I was reading Psalm 49 this morning, I was rightly reminded that there we all–even the wise–will go the way of all flesh:

    7 No one can redeem the life of another
    or give to God a ransom for them—
    8 the ransom for a life is costly,
    no payment is ever enough—
    9 so that they should live on forever
    and not see decay.
    10 For all can see that the wise die,
    that the foolish and the senseless also perish

    Wisdom is knowing this truth and living with it in understanding: “But God will redeem me from the realm of the dead; he will surely take me to himself.”

  • ghostsniper July 25, 2019, 2:21 PM

    I’m glad you shared Lois with us.
    She lives in our memories until we join her.

  • Teri Pittman July 25, 2019, 6:43 PM

    Thank you for sharing your mother with us. It was a blessing to have her in your life for so long.

  • Alex July 25, 2019, 9:32 PM

    and then we were orphans …

    You have a touch with words, friend.

    God bless you.

  • Joel July 26, 2019, 10:23 AM

    Deep condolences. She always sounded like a helluva lady.

  • Joan Of Argghh! July 26, 2019, 4:02 PM

    The mingling of their ashes is ineffably lovely. In every way, a dutiful and loving son to an amazing and faithful mother is something to celebrate, something that tells us life should make us feel this way, even in death: satisfied in its wholeness. What a blessing you have lived with her and shared with us!
    ” All we go down to the dust; yet even at the grave we make
    our song: Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.”

  • John the River July 27, 2019, 12:23 PM

    Condolences again, Gerard.
    I pray the three great women in my life; my mother, my wife and my Aunt, all having their own gifts and charms get to meet your great lady in the hereafter. They’ll be waiting.

  • Hangtown Bob and Peg July 28, 2019, 11:27 AM

    It was a beautiful and moving service and a friendly and joyful reception. It was our honor to have been able to be there.