When my mom died, we asked people to bring rocks (she liked this Jewish tradition of remembrance) to put in a basket in her memory. Some folk painted rocks, some folks brought little ceramic knickknacks and gewgaws, others brought rocks from their gardens or farms, or maybe just from out in the parking lot.
I don’t really like boneyards and columbariums; these places are soulless and strangely anonymous. Burial grounds can be places of power, but most of the graveyards and memorial grounds I’ve been to are more like poorly maintained gardens. I understand that for some folks, it’s comforting to go to a graveside to mourn, or to pray, or to grieve, or to commune. For folks whose families have lived all in one place for many years, this makes a kind of sense. I scattered my grandparents’ ashes in the Bay of Fundy; my great uncles’ at the museum he built. My paternal grandparents’ ashes are buried in the cemetery of the town they lived in. I’ve been to it once; the day we interred them.
I visited my great grandparents’ graves in Manitoba once (and left small stones for them), and I don’t even know where my other set of great grandparents are planted. Probably in the same cemetery as my grandparents. Nobody’s left who remembers them.
I actually don’t know where my mum’s ashes are; I suspect Dad has them out at the farm somewhere. I may find them some day, I may not. Maybe this sounds harsh, but they’re just ashes (oddly appropriate for my mum, who smoked a pack a day for over 40 years, and yes, that’s what killed her). There’s nothing left of my mum in them. There’s nothing left of my mum anywhere, except in the hearts and memories of the people who brought these stones to her funeral.
The stones are the kindnesses and hard-packed grief her friends and community brought for her, and I don’t really know what to do with them. Part of me wants to bury them in front of the house she lived in, treasures for someone else to find some day. Part of me wants to take them home with me and build a fountain with these stones at the bottom. The remnants of her family are scattered through the prairies, and Dad is living with dementia in a retirement facility, so I don’t know a) if I’ll ever find mum’s ashes, or b) if a memorial headstone would ever be visited. The saddest thing I can think of are forgotten or abandoned memorials. But I also think it’s important to honour these acts of remembrance.