Ashes to Ashes

Well that was a busy week.  But one cool thing that I do have to show for it is my new website.

Maybe it sounds strange to say but, I’ve been thinking about websites for a long time.  My intention is to build this site into the type of website that I would be excited to stumble upon.

Any how, enough with the self promoting.  Lets get to the business at hand: The Inevitable.

I had intended to read a larger chunk of this before writing again but Melissa Pritchard’s A Solemn Promise seemed to require some attention all to itself.  That is to say it brought up a subject that requires attention all to itself.

Pritchard’s piece deals directly with the subject of her mother’s death & cremation.  Cremation has always been a mental snag for me.  Sure, I grew up with catholic doctrines like condoms are evil, gays are evil & cremation is a sin…but I’m not a catholic.  I’m not catholic for two main reasons: 1) I think all of their evil-this-sin-that doctrine is bullshit &  2) I don’t believe in the existence of a supreme being.  (I don’t intend this piece to be an anti-theist diatribe.  I’ll save that for a later date.)

Many of you would agree that cremation, for the most part, is the preferred atheist method of body disposal.  After all if one does not believe in the afterlife then the need of an intact corpse for resurrection is nonexistent.  (I wonder if one day someone can explain to me why a god who can raise a millennia of dead cannot recreate a body from dust?)  So, if I am an atheist (which I am) and I don’t believe cremation is a sin, then why don’t I want to be cremated?

I often tell friends, that I don’t want to be cremated.  I wanna be put in a cheap wood casket with no vacuum seal and covered with dirt.  But why?

Because I think we all need to putrefy & rot. The earth & the creatures in the earth gain nutrients from death & cremation destroys all of the nutrients or at the very least of most of them.  We decompose as part of the circle of life.  As Pritchard so eloquently says, “The earth is made of the dust of creatures lived before.  We walk carelessly upon the dead, the world a rounded grave.”

And I suppose I feel it a vanity to believe that I deserve to removed from this system? I am no great than a deer or a sparrow.  Worms should eat me when I am gone the same way the ate our childhood dog that we buried in the backyard.

About a year ago a friend of mine opened the trunk of his car & handed me a small wooden box.  ”Open it.” he said.  I opened the box & inside, snuggly fit, was a white cardboard box.  It had a white sticker on the side with the name of his father.  His father had died recently & had been cremated.  I knew his father when he was alive & now here I was holding his ashes.  These 3 or 4 pounds in my hand, in a cardboard box were once a man I used to know; a man who loved jazz & knew Jack Kerouac in his youth.  The experience was surreal.

What does one do with the ashes of life?  Keep them in a urn?  Scattered them to the wind?  To the sea?  As Pritchard says:

My parents, bagged in grape velvet, like a tacky stuffed animal, sit side by side (sit? repose? lounge? tumble-bumble? decay? What does one say of dust and knobs and shards in a box?) in an otherwise empty chest of drawers in the guest room, guests now, waiting their flight to Honolulu, where, in an outrigger canoe ceremony (as the had requested) my sister & I will sift them like ingredients, blend them into the kelpish, blue-green broth of the Pacific.

All I can say is that I hope never to be entrusted with this duty.  How utterly devastating it must be to see someone you once loved flitter off into the breeze like a cigarette or a barbecue.  I see no beauty in that.  And I think of odd things like: what of the dust remnants within the box or urn.  Can they just be thrown away or washed down the drain?  I think of Donnie’s ashes in The Big Lebowski.

This blog is in no way a convincing argument one way or the other for anything.  This is just a man reasoning out his out thoughts & beliefs & maybe instilling contemplation in others.  So, needing no closing statement, being this is not meant to be persuasive, let me leave you with a passage from Keith Richard’s book Life, concerning his father’s ashes.

The truth of the matter…is that after having dad’s ashes in a black box for six years, because I really couldn’t bring myself to scatter him to the winds, I finally planted a sturdy English oak to spread him around.  And as I took the lid off of the box, a fine spray of his ashes blew out and onto the table.  I couldn’t just brush him off, so I wiped my finger over it and snorted the residue.  Ashes to ashses, father to son.  He is now growing oak tree and would love me for it.

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By C.A. Hall

Writer / Podcaster I'm a well-written sentence marred by a curse word. In another life I might have been a criminal profiler, a jazz drummer, an architect, an acrobat, an actor, or a children’s book illustrator.