"As kids, growing up, we were spared from the mundane."

I've heard it said that people express grief in different ways. I submit that some people express grief in very different ways.

My brother, the one who teaches English Lit. in High School, spoke the words quoted above as part of his eulogy at our mother's memorial service. The service itself underscored the truth of it. No longer "kids, growing up", we still mostly sidestepped the mundane.

The memorial gathering was to be at a spot that had been a favorite of Val's (our mom's given name). The way there was a winding, narrow, logging road climbing through the Cascade Mountains near Granite Falls in Western Washington State. A vista, probably intended as a turnout for logging trucks to pull off of the steep, narrow road to allow other vehicles to get by, was the chosen spot. The view was breathtaking.

We would each be given an opportunity to say a few words. The deceased had been cremated and the ashes were to be scattered at this vista at the end of the ceremony but each family member present was also given a small Ziploc bag of remains to do with as they pleased. My wife and I had flown up from Arkansas for the event so I planned to bring my allotment of ashes back home to another, equally non-traditional, resting place (more on that later). There were four siblings present; myself, two sisters and a brother. None of us had been able to reach my youngest brother so he didn't attend. My youngest sister, Sarah, is so much younger than the rest of us that she is very close to the age of my own third child.

When my turn came to speak, I read a bit from the Bible, a passage from the Sermon on the Mount which my mom had read to us. I then tried to sing a tune that my mother sang to me as a baby. These were strong memories of mine and very early ones from the "back of the vault". When his turn came, Stephen, Val's widower, wailed at the top of his lungs. "CAT!", he wailed, head back, as he threw his arms in the air and danced alarmingly close to the edge of the vista. Puzzled initially, I later learned from "T" (my other sister) that Val and Stephen's pet names for each other were "Cat" and "Bear". When my brother Joe's turn came, he gave a very nice talk that he'd prepared but, unfortunately, the only part I can remember now is the "spared from the mundane" line quoted above. I really like that line, in case you can't tell.

When the older of my two sisters, "T", had her turn, she spoke briefly and then played, on a portable player, the Brudda Iz version of "Over The Rainbow", chosen because it was one of our mother's favorite tunes.

After the more public portion of the memorial was completed, there was time allowed for those attending to have a private moment. The setting, as already mentioned, was quite scenic; more rugged than park-like.

My sister Sarah had, in my opinion, always had an elvish quality to her features. Beautiful, just elvish. She had come with a few friends and they all had tended to whisper and giggle a bit during the first part, keeping a slight distance from the rest of us. This might have seemed inappropriate in a more formal proceeding but less so as this one went. After we had been given thirty minutes or so for private reflection, I noticed Sarah was not with her friends. I asked "T" where she was and she pointed her out some distance away. She was seated on a rock just over the edge of the vista, which was quite steep, though not a sheer cliff. I grew concerned and approached to see if she was okay. She was holding the baggie of ashes in her hand and very carefully sifting them between her fingers. When I spoke to her, she turned her elvish face my way. Her eyes were clear and bright and her expression one of interested curiosity as she held up one of several artifacts she had thus discovered. "Look", she said, "I found a tooth". I think I said something brilliant like, "Oh, cool."

I don't think it occurred to me right then, but the incident with Sarah strongly reminds me, today, of yet another family memorial moment involving a much younger Sarah. My Grandmother, Tessa (Val's mother), died on Easter Sunday morning sixteen years before her only daughter, Val. My late wife and I had traveled to Puget Sound area for Tessa's memorial. We would be spreading her ashes in Puget Sound near "Point No Point". My mother pulled me aside and told me that she had decided she didn't want anyone to be on the charter boat that we would be spreading Tessa's ashes from who didn't come direct blood line from Grandma Tessa. Sheri, my late wife, had been very close to Tessa and was crushed by the decision. The other decision was that the cruise would be in the tradition of an Irish wake. This was assumed to mean that large amounts of Irish whiskey would be consumed before, during and after the ceremonial scattering of my grandmother's earthly remains at sea. Not being fond of whiskey, I consumed less than some of the family but my recollection is, nonetheless, a bit blurry. One snafu stands out and I shall perversely re-tell it to the best of my ability. My Mother picked which side of the boat to dispose of the ashes and the captain, who of course was sober as a judge, made a comment about wind which we all ignored. The day was breezy and clear and the ashes sparkled in the salt water as the boat (the captain had killed the engine and was "letting her drift") was pushed by the wind. The problem was, Mom had picked the upwind side of the boat, so the same wind that pushed the boat also caught the ashes and blew them back onto the deck and, occasionally, us. I pointed this out to my mother, who argued, pointing to the ashes in the water moving away from us. Finally Sarah said, "Grandma tastes salty" (at this time she was five or six, I think). I then forced the issue, grabbing my mother by the shoulders, and forcing her to move to the other (downwind) side of the boat. She was very unhappy with me for this but later apologized for her harsh words. So, yeah, that happened. Or something similar.

I promised to come back to what was done with the baggie of my mother's cremated remains that my family and I brought back to Arkansas. We've gradually settled on a location for the disposal of the earthly remains of family members after cremation. Hiking is required, because it is in a roadless area wilderness on the mountain behind the cabin that I built, and in which my late wife and I raised our children. The spot is at the edge of a large rock glacier, called Horseshoe Glacier locally. My late wife, Sheri's remains were scattered there, as well as a portion of my mother's. It is a stunning location and extremely private. When we chose the site, there was a decent trail leading to Horseshoe Glacier but the intervening years and neglected maintenance have made the access more difficult.

Not that I'm in a rush, still, all things considered, I rather hope that before we have any more family members memorialized in this way, that my ashes will join those we've placed there.

I had always interpreted "spared from the mundane" as a sharp observation on the sheer strangeness of our own family's history. When requested to give an honest first impression of this account, a noder that I have much respect for made the following observation: "-- I think 'spared from the mundane' is what kids think-- cherish every mundane moment- is what adults think- at least the smart ones )". This definitely rings true! I've found that, as I age, I have a great deal of appreciation for "mundane moments".

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