Sunday 16 October 2011

The Ashes

There’s something that’s been bothering me for the last…how long? Two and a half years probably.  My mother.  Well, more accurately, my mother’s ashes.  She died nearly three years’ ago and at first…well...  Her long cruel illness, her awful death…I simply couldn’t think about it.  I buried (except…but no...) all memory of it. 
She’s been residing at the funeral ‘home’ (Home? Really? Surely not?) Funeral 'parlour'? Interesting. An ‘audience chamber’ – where we talk with the dead? Anyhow. Whatever. It wasn’t right. I hated the idea of her there, sitting on some shelf with the rest of the dispossessed, like baked bean cans in the supermarket. 

My family is small and far-flung.  We got as far as deciding that we’d scatter (rest act) her at Cerne Abbas, where she’d lived as a child, on Giant Hill (which she loved). Which bit, exactly, we hadn’t decided. I rather favoured his erect knob (as that would have amused her).  But anyhow, we didn’t agree a date and months passed and then (time flies) years.  I started getting perturbed, a vague psychic wrongness. 

I asked Adrian if he would go to pick her up.  He said yes but forgot. Again and again and again.  

Why didn’t I go myself? Well, because the place gives me the willies.  I’m not squeamish, not remotely, and I don’t get spooked easily, but there’s something about the suburban banality, the tin-tacky denial of a funeral home/parlour that sends shivers down my spine. Anyhow, it had become a point of principle.  I don’t often ask Adrian to do stuff for me – I’m not the helpless type.  This was symbolic though.  A bit like the skirting board.  But that’s another story, from twenty years’ ago… Yeah, I have a long memory when it suits me. :-)
So you could have knocked me down with a feather yesterday.
‘I’m fetching your mother today.’
‘I’ve phoned them up. They’ll have her ready.’

So he dropped me off at the health shop in town and reappeared twenty minutes later.  I had a large bag of muesli, soya yoghurt, tofu and a bar of Green and Black’s.  He had…nothing.
‘Where is she?’ I hissed as the guy behind the counter weighed the muesli.
‘My mother.’
‘Oh. In the car.’
The guy smiled benignly. 
‘What’s she in?’
The guy looked puzzled.
‘Huh?  Oh…don’t worry,’ said Adrian.  She’s in a bag.’
‘A bag??’  I held up the muesli.  ‘My mother’s in a bag?’
The guy hastily gave me my change and busied himself with re-arranging herbal cough pastilles.
‘Noooo.’  Adrian shook his head vehemently. ‘Not a bloody paper bag. It’s more of a pouch.’
A pouch? It was getting worse. I began to wish we’d never started this. 
‘Anyhow, if we’re going to watch James play rugby, we’d better go.  Look…’ He smiled reasonably. ‘…she’s coming too. She’d like that.’
I frowned. Was he really suggesting I stand at the touchline with my mother tucked under my arm…in a pouch?

Anyway.  We got home eventually and James sprinted off leaving Adrian and I to unpack the car.  Needless to say, neither of us had told our son that his grandmother was in the boot, in pieces, in a pouch.
‘Well?’ he said. ‘Are you going to look?’  He nudged his head towards the boot.
‘Your mother, for pity’s sake.’
Oh.  So I looked, eyes half-closed, squinting, wincing.  And there it was.  A sort of drawstring bag, a bit like one of those fabric doorstops.  Maroon. Velour. It looked vaguely Christmassy, in a sort of tacky way.  Who chose maroon, I wondered?  Is there a catalogue that funeral home/parlour people flick through, choosing colours, fabrics?  Could you get other choices?  Perky gingham? Jaunty Cath Kidston?  Conservative tweed? Why didn’t we get Timorous Beasties, FFS?

I picked it up. She weighed more than I would have suspected.  I undid the bow, opened it up like a present.  Inside sat a grey plastic container.  Like some kind of chemical container. Industrial.  Banal. That’s it?  A bald label. So you know you’ve got the right one, I suppose.
‘It’s not her, you know,’ said Adrian.
‘I know. Well…’
‘No,’ he repeated, firmly. ‘It’s not her. She’s up here…’ He pointed at his head.
‘What? She’s possessing…’  My eyes widened.  No.  Let’s not go there. My mother is most certainly not possessing my husband.
He frowned and shook his head. Dislodging the thought? Because, of course, you don’t need actually to speak the words for them to reach the psyche.  ‘I meant in our memories. By the way, do you still want her in the drinks cabinet?’
‘Absolutely. She’d like that. In amongst the spirits, of course.  Next to the gin, probably.  Up above the Knob Creek.’

And there she is.  In the Oak Room (made of pine).  By the fireside.  In the drinks cabinet with the weird carvings (which may be oak, come to think of it).  On the top shelf (of three – nearest to heaven?).  She’s living with me… as she always wanted.  And, you know what?  It feels good, it really does. 


Anonymous said...

After my mum died, My dad requested that when he karked it, their ashes were to be mixed and then we could do what the hell we wanted with them. When the time came, we mixed them together in a washing up bowl and took them to a place of agreement, one half in a casket and the other in a cardboard box in an Asda bag....

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the idea for my blog. Funny ashes spreading tales...xx

Exmoorjane said...

You're welcome.
btw, thank YOU for your previous comments - they straightened me out on a few things.

Mrs Jones said...

Ha! My cats' ashes are in their little boxes, also stored in the drinks cabinet. When the present cat trundles over the rainbow bridge, I fully expect he'll join the girls in there, next to the vodka!

Dragonfly Dreams said...

After evoking sadness in me at the beginning of your blog, somehow I felt your sense of "rightness" and "peace" at the end. You are a splendid, honest writer and I always open your posts with delicious anticipation.
Do enjoy your mother - perhaps she, too, is content where she is now.

Anonymous said...

My mum always wanted to be on the telly - she was - well, for six years anyway.....

Rob-bear said...

My parents "cremains" (what an "interesting" word) are resting comfortably, together, in a niche, in a wall, half a continent away. Somewhere, in the same cemetery, I think there are more distant relatives that I never knew. They're among family, which, in some way, is a good thing.
Don't have a drinks cabinet. Not sure I'd want them there even if I had one.

Unknown said...

I rather favored the idea of the erect knob myself. :) Think I would have liked your mum.

Lovely writing!

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...


Kim Bennett said...

Nice one, Jane. Glad your Mum's back with you x

Exmoorjane said...

Thanks, guys.... have noticed the level of the Baileys has gone down already... ;)

Anonymous said...

Baileys? Is that a Holland and Barret item? lol

Word veri = clies

Rachel Selby said...

Call me a worrywort but I see a potential disaster on the horizon with Mum in the drinks cabinet and a teenage son in the house. Please make sure you scatter Mum before your son and his drunk friends end up smoking Grandma after a wild student party at your place.

Louise Boyes said...

My father's ashes are still in the corner of my mothers bedroom, in a rather ugly looking maroon coloured tub. Your mothers pouch looks far more stylish nestled in amongst the bottles. Mum allowed me to take 1 tablespoon of my father back to his home country of New Zealand, where he was buried in the family plot on a beautiful hillside in Christchurch. This was a far more appropriate spot than the Westgate Road Crematorium in Newcastle upon Tyne! As I was taking my fathers ashes across to New Zealand, I was incredibly impressed by NZ customs who did not allow my fathers ashes to go through the scanner. Instead they placed the bag on a cushion, carried him through and welcomed him home. This was the only airport/country that did this. I'm proud to be a Kiwi! What we will do with the remainder of his ashes...who knows. But for the time being he can gather dust in the corner of the room. Thus far he has not grumbled! Lou

Helen Spencer said...

Mum is under a rather nice tree, on top of her own mum. She upped and died on me all of a sudden and left me without an understanding of her life, her stories or her feelings as a young woman. She inspired my new life's work and ignited a passion to make sure that my kids know all about me, my dreadful life before they filled the darkness, and their own journeys to adulthood. I blogged about all of it here...

Alison Cross said...

We took our friend's ashes to the Isle of Man with us on holiday and took him for a pint and a jaunt around the circuit before Tartarus scattered him at his favourite viewing point.

I'm so glad that you feel good about your mother's whereabouts. She can always be with you.

Was watching a programme on TV about a lost underwater city and they discovered that although adults were buried in tombs outside the city, children were buried within the homestead. I found that very comforting - to always have your child 'safe' with you.

Thanks for your hugs on m'blog - really appreciated them. Now sending hugs right back at you!

Ali x

Eliza said...

I think my Mother would love pride of place in the drinks cabinet.