As for me, I would rather
Be a worm in an apple than a son of man.
But we are what we are, and we might remember
Not to hate any person, for all are vicious;
Ang not be astonished at any evil, all are deserved;
And not fear death; it is the only way to be cleansed.
My first reaction at touching the cold casket was to jerk my hand away. As a bearer of the pall, I was one of six cousins granted the honor to lay my hand on the casket moving it from the visitation area to the back of the church before the pall was draped over the casket and the silver crucifix, a symbol of my Uncle’s faith, laid atop the sheep white pall.
I was surprised though I shouldn’t have been at the coldness of the metal encasing my uncle’s physical remains. We were in Olympia Washington and the morning was typically chilly. Hot days are such an anomaly in this part of the Pacific Northwest, most people don’t bother with airconditioning. The cold, shiny metal seemed alien contrasted to the warm, abiding love of my imperfect family. My family, my extended family were gathered from around the country to honor our recently passed patriarch. He was the fourth of five siblings I called Father, Aunt, Uncles to take leave of our family.
With this passing, the long-running patriarch mantle was shifted and laid across the remaining brother’s shoulders. My uncles and father were all giants amongst men so I have no fear the last sibling will lead us into our future. I’m now 2nd in succession for the title, the 2nd oldest male cousin. I know in my heart I will never be able to measure up to the giants. I lack the courage. I am absent the ability to love so deeply. I can’t even reach their knees standing on my tippy toes. Hopefully, I will have gone on before that time arrives. Should the dominoes fall in an order finding me the next in line, I will step aside. There are others more worthy than I to guide our ever-expanding brood into the future.
Our matriarch passed nearly 10 years ago and that honorary title fell on to the next generation, my cousin who is blessed with deep love and unbounded wisdom. I look to her for strength, the shoulder to lean upon when my struggle becomes unbearable. She always gives great advice…even if I don’t follow it.
I detest the way death is sanitized in the West. It is a necessary step in life considered too burdensome to witness so is hidden from our eyes in an impermeable box destined for storage six feet below Earths skin nestled in her damp, dark, dank flesh. It is a separation causing us to value life a little less.
The experience again drove home my desire to never subject my being to eternal internment disconnected from Earth Mother at whose breast I suckled and live and will die. I don’t believe my soul would survive isolation from the universal. How then?
I admire the Hindu ritual of the funeral pyre and rasping flames releasing body energy into the sky as swirling smoke, into the river as floating ash, all energy recycled in ways Earth deems appropriate. Ashes to ashes. Dust to dust.
I learned this weekend, my uncle and I shared similar, visceral ideas on dealing with the shell when the soul departs. He talked of being recycled in the belly of a bear. Being he was a long term Northern Californian, a rain forest Washingtonian, and experienced a stint living near the Smoky Mountain Tennessean, I’m not surprised he would choose a bear as his vehicle. There is a certain poetry aligning his scientific nature with his environment.
I deviate in that I envision crawling over sharp stones leaving a blood trail ending at an arthritic juniper exhaling my last breath watching a final sunset explode across the sky. My preferred recyclers are Coyote, Vulture, and Insects ensuring my flesh energy is not wasted, my marrow is useful. My final rest staring into the burning eye of the Sun before becoming warm scat to dry up and be dispersed by fickle winds.
Is this a final selfish act in a lifetime to unbridled selfishness?
I thoroughly enjoyed my two days in Washington basking in the warm, familial love. It does not seem fair to deny my family the camaraderie of a final goodbye, a chance to experience the mysticism, the holy magic, the communal gathering, and a heartfelt sendoff into the afterlife. After all, the funeral is designed more for the living than the dead.
The true magic of the ceremony is more tangible than the imagined face of a being dwelling above the silver clouds. The true magic is the love shared during the final gathering.
For two days, one preceding the internment and the day of the internment, we gathered around a large table talking in typical Olson loudness, the cacophony which for us is sacred prayers, a dissonance the meek find overwhelming, standing around a hole in the ground listening to Taps on the bugle, sitting around a campfire talking, laughing, reminiscing on my known unknown uncle, the small man in stature I only talked with a handful of times in my 58 years who stood a giant amongst giants to his children and grandchildren.
For two days, I got to know the man by looking deep into the eyes of his progeny, the love springing forth from their hearts shared without restraint to all of us gathered in his name.
For two days we ate, we drank, wept openly, we laughed deeply, we discussed passionately his taboo topics; religion and politics. Mostly, we laughed heartily and loved with abandon. I heard those powerful three words, “I love you,” more in two days than the past two months.
If I ever come face to face with God, I will thank her for blessing me with such a loving family right after I spit in his face for allowing so much suffering to befall the innocents of the world, the tragedy of trafficked children, the horror of suffering children, the cancerous hate ravaging humanity into bloodshed.
I can accept death, can envision myself embracing final sleep when my bones grow weary and pained. I simply cannot accept or forgive the suffering of children. Until that time, I will rejoice in my family and nights like these past two when I had to cleave the umbilical attaching me to the fire circle, from the intimacy of loving relatives, from an experience I can only believe mirrors the best heaven can offer.
Fare thee well, Uncle Bill. Send my love and thanks to Rich, Marge, Oscar, and Mable for the amazing foundation on which you all built our family.