On Saturday morning I drove past a rural cemetery on a hill and saw a young woman standing alone in front of a gravestone, clutching a go-cup with a white plastic lid, other hand in her coat pocket, staring down at the ground in solemn contemplation. To me she seemed to be a picture of ritual remembering and I know how important that is. I have my dog Moon’s ashes on my desk, and his photograph on my home screen. In his absence our new puppy has filled the physical space, but I still feel the emotional longing. My stepmom died at the end of October and my dad has her ashes with their wedding picture on the diningroom table, a shrine to his emotional longing for her. These physical objects — gravestones, ashes, photographs — ground our memories of the past in the present and make the connection between body and spirit.
In August I posted here about my partner, Roger, and I finding the body of a dead man in our backyard while we were walking the dog. It was traumatic, as you might imagine, and we were haunted by the experience. When I posted the story on Facebook a couple readers suggested that we have a spiritual moment at the site of his death, a ritual remembering that might replace the harshness of the images in our heads with a more comforting imprint. We did it, and it worked. Thank you.
I picked some dahlias in the garden and tied them with a yellow ribbon to the tree where the man died. Then we stood there for a moment of silence and Roger spontaneously sang a verse from Danny Boy. The sound of his voice floating in the woods brought tears to my eyes. I took a photo of the flowers, and we walked away. That’s all it was. But it is such a sweet memory that now when I think about that man dying, I think of the song and the yellow ribbon and the dahlias.
A month later his bereaved mother left a note in our mailbox asking me to call her. We were expecting something of the sort, and I was glad to be able to tell her about the flowers and the song. She cried, told me the story of her son’s life, how his happy childhood morphed into problems with mental illness and drug addiction. He had gone to prison for six years and two weeks after his release died of an overdose in our backyard. She felt she had failed him. I fumbled to comfort her and said he was finally at peace, such a simple word for such a complicated situation. But it was what came to me because of my own need to be at peace with my memory of her son.
After the call, I texted her the photograph of the dahlias on the tree, and she was elated. Our conscious memory-making gave us a focal point for ritual remembering and helped each of us find the emotional closure we were missing.
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3 thoughts on “Ritual Remembering”
I have my brother’s ashes on my dresser. He perches there, keeping me company and often speaks quiet words of comfort. After reading Ritual Remembering I feel it’s time to let him go. He wanted me to put his ashes with our dad in their favorite fishing hole, so I will do that in the spring. Thank you, Billie.
A very cool way to show your love for your brother.
So beautiful a photo, Bil. So thoughtful a remembrance. So considerate a gift to his mom. And heavy: the discovery of a dead man by a tree. I have enough trouble seeing a squirrel run over by a car in the road. To find a human being… Well done. Doesn’t surprise me that you did it.