“When I die, I want to be cremated and I want you to scatter my ashes.”
My mother and I had had this conversation every six months or so for as long as I could remember but it never failed to make me feel uncomfortable. I wasn’t oblivious to the the fact that she would die one day, I just didn’t particularly want to think about the details.
It was also her gentle way of reminding me not only did she not wish to be buried, she also didn’t want to end up shoved in the linen cupboard like her late father had been, hidden away like a dirty family secret.
Over and over again, I’d assure her I would follow her wishes and that when the time did come, I’d make sure that in death, just as in life, her requests would be respected.
But when that day did finally come, I fell down a bit with my promise.
Maybe I just never believed that my strong, smart and independent mother would be going anywhere anytime soon, and that we'd have plenty of time to discuss the ins and outs of death and the aftermath.
But we didn’t.
Mum was diagnosed with cancer in late August and died in November. It was so quick and so savage that we didn't even get the chance to discuss funeral plans because my mother refused to believe she was dying. Ever positive right up until her last breath, Mum saw her cancer diagnosis as a blip, something she would overcome with a little treatment and some time. The thing is, time is the one thing cancer is hell-bent on destroying.
When that unfathomably dark day came in November and I found myself not 4 hours later sitting down with a funeral planner, the only thing I did know for sure was that my mother wished to be cremated. Because who discusses funeral songs and casket selections when they are trying very hard to do nothing but live?
The other thing we hadn’t discussed was what to actually do with the ashes afterwards. Scatter them, yes, she'd made that abundantly clear, but where? Think about it: If you want to be let free somewhere, for all of eternity, the place is going to mean a lot to you, right? We knew where we lived didn’t mean a whole lot to her, and that she’d only stayed because my brother and I were immersed in friends and school, so it wasn’t there. Yet in all of the stories she told us about growing up, how did we know which one meant the most to her?
As it turns out, I really didn’t have to worry too much at that exact moment because I didn’t pick her from the crematorium for a very long time.
This wasn’t a callous or calculated move, it was a reluctance borne out of pure, unadulterated fear. I knew she was there, in an urn, on a shelf, alone and waiting to picked up. I had the phone calls, the text messages and eventually, the typed letter to prove it. Yet I still didn't make a move to go and get her.
Christmas passed, we brought in the New Year and still she remained there instead of with me or my brother. The funeral home was a 10 minute drive for me - it wasn’t a logistics thing. It was a me-avoiding-life thing.
See, I think it comes down to this: my mother was the only one in my life who kicked me up the arse when I needed it. And I mean that fondly. She was the first one to pull me up if I wasn’t doing what I should be doing as a responsible adult. My boss certainly didn’t and my husband and my friends are so lovely that they just let me be flighty and irrational when I had no business doing so at my age. So when Mum died, I lost my anchor and my moral compass. I stopped paying bills, started going out and getting drunk with workmates on a Friday night instead of returning home to my kids, I dropped the ball on so many levels I can’t even count them.