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Remembering the Departed

August 21, 2013

Sunflower hat

Credit: Margaret Boyle
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Every culture through the ages has developed rituals to both honor and remember the dead.

I’m not talking about funeral rites or methods of disposing of the body so much as ways to keep alive the memories of loved ones.

My mom died fifteen years ago after suffering a long, slow decline from Parkinson’s disease. She was my hero and best friend. A powerful advocate for children and for the rights of marginalized and “different” people—poor people, folks with mental or developmental disabilities, genuine eccentrics—she lives on in the better parts of me.

I still think of her every day, sometimes finding myself on the verge of picking up the phone to call her with some interesting tidbit of news or some “crackin’ good story” I know she’d enjoy.

I spoke a eulogy at her memorial service, wearing her old denim hat with the folded brim and the large fake sunflower attached. Mom loved flowers of every sort, wild and cultivated. Especially sunflowers. We handed out packets of sunflower seeds to people who attended the service, encouraging people to plant them or feed them to the birds, since Trudy also loved birds.  

When it came time to clean out her small house at the edge of a pond in north-central Vermont, I took home half a dozen cotton t-shirts, a couple of sweatshirts and a few dish towels with a lot of wear left in them, along with the denim hat, her World-War-II-era canning tongs, an old hand-held eggbeater, and a couple of throw pillows that smelled of her house for a decade.

All these humble, useful objects served and still serve me as talismans, protecting me with her love, her energy, and her boundless belief in me.

I started wearing the t-shirts right away, mostly as pajama tops. Over the years, the brightly colored shirts began to fray. When I hung them on the clothesline, they reminded me of Buddhist prayer flags flying in long strings at base camps for Himalyan expeditions and other venues in that prt of the world.

The flags themselves, which predated Buddhism and even writing, today come imprinted with verses from the Buddhist scriptures (sutras). As the flimsy cotton flags gradually disintegrate in the wind and weather, the blessings contained in their material substance are set free, dispersed around the globe and into the common consciousness.

I loved that idea, that everything Trudy embodied got stored in those t-shirts, ten gradually dispersed on the winds as the shirts continued fraying and shredding. After the shirts became far too threadbare to wear, I retired what was left of them to the cleaning-rag bag.

Mom, who kept a much tidier house than mine, would have loved that. “I don’t want to be beautiful, rich, or well-known,” she often said. “I just want to be useful.”

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Margaret Boyles lives in a wood-heated house in central New Hampshire. She grows vegetables, eats weeds, keeps chickens, swims in a backyard pond in summer, snowshoes in the surrounding woods in winter, and commutes by bike whenever possible.

Comments

wonderful story, you write

By sue Boltin

wonderful story, you write with such skill and it was well crafted ....

enjoyed it so much....thanks

My Mom is still alive albeit

By irene garner

My Mom is still alive albeit in her 80's. Every time I go to her house I take, with her permission, something that she has used. I have canning jars, her ladle, her cast iron Dutch oven just to name a few things. I use them regularly and bless my Mom each time. I'm hoping my kids will feel the same about some of the things I've used.

PLANT A LIVING MEMORIAL: I

By Terrie Small

PLANT A LIVING MEMORIAL:
I loved the story and the lady's spirit! I too swim in my backyard pond and grow my own veggies. When my sister passed away with breast cancer, I had two different friends bring me two different trees to plant as living memorials to honor her. One was a Pink dogwood tree, my sister raised show dogs and now my friend that gave me the tree, sadly also of breast Cancer,has passed,it stands to honor them both. A tree will long out last a spray of funeral flowers that wilt at a graveside.

Nice story! My mother passed

By Denise Bolieau

Nice story! My mother passed this month 4 years ago in CT. Her cat was added to our family which makes it feel like part of my mom is still with me. I also dug up a few of her perennial flowers before her home was sold. Watching them now grow in my own flower garden in Maine also keeps my loving memories alive of both my mother and childhood home.

I meant "honor her". I'm

By potsonna2

I meant "honor her". I'm sorry about my mistakes. Please forgive me.

Interesting! I hope that

By potsonna2

Interesting! I hope that everyone had a happy Labor Day! That goes for last year and all the oter years that Ive missed. I like to wear a jacket that my late sister had. It helps me onor er memory.

What a beautiful story. I

By Dorothy Roth

What a beautiful story. I remember my son every day. He passed away with cancer at age 39 on March 31, 2012. When I visited him in the hospice home there were beautiful trees full of blossoms outside the window. He was too weak to see them . He knew I love trees and he always bought me one for my birthday. He passed away at dawn on the 4th day of staying in the home. I planted a weeping cherry tree in my front yard in memory of him.

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