essays by shé

Ashes to Ashes

Signing the paperwork was hard. Fortunately, the funeral director kept getting it wrong. She also lied to my brother and niece, blaming me for the delay. Then more miscommunication ensued, this time about Mom’s titanium hips. Not miscommunication, lack of communication, despite multiple emails. Are they mechanical devices or not? Not. Check the other box.

When I asked two neighbors to witness my signature on the cremation documents, I couldn’t get the words out, and started crying. It’s one thing for Mom to continue to say, I’m not dead, it’s another to read legalese about pulverizing her bones.

On Monday I was antsy. Will they really send them? I called, but got the answering machine. That was the day her body went through the crematorium.

USPS has a million problems, but they sure haul ass with dead people. Have you ever tracked your mother? Yeah. For some reason I was surprised that this was emotionally difficult, too.

She landed in Honolulu Thursday night. Friday morning she was at the Kilauea post office down the street. It was all I could do to keep from running over there and demanding the package, right now! But I waited. All day. The tracking message didn’t change. I walked to the mailbox in the burning sun, twice.

Late afternoon, I gave up. One of my flip-flops is broken, so I tape it, then bike to the local shops looking for replacements. No joy. Read a free surf magazine. Try to bike to Kane’s, but Queenie won’t go down the hill. Don’t I need exercise? The ocean? I turn around, not even stopping for the soursop tree.

Check the mailbox again on the way up the driveway. A neighbor on the porch next door waves. “You got a package.” He picks up a small Priority Mail Express box. Bright orange stickers adorn every side: CREMATED REMAINS. I burst into tears. “That’s my mom!”

I can’t stop crying, but can finally take the box. My neighbor hugs me, “I’m so sorry for your loss.” He is sweaty and smells of tobacco, with many tattoos. “I’m sorry,” he says again and again while I sob and lean on him. Such kindness.

I can’t stop crying, but eventually I can leave. Open my gate, set her down by the door, wheel in Queenie, lock the gate, kneel on the stoop, and cry in earnest. No more waiting.

Mary Patricia Magonigle Kathleen VanTine, 1960
Mary Patricia Kathleen Magonigle VanTine, 1960





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