Monday, November 23, 2015

Some Memories Become Dust in the Wind

When we research the lives of ancestors long gone, one of our stopping points is the cemetery where the headstone tells us the bare facts that remain: name, date of birth, date of death.

Sometimes, as we move towards the present and search for the details of loved ones we've lost from our own lifetimes, we are not so fortunate as to find such telltale markers. Instead of one spot designated as a final resting place, the remains of a family member might not even be in a cemetery. Perhaps in an urn in a special place in a home, or possibly not even in one designated place at all—some left, as their final wishes, a request to be "scattered" over the ocean, or in the wilderness. Free spirits in life, they refuse to be boxed in, even after their departure.

While Marilyn Bean's death, in my own family experiences, began the yearly reminder to turn my mind back to such losses, it's the one whose death became the other bookend to a melancholy month that leaves me with no physical token, no place that marks her life. Perhaps that's as it should be, for Judy was a free spirit in every sense of the word.

Hers was a passing that came without warning. Sudden. More challenging to wrap one's head around. Inconceivable, considering how full of life she was—full of experiences, opinions, attitudes, stories.

Unlike those relatives of past generations, whom we remember by passing along their photographs, letters, journals, and other memorabilia, when the current generation takes leave of her peers, it doesn't seem like there was sufficient time to store up all these tokens of life—much less time to bequeath them upon others in long anticipation of that inevitable home-going.

It was on the very last morning of November, three years ago, that my sister-in-law joined her mother, her brother, and every other member of her family, in passing unexpectedly. She was the last leaf on a branch whose every member had already withered away from humanity's family tree.

Yet, even today, I can't tell you where her remains lie. They may never find a "final resting place." If anyone in future decades feels prompted to find a headstone that will recount the bare bones of her existence, it likely will never be found.

For some, now, that hardly matters. Memories seem much stronger than stone. But when those memories are blown away in the passing of time, then what? The free spirit sees as romantic now what the future's historians or documentarians will not even realize they are missing. Unless someone in the family passes down that inevitable box of unmarked photographs, there will be nothing to provide a reminder that this one life had once passed this way.

childhood photo outside home before Christmas in Santa Rosa California 1960



  1. Perhaps it is a form of modesty - that those that leave nothing (but memories) behind - and they wish it to be that way. They hope to make little to no "mark" on our planet - and this ... is perhaps an unselfish thing?

    1. Thanks for pointing out another way of seeing this, Iggy.

  2. I assume she was cremated. Our daughter Jen said the same thing "Mom I need a place to go visit after you and Dad are gone." So we bought a burial plot where both of our ashes will go...or at least part of them. Someday I suppose there will be a cremation index...who knows. :)

    1. Yes, she was. And, as far as I know, there was no such resting place set up.

      My in-laws did the same thing your daughter is prompting you to do. I think it makes so much sense. I've never been one to go linger at cemeteries for those long gone, although I know others have that custom. However, I feel really strongly that there should be some sort of place where a family member can go, if they do feel the need to visit. I know everyone is different. But I think every one of us deserves to be remembered. This just facilitates a way to do so.


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