This is how we buried my brother.
My boyfriend and I flew back home, unsure of what we were there to do. My mom had had my brother cremated, and she wanted to scatter his ashes with us. We weren’t sure what that meant. None of us are religious or believe in God.
We drove out to the old property that my brother and I had grown up on. Although the house now belonged to a different family, my mom still owned a few acres around it. We drove to the bottom part of the property, and then we squeezed under the barbed wire fence that my mom had helped my dad build many, many years ago. It was both funny and pathetic to watch my mom struggle under the barbed wire at her age. We both giggled.
I don’t think I’d ever gone that way before. The brush was thick, but there were some horse and deer trails that we could follow. My mom wanted to plant a tree on the property near a spring that we had used to water our horse. The spring had formed a pond in years past.
It was hard to figure out where we were; things had changed so much. What we had to do was go uphill until we could see the house, and then go back downhill in relationship to that. The pond was gone, but we found the marshy ground it had turned into. We marked the spot, and built little stone piles to help us find our way there later.
My mom wanted a quaking aspen, so my boyfriend and I went out and bought one, from a garden stand on the highway. It was a little, fragile tree; perfect, as my boyfriend said, for my brother. Mom had made a good choice.
A couple of my brother’s friends, that he had known all the way through grade school and high school wanted to come, so I asked my mom if that was okay, and she said yes. We all drove back up the canyon, and parked. One person carried the tree, another the shovel, my mom carried the box of ashes. We all squeezed under the barbed wire and followed the little piles of rocks back to the pond that wasn’t a pond any more.
Then we all took turns digging at a hole that would be big enough to hold the tree’s root ball. It wasn’t too hard, and went pretty quick. We put the little tree in the hole, and filled in some dirt. Then we put my brother’s ashes on top of that, filling the rest of the hole. Evidently, human ashes are pretty good fertilizer for plants. There were quite a bit of ashes, so my mom took the rest and put them in a circle around the little open area where the tree was planted.
My boyfriend put some incense sticks into the ground under the tree, and lit them. Then my mom read a couple of passages from the Bible, including “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death …” One of my brother’s friends read a poem and the other friend read another passage, I can’t remember where it was from.
That was it. We all hugged, and picked up the shovel and the almost-empty box that had held all of the ashes; my mom wanted to put some in the Clark Fork River near the house where she lived now. We got back into our cars and drove into town and had brunch at a nice restaurant. The girls went back to their houses, and my boyfriend and I dropped my mom off at her house and then went and had a couple drinks.
When we came home, we noticed something that looked suspiciously like ashes on the flowerbeds outside the house. It was simultaneously funny and sad and just wrong and totally right. I’m laughing now thinking about it.