This month of September, the 15th of the month to be precise, marked the 45th anniversary of my mother’s death.
She had succumbed to an unforgiving case of ovarian cancer when she was only 53 years of age. These days fortunately, women have more opportunities to prevent the ravaging impact of that and other diseases if they take good preventive care of themselves before they attack.
If you are a woman I strongly suggest you discuss this illness with your health practitioner. But, important as it is, this article is not simply about a warning to you no matter how well intended. You know me better than that by now. There is another reason.
My mother was buried a day or two later, as was our Cuban practice, in a Miami, Florida, cemetery whose name will remain anonymous for reasons that you will later understand. She was placed in a simple wooden casket that was not expensive by any means.
After being in this country only a few years we could not afford anything much better than that and the ground grave. A simple golden plastic crucifix that was usually given to the family as a relic was attached to the cover of the casket and, after her burial we realized that we had not kept it.
Disappointing? Surely, but life after so many years as it always is, we eventually buried that unpleasant memory while keeping the ever present reminiscence of our good mother.
I have always lived in Massachusetts, but every time I have visited our relatives in Miami, my wife and I try to squeeze a few minutes visiting my mother’s place of final rest, spend a few minutes in respectful prayer and meditation and place some flowers on her grave.
We had noticed recently that the bronze vase where we placed the flowers had disappeared. It seems that some “wonderful” folks use that bronze to sell for a few bucks and support their nasty drug habits. That is not surprising; my mother always helped the dispossessed.
More recently, on the Fourth of July this year, we found that the memorial tablet itself, with her name and vital dates, had been moved around carelessly. Other graves close to my mother’s had suffered similar indignities. Unfortunately there was no one at the office that holiday to talk to and we had to leave with the upsetting feeling that my mother was not really at eternal rest in that place.
After that visit I was able to speak with my only sister about the issue and we came to the conclusion that the final but painful answer was to exhume our mother’s remains and transfer them to a niche in the big mausoleum at the entrance of the cemetery. We reached that decision after much soul searching and communicated our intentions to the management of the cemetery and planned for the transfer of the body this past 31st day of August.
That same morning I flew to Miami and arrived at the cemetery just a few minutes before the procedures had started.
Now, eternity is a serious business. Digging out the remains of a loved one after forty five years is not just an easy decision; it is also heart wrenching. You are interrupting someone’s eternity. You wonder if you are doing the right thing not only for yourself but also for the memory of that loved one.
But of course, once the choice had been made, all we had to do was to make sure that it was carried out with dignity and respect, so my sister and I stood at the grave the very moment it was open and immediately before her body was touched and moved to her safer location.
I don’t have to tell you what my sister and I felt. You can imagine it. The wooden casket had all but disintegrated with the years and our mother’s full body was plainly in sight. Initially we had considered the possibility of using a child’s casket to place her ashes but the bones were in such complete condition that it would have been impossible and disrespectful to do so unless they were broken apart.
In other words, her body was bone-intact, no ashes. The serenity that was present in that grave was remarkable and inspiring. There is no question that the expression “rest in peace” means all of it. And the next finding really hit all of us like a rocket, including the funeral directors who performed the exhumation. The old plastic crucifix that had been all but forgotten, its forty five year old gold paint faded here and there, but the image of a Christ on the cross perfectly clear, was resting right whether my mother’s heart would have been. Our mother’s bones were transferred to a regular casket and finally, after a brief religious service, led to rest in her new grave, a niche right in the chapel of the mausoleum where hopefully she will not be bothered anymore.
Much was left to our own intimate imagination regarding that event. Forty five years had elapsed between September 15, 1966 and August 31, 2011, and we were left with the question: so what was all of that? Many things had happened in that time, my mother’s descendants like I am sure yours are, also “growing and multiplying” as the old biblical mandate says.
There had been joys and sorrows in our lives, but only peace and the ever present company of a silent religious crucifix in that grave. The priest who conducted the services this time gave us the relic. My sister and I keep it and will pass it around whenever a special date comes when we want to remember again.
I am a scientist and belong to that small group of folks who are not easy to fool with careless theories of religious nonsense. Still, I cannot find a logical explanation, and I am sure there has to be one, for this personal incident. And just to make sure no one gets the wrong message, we have not told anyone the name of our mother and the place where she is finally resting.
When folks imagine pictures of saints on pizza slices and window panes, the last thing I need is for some window gawkiness to disturb the eternity of my mother so hastily interrupted by my sister and I recently one more time. Her grave reads Born December 12, 1912, died September 15th 1966.
The cross we keep could read Buried September 16, 1966, Born again August 31, 2011. You figure.
And that is my point of view today.
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