Next week, my grandmother’s ashes will be interred in her parents’ plot. This has got me thinking again about Anja’s ashes.
First, I thought maybe I would take a little bit of her ashes and sprinkle them surreptitiously into the open grave so that a bit of her could go with my grandmother, who I believe also experienced the death of a baby, and so that maybe – just maybe – each could take some comfort from the presence of the other. Or, at least, I could take some comfort knowing that my grandmother and my daughter rested together. And I would have somewhere to visit her. That would be nice, and something I had not realized would be nice when we decided long ago not to bury her in a cemetery.
Then I thought some more and I wondered about separating her ashes. How do I feel about splitting them up? How do I feel about part of her being there and part of her being here? In some ways, I am discomfited by the thought of her being in different places, and in other ways, I like the idea of her travelling at last. The only place she ever lived was inside me. She’s never been anywhere on her own. That’s one of the saddest truths: that she never experienced anything on her own, as her own self. (Who would that self have been, I wonder? Who was she? I will never stop wishing I knew.)
But what am I talking about really? Those ashes aren’t her. They just aren’t.
And so then why is it so hard to let them go?
For a long time, since she died, I’ve thought that when I die and am cremated (according to my wishes), her ashes will be mixed with mine and then scattered together. I liked this idea, if anything about it can really be liked. She and I would be together, always. She would be with me, where she always belonged.
Now, I am not so sure.
My great-aunt, my grandmother’s sister, is upset that Grandma is being interred in their parents’ plot. She says if any of the daughters should have been buried there, it should have been E, the middle sister, who died much too young, drowned with her husband, pregnant with their first child. But to my great-aunt, it is a bit of an affront that the other sister will join their parents, rest with them forever. Sibling rivalry, at least a smidge, maybe more, of it. My aunt is in her 80s. My grandma was 92 when she died. I imagine M and E someday, wondering why I wanted A’s ashes mixed with mine and not theirs. Of course, they will say, we have families (or friends) of our own, our own ideas about how we want to go, but still…why did she only want Anja? They will understand that Anja only knew me, that her only home was inside mine, that she didn’t really belong anywhere else; they will understand this partly, at least, I am sure, but could it still hurt them? Could it make them feel less loved? Less special? I never want that. In fact, it is a fear of mine: that they will wonder if I loved her better, if I loved her differently, and therefore, maybe, better. I don’t love her better. Sometimes I think, I never even knew her; how could I love her more? I don’t love her less, I don’t think; I do love her differently, in a way I can hardly explain.
I wonder sometimes, lately, if it is time to let her out…time to let her be in the world on her own. I can picture the places I’d like to take her: her bench at the Lagoon; the Cathedral trail where we walked so many times in the park while she grew inside me; Second Beach and English Bay, too; the patch of daffodils that flowers every March in the little park-like pedestrian thru-way we pass through every day on the walk to school; at the base of the tree E loves to climb in the little field where we play ball and picnic; maybe even a little bit under the swings E and M have both loved so much.
I don’t know what I want, exactly. Other than that she hadn’t died. I remember when R and I picked her ashes up at the funeral home. I remember walking in there, going to the front desk, explaining that we were there to pick up our daughter’s ashes. Our daughter’s ashes. It was surreal. When we made it back to the car, I burst into tears, sobs. I couldn’t bear it. How could it be? How could it be that the baby who had been so active inside me only a couple of weeks earlier, our Baby Sister, had been burned to ash and placed inside a plastic container, inside a hideous green velvet bag? I hated that bag. I hated it so fucking much.
What do I want for her now? I have come to realize in the past few months that nobody will ever remember her like I do, like R and E and I do. Nobody else misses her the way we do. Nobody else (outside of my babyloss community) but us – and maybe my mother and two dear friends – really, really, thinks of her as a little person who died, as a real baby. And nobody else ever will. This is the truth I have discovered very recently: that if she wasn’t real to them when she died, she will never, ever, become real to them. I think part of the reason that I’ve been unwilling to do anything with her ashes but keep them with me has been related to my desire to prove her realness to others, to be able to say: see, there, there they are, her ashes, and you can’t have ashes without a body to burn, without a baby who was birthed, held, kissed, loved. But it doesn’t work. It never will.
So why not let her go? Why not take her out and spread her around and let her be in the world, let her be part of the flowers, part of the trees, part of the ocean, just like we’ve always told E she is. Maybe it is time.
(And, oh, how I wish she’d never, ever, ever died in the first place. My baby. My middle child. My little gone girl.)