On Living On
Of all improbable places to find the answer to a decades-old quest, I found it at the award-winning Fayetteville Farmer’s Market. A table of The Natural State Burial Association (NSBA) inviting me to “be a tree” caught my eye; I took a brochure, read it, and I knew that a tree is what I wanted to be.
Children seldom fret about end of life decisions but, call me odd, I occasionally did, and continued to do so through adolescence, youth, maturity ... until that day at the Square.
The fact is that in a small family like mine – mother, father, one child – the matter of death was addressed directly because there was no such thing as entrusting funeral and burial arrangements to older siblings or aunt Josephine. Furthermore, my parents conceived me at the last possible minute Nature allowed and they were getting up in years when I was in kindergarten.
When I finally grasped why a body couldn’t stay home after death I objected to the alternative of being encased in a coffin, a vault, mausoleum ... I wanted some wiggle room. I even designed a burial “concept” requiring a ground- level two-stack burial niche and specified what tools to bury with me just in case I wanted to get out of there. As children in the pre-electronic era, imagination was our playmate.
On the matter of burial, my father’s simple answer to Mamá’s recurring query was always a variation of “I don’t care what you do with me, Gloria ... I’ll be dead!”
Quite the opposite, Gloria came up with the unprecedented directive in her family, and rare among those born in 1905, to be cremated. That was simple enough, but only the first of many essential steps. Like, for example, that the couple's ashes had to be mingled inside a biodegradable cotton bag, and that no stranger was to handle the operation; which left me in charge. (I did.) Where to scatter the ashes was next.
When Mamá was diagnosed with terminal cancer the worn-out topic gained urgency. It required a terrestrial globe, wine, and detailed description of various landscapes for her evaluation. She soon realized that no terrestrial location was to her liking. She didn’t want to end up where a shopping mall or a soccer field might be built ... “But in the Andes? In the Sahara? ... it won’t happen,” I assured her. “Anything can happen anywhere; out of the question,” she said.
Hailing from Spain, the Mediterranean seemed a reasonable destination, but Mamá deemed it too encircled by cities, sewage plants ... you know. And so, like would-be Magellans we circumvented the globe’s seas and oceans while sitting at the kitchen table. Prevailing sea currents were important to ensure that the ashes wouldn’t wash ashore near those nasty cities.
Finally, the migration routes of whales became the decisive factor to pinpoint the spot to scatter their ashes in the Pacific Ocean. And so, when the time came I traveled from Tulsa to Sausalito, California, rented a cabin cruiser, explained to the captain the imperative that the currents carry them toward the whales and away from terra nongrata... He was amused, but he had heard it all.
As we went further out toward open sea, the weather turned and choppy waters endangered the operation. Being close to the open sea, in view of Mile Rock, I released my dear parents’ ashes, scattered white lilies and red roses the captain had kindly contributed, and poured a bottle of their favorite Rioja wine on the water. As we turned around toward port I was finally able to cry ... just as two Brown Pelicans came to rest on the spot where my parents were sinking.
And so it was that I settled for cremation and scattering in a place of my liking. The quest was not over. The cremation process of my companion animals taught me things I did not like, and once again, I was seeking a more natural way. Which I found unexpectedly at the NSBA table at the Farmers’ Market in 2017. With a hitch: There was no natural burial in the Natural State. Ah, the irony!
I would have to die in a neighboring state, where natural burials are an option or, if I stayed in Arkansas ... well, there was work to be done.
To be continued.