That little collection of ashes housed in that nondescript white container is not you, sweet Flicker. I know that. The essence of you – your spirit, your soul, your goodness – transcends that container and this place. A place which would have likely greeted you with ugliness and struggle and pain. However I want you to know that there is tremendous beauty here; some of it obvious, some of it requiring the context of an experience to make itself known.
In the garden next door I see a ubiquitous white webworm moth fluttering amongst the rudbeckia blooms, its beauty manifest in a childhood memory of your wonderful great grandmother, Momma Yorse. Each time she would see such a moth, she would lovingly exclaim, “Why hello, Ebenezer!” When I was a small child unable to discern the world beyond what I had experienced, I thought that this Ebenezer, Momma Yorse’s devoted companion, was one lucky moth. After all he was allowed to feast on the day lilies that lined her backyard pool, tomorrow the potted geraniums in my back yard, next week the wisteria climbing the lattice at Mama Lou’s farm. An embarrassingly large number of years later I would come to learn Ebenezer was not one, but a vast many. What a gift this was to place the beauty of a silly name and a friendly greeting to what most would consider a common garden pest. Why hello, Ebenezer. Nice to see you again.
I mourn that you left this Earth without drinking in any of its obvious beauty, sweet Flicker. I mourn that you left this Earth without the opportunity to have shared experiences that create beauty in your life here.
At the top of a hill on the back side of Spectacle Island sits a solitary tree. This tree is rather unremarkable – approximately 15 feet tall, thin branches, small leaves, unknown species – yet it houses so much beauty for your dad and I. This tree provided shade from an intense sun and an oasis from my sad disposition as we picnicked and read and napped and pondered and gave thanks on a Mother’s Day burdened with the weight of your diagnosis. Leaving the island on that peaceful day in May I knew we would return to share it with you, sweet Flicker. I prayed fervently that a miracle granted would allow you to be crawling around on our picnic blanket next summer, snacking on watermelon and laughing at the circling seagulls. But a prayer unanswered dictates that we must share this place with you under much more somber circumstances.
As we boarded the ferry on Saturday alongside the throngs of tourists squeezing in a vacation in these waning days of our New England summer, I couldn’t help but feel strange about the motive of our journey across the Boston Harbor. We must have looked just like everyone else – backpack, picnic supplies, sunglasses – but on our person was your person, or the remnants thereof. Over and over again I reminded myself that this was not you, sweet Flicker. Just what was left of that cursed body that could not serve you here. I hate that body – despise it with my whole being – but love it and miss it and mourn it all the same. Such complex emotions enclosed in a tiny white box. I wonder what tiny white boxes all of these happy families were carrying with them on to Spectacle Island?
At the base of this tree – your tree, sweet Flicker – your dad and I released your ashes into the Earth. Intensely heartbreaking, I relied on the strength of your father and my Father as I watched our hope and intimacy mix in with the tall grass and soil. This was not you, sweet Flicker. Thank God it was not you. But I felt that it was so much of me.
Momma Yorse left this Earth this past November, also leaving behind a small box of ashes. In her ashes I envision just a few particles of her infant days, when she was but a collection of cells from her mother and father. As she aged she developed her own voice. Her own perspective. Her own passions. She married my grandfather. She traveled the world. She raised three children of her own. Each day as she lived on this Earth I picture her becoming less and less of her original self as dictated by the cells of her mother and father, and more and more of the self she became as a result of her life experiences. Consequently the balance of her ash particles I envision to contain the 85 year of life she absorbed.
But you, sweet Flicker, left this Earth before you were challenged to take even one independent breath. You were wholly reliant on me for everything – blood flow and oxygen and nourishment – and deprived of any chance to evolve beyond this dependent state. In your ash I could only see your father and me and the life here that could have been. A painful experience shared with your father and this solitary tree on Spectacle Island that will be permanently absorbed into my life story.
Yet in this sadness I am able to see the incredible beauty you have added to this unremarkable tree – your tree – sweet Flicker. Your tree will be a destination for your father and I to visit and feel connected to you. We will watch your tree grow and mourn that you are not growing with it, but be at peace with your presence in Heaven. Lord willing your tree will provide shade as we picnic with your siblings in the years to come, telling them of your amazing little life.