March 28, 2012


I think
about burning
when it's all over
burning to ashes
dust and tiniest
bits of bone.

I think
of my body, a grey-white cloud
wafting away on a wind or
sifting into an ocean wave or
settling over a mountainside
or maybe just sitting
in a jar
on a shelf

I wonder:
Is this what I want?

I wonder: is the funereal fire
more holy than
the waters of the sea?

If I'd had their
fragile, broken bodies burned
to softest ash
would I
feel closer to them, or farther
if I'd seen them
wafting away on a wind or
settling over a mountainside
or maybe just sitting
in a jar
on a shelf
somewhere or if
I'd ever put my hand
into that jar, felt them
slipping through my fingers
again--oh, not again!
and wondered again if this
was a lock of hair, this
a delicate lung or this
a perfect toe.

I think
the bodies of my babies
are in the ocean (or they were)
mingled with the waters, washed away
along with my blood and my tears
but perhaps they are now
in Alaska's snow or
Chicago's rain or
riding the Ganges river, or perhaps
they are now
high, high up in the atmosphere
or maybe they are here, in my breath
gone cold and crystallized and dancing
before my eyes.

Look, mama.
Watch me twirl.


I learned that it is actually illegal to spread someone's ashes. Around here, anyway. You must put them in a container and bury the container in the ground, and really what is the point of that? You may as well be buried in a big box as fit in a small jar and buried all the same. I don't know. I thought I'd like to be put into the sea. But when I think of being ashes in the sea (my first and last intentionally illegal act), I think it is not quite the same as the way my babies are part of the sea, and it unnerves me somehow. Like we won't be together the way that I'd like. *sigh* I suppose it doesn't matter much. Or not yet. Presumably by the time I die there will be others who have an opinion on what should be done with my body anyway. Maybe a husband who'd like us to be buried side by side. Maybe children who'd like to make a memorial to me, rather than the other way around. There's a first.

Just something that came up at work the other day, and has been on my mind since. Any thoughts, dear readers? What are they going to do with you, when you've gone? Who do you want to be near, for forever?


  1. Hmm vera kate. Firstly, this is beautifully written. I've been thinking about this post ever since I first read it.

    I've always been attracted to the idea of the funeral pyre, I remember thinking that I wanted anything to do with me burnt upon my death. That I wanted all examples of my hand writing burnt for instance. I don't know why, something to do with not leaving a mark on the earth or some other such fanciful notion. Just gone, gone, gone.

    Other thought are . . that I've never touched Georgina's ashes. I don't know why I haven't I often look at them and hold them but I've never touched them. Perhaps it is because of that feeling of 'not again', that she's slipping away from me again. I look for identifiable parts but I'm scared of finding them too. I suppose that the majority of the ashes are probably of the woollen cardigan she was dressed in. She was so tiny.

    I would like to be cremated. Georgina was cremated. I occasionally think of scattering her ashes but, at the present time, I don't imagine that I ever will. I would like our ashes to be mixed after my death but perhaps that is rather presumptuous of me? Also possibly illegal? It's amazing how much legislation there is about something that feels so personal. But it her that I want to be near forever. Because I never got the chance to be in this life.

    I'm also drawn to the sea, I used to want to be put into the sea. Perhaps, after I die, I could ask someone to put my ashes and Georgina's ashes into the sea at the same time and run the risk of prosecution on my behalf?

    I hope they do twirl. That that they are free. Georgina. Ailis. Noah.

    1. Thanks for sharing, Catherine! I am utterly fascinated by what other people think about this subject; it's so personal and surprising and varied.

  2. When I think about the spreading of ashes I can't imagine anyone simply upending a jar like a rubbish bin and shaking it out, held away, not wanting to get any on them. Wouldn't you put in your hand? Wouldn't you wonder what you were touching? And wouldn't it be the most intimate thing you could ever have done in your life? Wouldn't you want it to be? Would you sprinkle the ashes around your feet like bird seed, would you throw them into the air like confetti and glitter, would you pitch them as far as you could?

  3. So I just linked to your blog from Glow, at your request, but will be following now.

    Your poem is so beautiful I cried the whole time I read it.

    Our daughter is cremated. We put her ashes in a rocking hoese that was supposed to be the piggy bank of a living child, not the urn of a dead one. When I die I want to be buried and I am putting it in my will that that little rocking horse is going in with me.

    I believe I will see my little girl again in heaven but I want the physicalness of her with me too. And, really, when I die there will be no one else who would really want the ashes of this dead child.

    1. Welcome to my blog, Em. Thanks for reading and for sharing your thoughts. I am so very sorry about the loss of your precious Eva. xx

  4. Found your blog via glow, and I love this poem. No, not morbid. I've never been averse to talking about death, the process of death, and what I think may or may not happen after. . .losing my baby has amplified that, and changed that, in every way.

    I don't know what I want after I die. Before Nathaniel, I wanted to be cremated. Just because it seems more environmentally wise. Either cremated or buried without being embalmed. There are some lovely cemeteries, without headstones, where people are buried in simple cloth, and their bodies left to the earth. This suits me more than filling my body full of chemicals, then putting me in a laquer box, in a cement box, in the ground. What good is that going to do for me or anyone else or the planet? Just to preserve the appearance of life for a little while longer? I hope that doesn't sound too morbid.

    I had Nathaniel cremated. His urn is on his dresser, which is still full of all of his baby clothes, his diapers, waiting for him. Still. I guess that I'm glad we did it this way, primarily because he'll go with me wherever I go. I didn't want him to go in the ground, all by himself, without other friends or family. I didn't want him to be buried with family out of state (my mother offered to bring him to where she is). But, then again, the chemicals, the laquer box. But having him cremated was horrible. I felt it. It was awful. I just hope he didn't have to feel it, too.

    Now, I don't know what I want. I guess I want to be near family. Maybe with my husband. Definitely with Nathaniel. Somewhere my (living) son can come and visit me. Maybe a destination spot - so it could be relaxing for him, like a vacation? Buried with Nathaniel someplace next to the ocean.

    I'm so sorry about Ailis and Noah. I love those names. How to pronounce *Ailis*?

    1. Welcome, Suzanne. Thank you for your comments. I think being "left to the earth" is a lovely way to put it, and much preferable to a vain (both kinds of vain!) attempt at keeping up appearances for as long as possible.

      The traditional pronunciation of Ailis is something like "EYE-lish" but I read it wrong the first time I saw it and I'll read it wrong forever because it's in my head and heart to stay now, as "AY-liss."

      So sorry for your loss of your son Nathaniel. His name will be added to my list, for when I do babyloss memorials. x

  5. The weight of my mulling over this topic would, I'm sure, be scorned as macabre in polite society prisons

    but I really don't care.

    This year, I read Jessica Mitford. Then Lisa Carlson. Then Mark Harris - and then Joshua Slocum (with Lisa Carlson, again).


    If there's one thing I know,

    when this battle ends,

    I will not be tipped full of chemicals and embalming fluid

    and hopefully not even

    if we can manage it

    snapped in a coffin


    a white sheet will do.


    "I think being "left to the earth" is a lovely way to put it, and much preferable to a vain (both kinds of vain!) attempt at keeping up appearances for as long as possible."


    Good Gracious, VKH, your words leave me staggered.

    Thank God.

    Cathy in Missouri