Today we interred Susan's ashes, which is to say we buried them. It was a small gathering, just the kids and me, Susan's mother, Susan's sisters Katie and Patty, Patty's husband Michael and daughter Heather, Katie's son Josh, my mother and my mother's long-time boyfriend Jerry. When we arrived there was a small tent with chairs and a small pedestal where we placed Susan's ashes and the red roses we brought for her.
I was feeling pretty emotional about the whole thing, so I wrote down everything I was going to say. Here is the text:
Thank you for coming to honor Susan this morning. This is going to be brief. I’ve prepared a little something to say, and I’m going to read it so I don’t get too emotional. After that, I’m going to sing one of the songs Susan wanted me to sing at the funeral if I thought I’d be up to it. I wasn’t then, and I’m not sure I am now, but I will try. After I sing, I was thinking I would say something brief directly to Susan, as if she were here. Then any of you who would like to can say something to her as well, or something to the rest of us if you prefer, share a memory, say goodbye, anything at all. I know a lot of people aren’t comfortable talking in front of a group, and emotions might make it difficult, so I don’t want anyone to feel pressured about it. Again, thank you for coming.
What happens to us after we die? What we believe about that question shapes what we do for our loved ones who have passed away. The subject has been one of the primary preoccupations of humanity for as far back as we have written record. We have wondered about it, feared it, imagined answers, received revelations, formulated doctrines, doubted and believed too many different things to enumerate. For my part, I do not claim to know what happens to us after we die. At this point in my life I do not believe anything in particular about it. I don’t know if we go on in some form or if we end with our last breath. I know some of you may believe certain things about it, and I respect that. Susan believed in an afterlife, in a better place where you meet everyone who has gone before you and wait for everyone coming after. If there is such a place, Susan is there. No matter how good you might have to be to get in, if it exists, some part of her, her spirit or her soul, is there. Her body is gone. She was quite finished with it and she didn’t leave it in very good shape. And she didn’t want to lay that spent body forever in a pretty dress in a wooden box inside of a concrete vault. She wanted to be done with it, to be cremated. Ashes to ashes and dust to dust. But, even so, Susan is also not in this box of ashes. And if we bury this box here, as she wished, she will still not be here. If some part of her is still anywhere, she will not be here, in this ground. I think it is fitting, nevertheless, that we set aside this spot for her. For one thing, it was her wish. Although she chose cremation, she was very deliberate in wanting place where we could come visit and remember her. And why would we come to this place if, as I have said, she is not here? It is for the same reason many people who believe in a god who is everywhere go to a church. A church is a place dedicated to thinking about and meditating on god, even if god is everywhere. There is a word for it: sacred. Sacred means “set apart,” “dedicated for a purpose,” “inviolable and venerated.” And so, although we could remember Susan anywhere at any time, this place will be sacred for us. This place will be dedicated to her memory. And, even though I do not know what happens to us after we die, I will come here and I will visit and remember Susan. I will come here and talk to her as though she can hear me. Here, where her ashes are buried, I will bring her flowers and I will honor years of love and joy and pain and comfort and growth we spent together. I’ve already wished for a place like this. I look forward to them placing her marker – which shall take a couple of months to complete and install. I tried to design it to honor exactly who she was for all of us. It will say, “Susan Faye White, July 12, 1970 to April 15, 2012. Beloved Daughter, Sister, Wife, Mother, Friend.” And then, in the corner, it will say, “I love you, my Susan.” That’s a message from me, but it can be from you too if you’d like. I’m glad you’re all here to see where Susan’s sacred place is. I hope you will remember and visit her here if you can, on the side of this little hill, under this tree that is little today but will grow over the years. The vase installed here is permanent. It fits into a base but you can twist it and turn it over and put flowers here for Susan. The caretakers will replace it in the base after the flowers have withered. If she is still out there somewhere, I cannot help but believe that any love we show to her memory will reach her somehow. Again, thank you for coming.
After reading that and managing to mostly control my emotions, I sang Rock of Ages. Then I said a few personal words to Susan during which I completely failed to control my emotions, but it was okay. Then Katie read a beautiful letter she had written to Susan. Then Patty shared a story about two baby birds outside her house this week and how they reminded her of Susan and Katie. And then, one at a time, almost everyone there shared something. There were tears and laughter. It was a beautiful time. We went back later and they had closed the grave and placed the roses into her vase. I'll post a picture of her marker when it is etched and installed.
For those of you who are local, know Susan personally and might want to visit her grave at some point, she is at Greenwood Memorial Park at University Drive and White Settlement Road. The map below will help you find her grave. (Click to enlarge.)
Hello, friends. I hope you're well.