Decanting Souls

Jan asked, “Will we decant mom on Sunday, then?”

The week was full of boxes crammed with scrapbooks, photos, and correspondences — scattered through the house, the storage building, the pool house and workshop: detritus of Barbara K. Johnson’s life.

We laughed hard to hear little Jill write her mother in the hospital, that she neither believed her brother that mom was in the hospital, or worse, was having a baby and it was another boy.  It was funniest when Jan read, “And please do NOT call him Douglas” to the youngest, Doug.  So my dearest Jill held strong opinions at age nine and could articulately express them.

We each mutely read the neatly typed letter wherein Philip, their dad, said he had not had sexual relations with the woman he had run off with over the weekend, and he would return as pastor if all could be forgiven.

Steve quietly sorted the box with all of the bills that Phil returned unpaid to the hospital, pharmacy, and utility company after he left for good with the woman and emptied all of the accounts.

And I was struck by the probability that all great fiction, all award winning plays are barely recognizable shadows of authors’ families, or the shattered family of friends, or the shattering family at home.

And all these years later, the siblings taking cues from the astounding woman of God they had as mother, these siblings who had visited the man of unpaid bills in the nursing home as he wept and laughed with them, were choosing what will go to flame tonight in a bonfire of vanities, joys, and deep realities.  And they cho0se what to give to children and grandchildren.

Doug, who happens to be an award winning woodcarver has carried out one last wish from Nana, Barbara, and carved a final resting box for her ashes, kept safe in the plastic bag in which they were delivered over a year ago.  And on Sunday we will decant her ashes, as reverently as the siblings decanted the correspondences, savored them, laughed and wept over them.  We will decant them into Doug’s box preparing them for February when these four proud children of Barbara K Johnson will head to a windswept cemetery in South Dakot to send her ashes on a slow journey of becoming one with the dust of Alcester from whence she came.

And that will be the end of it, unless you know anything about Jesus and final banquets at the juncture of time and eternity, where we will decant life in the limited way we know it here, as an aperitif toward heaven.

Is. Not just ‘was’. Not ‘would have been’.

We betray our inmost thoughts, our truest beliefs sometimes to no one but ourselves, and we do so in the “trailers” those tiny tangents of thought trailing the Big thought(s).

I awoke in the night editing a thought from a few days ago.  I know, we all have things we wish we had said better, responded funnier, been more clever.

This was just a thought I thought while I walked our back fence, actually where a back fence will go when I finally put one in.  I thought about Nana’s funeral, and all the attention was focused on her.  She was in every slide in the slide show.  John Bugg and I talked about her first.  Doug and Karin’s reflection were tender and funny, but focused on Barbara K. Johnson unerringly.  The music was her music.  The packed out place was filled with people who were all there because she touched our lives.  The memory cards, every flower, every memorial was all because of her, and I laughed to think, “She would have been so embarrassed!”

“Would have been” because we were all feeling her absence.  She would have been mortified at people weeping because she was not there.  She would have cringed at every picture, and at her being the center of every story — she took most of the pictures and had to be dragged into any of them.  She told every story about those she cherished or worried over, most often the same thing.

I awoke in the night to edit, “Would have been” to “was”.  As believers in the resurrection of Christ, she had been promoted from worrier and intercessor to the cheering section in Heaven.  (The twelfth chapter of the Letter to the Hebrews in the Bible opens with that verse).  Since I believe that, I should have laughed because she WAS EMBARRASSED, from her new seat in the cheering section.

And I laughed all over again in bed in the middle of the night.  Then I awoke to blog this, and my wife, Jill, Nana’s daughter awoke with an ache, missing her mom, and had received the DVD of her memorial service, and was playing the celebration of her passing as I had begun blogging.

Funny isn’t it?  How married people have the same thoughts without talking.  It has been four months, and she IS delighted to see us living out the truest things we know, while failing them, but failing forward.

Is, not was, or would have been.  She is embarrassed that this blog celebrates her life.