Wednesday, August 23, 2006

She Is Now Wherever We Are

She whom we love and lose
Is no longer where she was before
She is now wherever we are
-- St John Chrysostom

This past Sunday we gathered on Mayne Island to bury the physical remains of my Beloved Mother-in-Law, Veronica, and to celebrate her life and spirit. It turned out to be a perfect day.

The service was held by her graveside next to St Mary Magdalene's, the modest, wooden, century-old church where Dearest Wife and I were married almost exactly eleven years ago. There were some twenty of us, family and closest friends. It was a simple affair, led by Thomi and Ellen, the two ministers who had been Veronica's stalwart companions on her spiritual journey. Simple, yet eclectic; among the readings were one of Rilke's marvellous "Letters to a Young Poet" and Veronica's favourite Rumi poem, "The Guesthouse." The relevancy of the latter was illustrated presently by a yellowjacket that decided to sting Dearest Wife between the shoulderblades.

Thomi spoke eloquently of Veronica and her graceful path. She told of how, while coming over to Mayne the previous day, she had seen a pod of orcas preceding the ferry, and reminded us, tearfully, that in Pacific Northwest First Nations mythology great spirits sometimes return after death in the form of these magnificent creatures. I looked over my shoulder down the gently rolling grass hill towards the sun-dappled waters of Active Pass, half expecting to see the killer whales trouping by. I realised, however, that that would have been too much of a coincidence. But I also noted that when they did go by, anyone standing by the grave would have a marvellously clear view of their passage.

And then we buried Veronica. My Dearest Father-in-Law gently placed the Indonesian grass basket containing her ashes into the ground, and one by one we placed handfuls of earth into the grave. I took Darling Daughter and Little Man up for their contribution, and I was very glad I was wearing sunglasses as my eyes were brimming. I was later told that I was not alone by any means. But the symbolic handfuls were not the end; one of Veronica's closest friends picked up the spade and continued to shovel earth into the grave. We truly did bury Veronica.

Following the service we adjourned to the house to chat, to laugh, to eat, to remember. Even my Own embittered Mother seemed to take at least temporary heart from the bonhomie and affection, much to my delight. A rescue operation had to be staged at one point to liberate a guest from a bathroom with a recalcitrant lock. Veronica would have been much amused - or perhaps she was.

That evening, after guests were gone and children bedded down, we headed down the stairs to the rocks at the base of the cliff upon which the house sits. The sky had turned the most unfeasibly gorgeous hues of blue, orange, and pink.

And then the orcas came.

There must have been at least thirty of them steaming first towards, then past us, blowing, spyhopping, breaching, and slapping as they went. A group of about four, including one calf, steered in close to where we were standing. My heart leapt as they porpoised past about thirty feet away, close enough to see their eyes. I had never before been so near to an orca, and Thomi's words rang in my ears, as did those of the closing prayer by St John Chrysostom:

She is now wherever we are...

Popol Vuh - Spirit of Peace (Pt 2) (buy here)
Dead Can Dance - Fortune Presents Gifts Not According To The Book (buy here)
Beasts of Bourbon - Rest In Peace (buy here)
The Pogues - Sally MacLennane (buy here)


Anonymous said...

Nice post. Thanks for sharing.

Sean said...

It's a strange and small world FiL. I stumbled upon a blog music aggregator at and without really looking at it closely on the web-page, the first song I clicked on was a link to your Beasts of Bourbon track. It was only later I noticed it was yours!

Mentok the Mind-taker said...

I'm glad you took your time to do this. Beautiful post. I'm not a weepy sort, but, with the memory of my father's funeral last year in mind, I teared up reading this.

My father's funeral was eerily similar. Except instead of an Anglican minister he was a dentist, and instead of the ocean it was in the middle of the bald prairie and instead of orcas we had gophers...

...But, other than that, exactly the same ;-)

(Sorry, I hope I'm not offending by joking about such's just a defence mechanism, you know.)

One thing...your post makes me want to move out to Mayne Island. I can think of nothing sweeter than to live and die in such a place.

Rachel said...

Wow, how amazing and beautiful this all was. Quite honestly I had to read it a couple of times and come back to it when I was ready...

I am glad peace surrounded you and your family this weekend and I hope it surrounds you always. I can not think of a better tribute to anyone than your tribute to Veronica. Thank you FiL for sharing this with us.


unknown said...

Beautiful words and music my friend, very moving.

She is with you all.

Mr. Beer N. Hockey said...

Good job pogo boy. I expect a skyful of bats to fly over in the evening when we bury my mother-in-law.

T&F@tlh said...


I remember the church all those years ago. I'm sure V will be happy there, and with us all wherever we are.

Love, as ever


L'Anonyme de Chateau Rouge said...

I'm busy for the moment...But one day, but one time, I promess to read you again....

merz said...

Beautiful post Fil! And you are the first blogger I have seen to post a Popol Vuh track, very fitting for your post and words.

A. B. Chairiet said...

Absolutely gorgeous, Fil. Your writing, the story and all that it entails.

So beautiful and heartbreaking.

Thank you for sharing it with us.

I hope you and your family are well.

Happy Sunday,
~ Ash

FiL said...

Thank you, Amonymous, for stopping by and commenting.

Hi Sean! Indeed, tis powerful strange coincidence...

Dear Mentok, sorry I made you tear up. And certainly no offence taken. I'm glad the post resonated. If I may correct one factual point, Veronica wasn't a minister, but a teacher. Still an extremely worthwhile profession!

Dearest Rachel, thank you. I'm glad you could share in this, even if only virtually.

Thank you, Dearest Colin.

Mr Beer n Hockey, bats are considered good luck in China. That any consolation?

Dearest T, yes, we remember you there too. And at the reception afterwards - you were the star that evening :). Thanks for your thoughts.

Cher ACR, c'est toujours un plaisir, et t'es toujours le bienvenu! Mes visites au blogosphere francophone sont devenues moins frequentes pendant l'ete. Apres la rentree, ca changera...

Thanks, Dear Merz! Glad you liked the Popol Vuh.

And Dearest Ash, thank you so much. Yes, we are relatively well, though missing weach other. Still, soon reunited...