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)