November 21, 2009

"Bhikkhus, all is burning. And what is the allthat is burning?

"The eye is burning, forms are burning,eye-consciousness is burning, eye-contact is burning, also whatever is felt aspleasant or painful or neither-painful-nor-pleasant that arises witheye-contact for its indispensable condition, that too is burning. Burning withwhat? Burning with the fire of lust, with the fire of hate, with the fire ofdelusion. I say it is burning with birth, aging and death, with sorrows, withlamentations, with pains, with griefs, with despairs…”

Awake 5:20 am

Go to the mat and cushion and sit,despite tumultuous resistance.

Drink coffee shower call taxi

Taxi drives slowly past 26 as westand on the porch staring after him.

He turns the corner, backs up alittle, goes forward again and finally, in fits and starts backs up to us.

To Woodbine and Kingston Road

He asks how we want to go so I sayLakeshore but he turns west, clearly confused. Waves of emotion frustrationirritation grief wash over me and I abdicate direction-giving to Michael. Iclose my eyes and let the tears come. It’s the longest most silent taxi ride.

We get to the corner and he can’teven figure out that we need to turn left so we get out and walk, past thepicturesque graveyard and church, over to the crematorium.

It’s like a cottage. Jacques pullsup on his bike, a massive ride just undertaken. Stanley the funeral director isthere waiting for us.

We go straight in, through a blandgeneric chapel, through double doors to what looks like a foundry.

It is, I suppose.

Lying on a platform about 4 feet upis an oblong brown cardboard box.

It is all very matter-of-fact.

An attendant, (the cremator?) in awhite lab coat and long hair pulled back in a ponytail, stands by to get thething done.

Stanley hands me a white rose toplace on the box, a touching gesture that reminds me that I didn’t even thinkof flowers…instead they are strewn about my house, sent by coworkers andfriends. I place it on the box, hold my hand there for several seconds,pressing it down. I feel that I am pressing down the body in some way, holdingit in place just a little longer. And I’m holding myself up too.

Jacques says “just a minute please”and brings forth 3 sticks of incense, handing 2 to Michael and I, holding up alighter. I let out a sigh and blow out Jacques lighter.

Stanley reaches in with his lightertoo, I suspected he was a smoker.

We lay the lit incense on top ofthe box.

The cremator opens the door to theoven and then he and Stanley shove the box right in, really putting theirshoulders into it.

There is something deeplysatisfying about this physical effort.

Perfect engagement.

The door is closed and I am invitedto turn the switch

It is a dial, I twist it towards onand it pops back into place.

The oven fires up with a roar.

Jacques asks: is it ok if I chantto your Mom?

Yes yes yes

He pulls out the wooden gourd-likeinstrument that he uses to call us to practice and begins to keep beat on itwhile chanting in Korean. Strong clear voice.

I have no idea what he is sayingand it is absolutely perfect.

Overcome with emotion I remember “hapchong”  and clasp my hands together,breathing as slowly as I can manage. As the chant gets louder, speeds up, aswhat is left of Fern succumbs to the flames, I automatically shift to diamondhap chong, interlocked fingers grasped together. It is very comforting.

The moment Jacques has finishedchanting, Stanley is at my side asking if I want to pick up the remains orshould he deliver them to me. I opt for the latter.

Michael reminds me to remind thecremator that I want all of the metal and ceramic parts remaining. It is inwriting but he is right to confirm this.

We tumble out into the chapel andthen the hallway. There is water to drink. We marvel at the sound of the roaring oven as we step outside.

I turn back, look up and there sheis, billowing out the chimney, pinkish grey, rolling, shimmering and thenbreaking apart, dissipating, drifting on the breeze, separating, thinning outuntil she is no longer distinguishable from the grey November sky.

It is breathtaking


I make strangled choking sounds ofawe

It seems to go on and on, so muchsmoke

And then it simply stops


An intake, rush of breath

I sob

I laugh

There she goes

Later in the day the doorbell ringsand it is Stanley, for the last time.

He carries a blue and lavenderpaper bag, the kind you might use to present a gift at an anniversary party.

Absurdly, I wonder where theremains are.

He comes in and I bring him to thesideboard where he pulls out a box the size of a large brick, wrapped in brownpaper, an official envelope attached, paperwork for the burial.

These are the ashes.

They are surprisingly heavy.

In another, smaller cardboard box,a heavy plastic bag containing the knee and hip joints.

Very heavy. On four differentoccasions they gave her new mobility. And then, I now realize, they kept hergrounded. Not anymore.

Both boxes are warm to the touch,like freshly baked bread.

We talk formalities, paperwork, andStanley is gone.

I have placed the ashes on thebench in my studio, directly in front of the mat and cushion.

They wait patiently.

I have a standing appointment.

Forty-nine days.

I’ll do my best.

Nicole Collins

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