There is a longstanding, albeit somewhat morbid, tradition among the men in my family.
For three generations, not only do dead men tell no tales, they don’t fit in their allotted final resting places.
Beyond that, inturnments tend to be rather logistically complicated family affairs.
My grandfather, for instance.
When he passed away in the mid-1980s, he had retired to Costa Rica, meaning returning his ashes to the USA required my aunt — his daughter — to travel to Central America. Once there, she had to deal with officials from embassies and consulates from two countries before she had the necessary documentation to bring Gramp’s ashes back to Portland, Oregon, where my grandmother’s ashes were interred in the family above-ground niche.
On the appointed day at the appointed time, we gathered at the mausoleum and prepared to place Gramp’s rather ornamental urn containing his ashes next to Nana to rest for all eternity.
There was just one problem. That urn was about a quarter-inch too big to fit, no matter how many ways we tried to lean it.
The issue was eventually solved by swapping out the fancy urn for a smaller model which tucked in rather nicely.
Fast forward several decades to the death of my father, who was living here in Maine when he passed away three years ago. Like Gramp, my dad’s ashes needed to get back to Portland. Once there, they would be placed in my parent’s above-ground niche at the mausoleum where my mother’s ashes already rested.
Getting to Portland was easy enough, and thanks to a cousin who is a renowned potter, I was able to get a custom-made urn for my dad’s ashes. Remembering the placement debacle with Gramp, I, my cousin and several other people carefully measured that urn to make sure it would fit into the allotted space next to my mom.
Once again, my family gathered on the appointed day at the appointed time to place the urn in the niche.
A few words were spoken, flowers were placed, and for some odd reason the mausoleum official in charge of opening and closing the niche told us all about my parents’ “neighbor” in the adjoining niche who was a convicted murderer.
Then we all watched as he and his assistant carefully placed the cover back on the niche — only to discover my dad’s urn was protruding just enough that the cover could not be resealed.
It was deja vu all over again.
It took a bit of finesse, but they finally were able to arrange the two urns in such a manner that the cover was able to fit back on.
That was the spring of 2016, and after that I figured nothing could surprise me when it came to the ashes of my dearly departed loved ones.
Including those of my late husband who passed away from cancer in 2008.
It was Patrick’s wish to have his ashes spread over our farm which he loved so much. However, his family also wanted a single spot to visit his remains. In a compromise move, I placed some of his ashes in a lovely spot in the garden between two ornamental cherry trees. In a procrastinating move of epic proportions, the remaining ashes rested for eight years in the other spot most loved by Patrick — in his shop.
The time just never seemed right to scatter them, and as the years dragged on, it frankly became less and less of a priority.
OK, so maybe the fact that the ashes of my late husband were in a Mason jar while the ashes of my lead sled dog were in a pretty rosewood box says something about my psyche, but let’s not go there.
Not long after the Portland trip with my dad’s ashes, I learned that Maine has a law under which landowners can designate up to a quarter acre as a burial ground, thus preserving its status as such even if the land is sold.
Around the same time, I read about biodegradable urns that, once interred in the ground, fertilize the soil, and the ashes become part of the earth.
That, I knew, Patrick would love.
That summer my friend Pete helped me dig a hole on Patrick’s favorite spot on the farm, which is now a designated family plot. Some weeks later, my dear friend Julie exhumed the urn in the garden, and we combined it with the newly purchased biodegradable urn and off we went to the final resting place.
We spoke a few words in remembrance of Patrick and gently placed him into the ground.
Or, at least we tried.
The hole was not wide or deep enough to accommodate the urn, so it was back to the house to gather shovels and a pickaxe. An hour or so later after much digging and cutting through below ground roots, we finally had opened enough ground to accommodate the urn.
Did I mention it was the height of northern Maine bug season?
Julie and I were hot, sweaty, covered with dirt and laughing our heads off.
Looking around, I had to comment, “You know, if we were ever hiding a body, this is exactly what it would look like.”
Julie just shook her head and said, “What is it about the men in your family?”
Honestly, I don’t know. But three generations of internments gone wrong, I really have to wonder.
For all I know, the prehistoric creature from which our DNA eventually evolved stepped into a tarpit millions of years ago — and did not fit.