"... What is life? It is a flash of a firefly in the night.
It is the breath of a buffalo in the wintertime..."
-- Chief Crowfoot
Perhaps because I've already lost 12 friends this year and scattered Katie-dust (my dear friend's ashes), All Souls' Day on November 2 had a front row seat in my mind. Perhaps that's why my Saturday walk (to work off all those Halloween Snickers) led me to the local cemeteries Calvary and Blossom Hill, named for the cow whose pasture it used to be. I often stroll through this lovely space bordered by pines, either with my walking buddy or alone. With several hills, 200-year-old oaks, and a small pond, I find these cemeteries restful, not macabre in the very least. Even now when the naked branches reach into a leaden sky, the peace remains unchanged.
Though I doubt I'll ever reside here, I do like to visit two plots that are special to me: Sandy's and Christa's. My friend Sandy died in 2017, two years after I met her in the first memoir class I ever taught. She was on fire to complete her narrative and often arranged to meet me outside of class at her home or mine, or at a restaurant where we teased out the details of her courageous life. Before her cancer snuck back and stole her, she had drafted the story she burned to tell. Her niece completed the manuscript and distributed it, I'm told. I wonder whether Sandy heard a clock ticking that the rest of us drown out with busyness...
The other monument I visit commemorates local resident Christa McAuliffe, the first teacher in space. She died when the Challenger exploded on January 28, 1986. On that day, I went into labor with my youngest who was born the following morning. Each time I visit, I find sweet mementos made by children for the woman who said, "I touch the future. I teach." I also find prayer stones, bits of the most durable material we humans use to express the ineffable.
Perhaps a recent 4-week class at my church, "Returning Home: The Practical and Personal Journey We All Face," also inspired me to pull focus. These workshops underscored the importance of written instructions regarding finances to funeral to passwords to plot-- or not. You know, those oh-so-final arrangements we all need to have in place. During the last meeting, participants shared what they had finalized in the previous three weeks and lit tapers together, a small symbol of hope in our fractured world.
True confession: I lit a candle, but I hadn't finalized anything! And I still haven't.
My wise mother, on the other hand, tidied up these details in her early 70's, even to prepaying her last expenses. One pleasant afternoon as she reminisced over tea, I jotted factoids on a paper napkin, and we matter-of-factly outlined her obituary. Easy for me -- I had learned how in Journalism class. She had the final edit, of course.
Together we chose music for her someday funeral. I was curious why she chose "You'll Never Walk Alone." She said, "That was Dad's and my song during the War." I hadn't known... Mom then went on to live another 20 years, prepared. She never had been keen on surprises.
Now it's my turn. I gather necessary data and factoids to write my final arrangements, my last page. I think of this as Buffalo in a Row. I need to model the responsibility I demanded of my kids. Decisions I make now leave fewer decisions for them to make later. This is the kindest gift I can give my children -- their peace of mind.
The day I walked the cemeteries, I also saw a rose, a spot of life in an otherwise dreary landscape. It reminds me to tackle this project while I'm in tiptop physical and mental health.
I'm starting after supper. ###
Invitation: How can you prepare for the breath of the buffalo in winter? Free write for 10 minutes.
Bison by Rolf Schmidbauer in Unsplash
Rose by Mieke Campbell in Unsplash