Setting Mom Free

by Catherine Breese

IMG_1689It comes as a huge relief to a child when a parent with Alzheimer’s or advanced dementia finally dies. You do not cry, not even in private. You are not depressed. You are effective at work. In fact, you might even be a little more focused and able to enjoy your day in a way you could not when your mother was alive.

It’s probably off-putting to some people. We all have an idea of how we are supposed to act when someone we loves dies, and we know others expect us to behave in a certain fashion. However, we experience the loss of others only through the window of our own loss. People seemed to feel about my mother’s death the way they felt about their mother’s death, no matter the situation. Those that lost their mother’s early in life or in a tragic way make a long excruciated breath when they utter their condolences. And they almost always talk about their loss. I have little in common with those who had a best friend relationship with their mother, or those who languish in the romantic tragedy like a scene from a grocery-store novel.

Despite the fact that mom died in February, I lost her a few years back. I have had plenty of time to grieve. In fact, the last few years with mom haven’t been much except grieving and anguish. So, it should not be surprising that the end brought respite to my sister and me, and to many of mom’s close acquaintances.

Life, like death, is socially messy. We all do our best. It is not that no one knows the right thing to say, it’s that there really isn’t a perfectly right thing to say. I do find comfort in others’ expressions of compassion, regardless of how awkward or eloquently stated. Loss binds us together as a human family.

So does the necessity of dealing with the more practical aspects of death. My mother’s cremated remains reside on a small table in my kitchen. I remember my mom being in the kitchen a lot, so I believe she would be content in the center of our family activity rather than on the mantle, or in a closet. The urn is a beautiful sea blue metal one that I purchased on, where you can buy pretty much anything these days. I was both grateful and lucky that when we drove to Ohio to pick up mom’s ashes, the funeral director offered to transfer them into the urn for us. He took mom’s box and the urn and disappeared, returning a short while later with only the beautiful blue urn, just a bit heavier. I was envisioning some terrible scene in our hotel room where ashes were spilled and chaos ensued. Didn’t happen.

In June we are traveling to Florida to set mom free. Like my father, my mother loved water, boats, and swimming, so I think she would be pleased. I have purchased a special biodegradable container used for water interments. It is a simple design: water-soluble plastic liner, biodegradable cardboard, no tape or glue. The ashes sink within a few minutes and the container dissolves. “Sunset and evening star, and one clear call for me! And may there be no moaning of the bar, When I put out to sea…” I imagine that we will play some music or maybe even sing mom out to eternity. It will be lovely. And legal, don’t worry. You can dispose of cremated remains three nautical miles from shore. However, I will actually have to transfer the ashes from the urn to the new container on my own. I have read that this can be disturbing, but I know I can do it. I got my fortitude from my mother.


Crossing the Bar by Alfred, Lord Tennyson