Monday, February 16, 2009

The ongoing saga

So...on Saturday, my former wicked stepmother called the house in response to the letter I'd sent, wherein I asked her to please tell me where my father and his parents are buried.

For those of you not familiar with the saga, I was estranged from my father's family for many years after he remarried (though not from my father). Only when I reached my thirties did his wife relent in her obstinate refusal to acknowledge my existence (which persisted over twenty years, though prior to that I actually lived with them for 2 years.) While I was permitted, during this blackout period, to attend the funerals of my father's parents (with whom I'd been close), I was not invited to the interrments, nor was I told the location of the cemetary. When my grandfather died, my stepmother did not even list me among the surviving grandchildren in the newspaper. At my father's funeral five years ago, she asked me for forgiveness -- a sort of blanket forgiveness, to cover all manner of offenses -- and I gave it. For a while. But she never told me when and where they buried my father's cremains, and after five years I have broken down and demanded this information from her. Ordinarily, we do not speak. She has been remarried for three years. She is not the only one to blame for this situation; my father always permitted her to make the rules when it came to my part in his life, and mostly he played by her rules.

After some time spent trying to track down the remains of all three relatives myself, I had reached a null point. All three were cremated. When the cremains are received by a relative or responsible party, the state considers that the final disposition; death certificates do not have to list the resting place for the cremains. A search of local cemetaries yielded nothing, and after ordering a copy of my grandmother's death certificate from the MN Historical Society, with the results I described, I knew I would have to take the direct route in finding out what had happened. Fortunately, my last meeting (one of only a few) with my ex-stepmother went reasonably well -- she had me out to their house to pick up some old things of my father's, because they were preparing the property for sale. Only now, having spoken to her this evening, do I realize the full implications of that visit.

As I said, she called me Saturday and left a message; I called her back tonight, feeling I was ready. It wasn't a confrontational dialogue; she has never betrayed more than a faint awkwardness in my presence as an adult. It's as if she has never for a moment considered all that has taken place between us. She was quite pleasant, and got straight to the point.

My grandparents' ashes are buried about a mile north of my father's old home, in a local cemetary. My father's ashes are buried under a tree on the property itself, which has since been sold.

She never told me when I was there last spring. She did not tell me, and I did not ask. I still don't know why.

Tonight she described the location of the ashes, the type of memorial tree she'd bought and planted, where it sits on the property. She told me that the new owners do not know of the burial, though she mentioned the tree to them. She basically asked that I not tell them either, unsurprisingly, because I indicated my intention to try to make a visit. Another letter I'll need to write, and a lie I suppose I'll have to perpetuate. She said that she and their kids made the decision to place his remains on the property in accordance with what his wishes has always been, to die on that property, be "carried out the front door," and buried on the grounds. They had a small memorial ceremony when they planted the tree. When she decided to sell the property, their kids agreed that the remains should stay there. And thus. There they are.

She seemed at first embarrassed as she explained this state of affairs. But I didn't ask her why I wasn't invited to that ceremony, because of course I know why.

She also wanted me to explain why I'm after the information now, and when I told her my intention was to have a small ceremony of my own, at the gravesite of my grandparents, she asked me if I would tell her ahead of time so that she could perhaps be a part of it.

I was unable to come up with an honest response to that request. I told her I'd give her advance notice, but it might well have been a lie. I don't need her permission. It's not a private cemetary. And frankly, I don't want her there.

But we'll see now. When the weather gets warmer, I'll go out and take a look. And I'll write to the people who own the home now, and see if they'll let me on the property, to look at the tree. God knows what they'll think, or what they'll say. Or what they'll ask, if they're reasonably intelligent.

This is all more or less what I expected. Some of what I'd hoped for, but some of what I'd feared.

No comments: