Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Bringing Mom Home

Mom didn't talk much about her death, even when it was immanent.

I think she believed that she could will death away by ignoring its persistent nudging. On the last Monday of her life (I don't know why I remember it being Monday, but everything about that week defied normality), as she took to her bed for the last time, she asked my brother, "Is this dying?" To ask such a bold question after blatantly ignoring her physical decline for so long was completely uncharacteristic of Mom and it took Michael by surprise. He could only answer, "I don't know."

But we did know.

Within a day -- or perhaps within that moment -- Mom answered her own question. Yes, she was dying, and from that moment on she slipped further and further away from us, beckoned by something we can't understand, but which was obviously intoxicating for her as she attempted to straddle both worlds, coming back to us occasionally, perhaps out of a sense of obligation, but seeming to prefer "the light" -- or whatever it was that was calling her.

At one point, after almost a day of silence, Mom came back to us, struggling to describe where she was. "I'm floating!" she said, almost singing. And then she mentioned what sounded like the name of a "see" ("lake" in German). I could only imagine that she was floating in a lake near her childhood home in the Bavarian Alps. Shortly after that, Mom was hiking and bicycling, as evidenced both by her abbreviated mutterings and by her body movements. Obviously she was out of her cancer-ridden body at that moment and was athletic and strong, and back at home in Bavaria, even though she hadn't lived there for 50 years at that point.

The day after Mom's exhausting attempt to verbally share with us what she was experiencing, she slipped into a coma. Three days later, she slipped from this life. I can't help but believe that, in some way that we'll never understand, Mom was back at home, floating and hiking and bicycling in the Bavarian Alps as she had in her youth. And I can't but believe that she was happy.

Mom's death changed everything for me, from my beliefs about dying to the way I live my own life now. I now know what they mean by "going home." Or maybe I just chose to believe that Mom "went home" because it makes her death easier for me. Either way, in a very non-religious way, I do believe that dying took her to a "better place," even if it was only a temporary experience to see her through the process of dying.

Mom's ashes now rest in the dining room of the house my parents shared, in a beautiful piece of pottery which sits atop Mom's favorite piece of furniture, a massive armoire that she (ironically) called "the horse coffin." I'm not sure how Mom would feel about being there now, in a home that Dad has obviously re-made with Lou. Mom and Lou were friends, so I will choose to believe that she'd approve of Dad's new direction. But still, I wonder if she'd rather be back home in Bavaria, among the lakes, mountains and meadows where she swam and hiked and played.

I gently brought this up with Dad last week, not wanting to challenge his obvious jurisdiction in deciding Mom's final resting place, but also wanting to plant the seed of possibility regarding taking her ashes back to Bavaria. Coincidentally, Dad, Lou and my 10-year-old niece will also be in Germany in September, also visiting Mom's home town of Traunstein and also enjoying the Alps that Mom called home for 22 years. Unfortunately, Dad and I won't be there at the same time, but there are now two opportunities to bring Mom back -- and I just don't want to ignore that.

Even if we decide to bring Mom back to her heimat (home region), there are logistical concerns that we must deal with. Is it legal to scatter human ashes in Bavaria? Does one need a permit of some sort? How do we transport her ashes on the plane? Do we need to declare that? Who would do the scattering? How would my brothers feel about it?

Should I just let this go? Does it even matter?

Somehow, I think it does.

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Anonymous said...

I certainly think it does matter and hope that the rest of your family will agree with you. However, I do believe there is some kind of law about scattering the ashes in Germany, so you would probably have to "smuggle" her to the heimat. I'm not sure that this would work these days with all the security and such without some kind of permit on this end. If you do manage that, nobody would have to know what you are doing with the ashes.

Dixie said...

Know what? Call the German embassy. Ask them about it. I think if it's something you feel strongly about then you should do it if it's possible.

But, and this is just my own set of beliefs, I believe your mother is already back home. We're not our bodies - we're the spirits that inhabit our bodies and I believe your mother left her sick, worn out body behind and went back to her home - she's already there.

However if you wish to scatter her ashes (and honestly I don't think it's allowed but I'm sure the German embassy could tell you) as a symbolic way of taking her back home and it making you have a sense of comfort and completion then I think you should at least find out about doing it.

Jen said...

What an amazingly touching post, Carol. And yes, I think Dixie's on target in terms of finding out the proper permissions, etc.

You bring back a lot of memories for me with this - my dad's and sister's deaths from cancer and how each handled it differently, and my Grandmother's return to speaking only German when she had a bleeding ulcer.

It's interesting where the mind and body will go at such times.

vailian said...

Very touching memorial to your mother (here and elsewhere in your blog-- she must have been a remarkable woman-- like you of course!)
I don't know about the legal ins and outs of ash distribution, but I suspect that the burocratic hurdles would be much more trouble than it is worth, and you are better off quietly bringing some to Germany without trying to get the Customs involved.

Anonymous said...

Hello! I just found your site via Nothing But Bonfires. I think the idea of bringing your mother back to Germany is a nice idea, but after a quick Google search it does seem they don't allow it, but this is a little excerpt from a page I found (from 2005, mind you):

"If, however, an urn is brought back across the border, German law comes into immediate effect, compelling its burial. "It is estimated that some 10,000 urns are brought over the border illegally each year. Anyone who gets caught has to hand the ashes over to the authorities to be interred in a cemetery. But there are no fines and no punishment involved, so people don't mind taking the risk," said Nixdorf."

I don't have a lot of time right now, but I'll definitely be back to read some of your older posts!

Anonymous said...

As I stated before, my main concern still would be getting the ashes out of this country. What do you think they would say if you tried to get it through security as a carry-on? And most checked baggage gets examined now too. My niece had a jar of Jif Peanut Butter (they can't get decent PB over there) in her carry-on and they took that away from her.

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