Sunday, October 28, 2007

Día de los Muertos

Several people have asked me where Chris' ashes are buried so that they might go and visit his grave. We buried his ashes at Mount Pleasant Cemetery and his grave is in the middle of Section QR, right in the heart of the cemetery.

Although his body was cremated, I chose to bury his ashes in the ground rather than a wall niche. You can find his grave in a clearing under three very tall trees. His grave only has a small temporary marker until the permanent headstone is put in place (probably not until after Christmas).

The cemetery is open every day and is a beautiful neighbourhood park where you will find people jogging and walking their dogs. Visitors may leave flowers or other tokens such as poems or mementos.

A friend recently told me about the traditional Mexican Day of the Dead which is celebrated on November 1st. This naming may seem macabre to our sensibilities but celebrations in honour of deceased family and ancestors are marked around the world in many forms. The Christian tradition is marked by All Souls' Day on November 2nd.

I have memories of visiting family graves in Barbados at Christmas time and leaving beautiful tropical flowers in honour of deceased relatives. I will celebrate Chris' life by bringing him flowers on this upcoming Day of the Dead and remembering how much joy he brought into my life.

Home is where the heart is

“Where is home?” This question was recently posed to me by my social worker. The old familiar adage is: Home is where the heart is. If that is true, where is my home? I used to say Northern Quebec for that is where I was born and grew up, where my parents lived in the same house for 40 years, where I could retreat to familiar childhood comforts and places.

During the time when my parents had to move into a nursing home and our family home was sold, I realized that my home was now with Chris in Ottawa, where we lived and worked and had begun to build a life together. When we moved back to London, I missed our life in Ottawa but my heart was with Chris and so my home was where my heart was.

Arriving back in London from my recent trip, I was hit very hard by the realization that no one would be there at the station to meet me, to welcome me home. Chris would not be at home eagerly waiting my arrival, beating Sprockets to wrap me in his loving arms and kisses. My tears began in the elevator and spilled over upon entering the dark, quiet apartment. How can this be home when my heart is no longer here? Where is my home… where is my heart?

Librarian at peace

Behind the Parliament Buildings in Ottawa – with a stunning view of the river, the surrounding city, and the distant Gatineau Hills – stands the beautifully restored and majestic Library of Parliament.

This is where Chris and I first met on a “back-stage” tour offered to library school co-op students working in Ottawa. During the tour, Chris reverently referred to this magnificent building as “Mecca for librarians”. As a nod to that romantic and important setting, I gave Chris silver Library of Parliament cufflinks as a wedding gift – he was tickled pink, and promptly had his best man take scissors to the cuffs of his dress shirt so he could wear them at our wedding.

Following my parents’ deaths, we mused about where we might want to be buried. Chris had mentioned that he would like some of his ashes scattered behind the Library of Parliament because that was where we met. So that’s what I did on a beautiful but chilly day several weeks ago. It ended up being too windy – and too busy with tourists – to have the privacy and solace for this quiet moment so we walked down to the bike path which runs along the base of the cliff below the Parliament Buildings.

There, I found a beautiful, tranquil spot looking out across the river and gently scattered the ashes of Chris’ body amongst the wild flowers and fallen autumn leaves under the trees. If you look up the cliff from that spot you can see the Gothic spires of the Library of Parliament through the trees. Nearby there are two benches where you can sit and enjoy the view and think of Chris.
He would have been happy with this choice and I know that I will always be close to him in this favourite place where we found each other.

Fellow passengers

Travelling and trips have long been metaphors for life’s journey. The mythology of discovery of enlightenment or wisdom along a pathway from where one is to where one is going is a core narrative in human story-telling around the world. Along the journey of our life we meet so many people, often never knowing at the time which ones will be with us for the long haul and what we will learn from our fellow passengers.

As I travelled this month I witnessed friends, lovers, families experiencing tearful goodbyes and reunions, joyful and boisterous welcomes, promises of postcards to be sent, thank you’s for home-cooked meals… I too exchanged these with dear friends during my trip – friends whom I feel like I’ve known my whole life. Forgiveness, unconditional love, affection, and support are at the foundation of these relationships. These friends are now like family to me. I wonder if I need them too much – what do I give to them? That time will come… hopefully I will be ready.

Stations along the way

Travelling by train has always been a favourite of mine, as it was of Chris’. Grounded to the land and removed from the crowded frenzy of highways, trains often provide passengers with a more tranquil and reflective environment.

Although I’d taken this trip many times before, I hadn’t realized the memories which would be evoked by some of the stations along the way – stations where Chris and I stepped off together for weekend getaways and vacations.

Belleville: near Prince Edward County where we spent several wonderful holidays, where we got married, and where we musingly talked of one day retiring. Kingston: where we had a fire-lit romantic winter weekend at a local inn and watched river ice breaking in the misty waters at the bow of the Wolfe Island ferry. And of course, the destination: Ottawa, where Chris and I first met, fell in love, and began to build our life together.

This trip was a way for me to step forward alone but also to look back and realize that I don’t need to abandon that which is behind me in order to find a way ahead – those experiences and memories will help me find my way.

Voice of the voyager

Earlier this month I went away on a trip – my first since Chris passed away. It was a journey of many moods and meanings – some unexpected. Travelling alone for the first time since his death, I brought along his beloved iPod on my trip.

More than simply portable entertainment, it brought me into Chris’ world in a way that I had not entirely expected and brought Chris along with me on a journey where I thought I would be alone.

While I enjoy music, I am not a music lover by nature in the way that Chris was. He experienced music. He breathed and felt and tasted music. Chris internalized and expressed the spiritual, rational, and emotional voices of his life’s journey through music.

I had forgotten how different music sounds and feels when using headphones. The music pours right into your head – into your body – no longer simply surrounding you but spilling out from within. This was how I felt listening to Chris’ music on my journey. He was within me and surrounding me. I felt his love of music and tasted his love of life.