When I first came across Ash & Earth remembrance stones, I knew immediately that I would commission Holly to create one with my father’s remains. What I didn’t know was how the process would affect me.
From the very start, the process felt magical. Holly Swan, the woman who would give shape to this form of remembrance for my father, shared my same name, the name chosen by my father. As I scooped a small portion of my dad’s ashes to transfer to her, I shed tears from a deep spring I thought had run dry. My body buzzed electric when I passed along the small packet to her later that day, entrusting his remains to an alchemical process that would take me somewhere I couldn’t yet imagine.
It was five days before the 12th anniversary of my father’s death. The number 12 has always bound me to my father, from the day of my birth on December 12th, to the day of my parent’s divorce and my dad’s relocation 6,000 miles away – which took place on my 12th birthday. I had intentionally marked the 10th anniversary of his death but I hadn’t considered the potency of the 12th. When I realized I was in the 12th year since his death, my work with Holly felt even more providential.
I showed them to the children in my life, aged 6 and 10. They beheld the stones like sacred artifacts. Like visiting a cemetery, I now had a physical way to share my ancestry with them.
I selected one to keep as my companion, looping a leather cord through the hole at the stone’s center. When I’m dressing in the mornings I consider whether to bring my dad along for the day. Sometimes I sense that I want or need him with me. Other times I’m headed someplace I know he’d want to go.
There, we were surrounded by remembrances of the dead. I expected the prayer flags, regal groups of 108 white flags stretching toward the blue sky like the long necks of the sacred white crane, on every hilltop and ridge line. I didn’t expect the clusters of miniature conical stupas sheltering in every nook and cranny. They were formed from the ashes of the deceased, just like my stone. I felt a nameless connection not just to my father, but to the ancestors and descendants of this place and all places – to all who were honored, all who mourned and remembered.
I like to think I am making use of my father’s death. He died too young, barely 65 years old. The 18 months of his illness were the best of our relationship. Marked by terrible suffering, certainly, but awash in unconditional love. Now I wander voluntarily in the land of mortality and death, as a funeral celebrant, as companion to a friend with terminal cancer, as an organizer of the taboo-breaking conversational forum, Death Café. I can’t yet fully articulate what I took from my father’s death. But when I hold his stone I feel more deeply connected: to him, to the great mysteries, to all that is timeless and sacred and imbued with holy love.