After my father (Victor Fellows) passed, we scattered his ashes on San Francisco Bay in the shadow of the Golden Gate Bridge. At the time, I sat down to write some words to say during our homemade ceremony. When the time came I didn’t need the words I had written. They were not the ones that the moment wanted. However, I have found they do express a couple of spiritual themes that I am fond of.
Outside Religious Traditions
For my father, religious practice was bunk. His childhood wounds and associated distaste for church and religious practice never faded. A few years before he died, he heard of someone who’s family had scattered their ashes on San Francisco Bay and he told us he liked that idea. However, after he passed, we had to struggle with how to honor him and address our own individual needs for marking his passing. A religious service was clearly not right for him and although we could charter a boat, what we said and did on it was left to us as a family to work out on our own.
From my discussions with friends and clients, this situation is not unusual and it has a few variants. Sometimes a religious service can’t be agreed upon. Sometimes the survivors are of such different spiritual orientations that the service for the parent and their community is not enough (or even appropriate) for the children. Sometimes, a child is not able to attend the community service. In all these cases, a gathering, ceremony or ritual as a separate personal ritual, or added to a traditional service can help a great deal.
Honor, Meaning, Connection
For those who adhere to a particular religious practice, the rituals are well established. Each form is laden with the symbols, language, and themes of the particular religion that make it meaningful and provide a felt sense of connecting for followers. If you are not to use established practice, you still need to provide the means to do what established practices do. That is, you need to honor the life that has passed, offer a frame in which to hold death and the life cycle, and symbolically connect the gathered community with one another and the person now gone.
The problem, of course, is that for each without established tradition to rely on they must create something on their own and are often lost as to where to start, what might have meaning, who will guide it, who will participate and how it will be orchestrated. Add any differences of opinion among siblings and you have a recipe for tension, inaction, and possibly resentment. Spirituality is sometimes like money in a family. No one wants to talk about it without tension. For this reason, many find it easier to return to a tradition they were raised with or simply one that is immediately available. There is nothing wrong with this per se. However, more may be needed to recognize the now passed person or their family.
Marking This Moment
For those who have strong reactions to traditional religious language, it is sometimes difficult to even conceive of saying or agreeing to something spiritual. Yet the moment really does call for an expression honoring their life and offering a spiritual frame or philosophical stance in which you will hold this person’s life now passed. If nothing else, try to name the feeling of loss, express what gratitude you feel for the presence of this person in your life, and name who this person was and the life they lived. Most important is to mark this moment of their passing and doing it together in community.
What is provided below is pretty simple. It was intentionally worded without reference to God. It is my way of saying something I thought my father (and I) would be comfortable hearing and I felt honest and true to myself: that he was here, his life affected other lives, and for those that he affected, that impact can’t be changed. However you might feel these things (presence, effect, memories) about your parents, it is for you to find the means to express as authentically as you can.
I Carry a Part of You in Me
Like each of us, Victor entered this world with energy and spirit all his own.
And like each of us, he was a conduit of that energy into the world.
Indeed, Victor shared himself with each of us.
Sometimes simply by being present—certainly by being himself.
Each of us, on our own individual journeys, have been affected by him.
As family, more than anyone others, our shared journey has been enriched, and forever transformed by him.
I look around and I see a wife, a daughter, a son, I see their families—my family.
And I see his spirit cascading forward filling each generation, melding with other spirits and transforming as it flows.
In this flow I imagine energy and spirit(s) blossoming in each life, over and over again, transcending many lifetimes, moving through our bodies, sometimes too much and overwhelming but always flowing, always available.
His spirit, that yearned so deeply to stay here, and be here, has made its contribution to the world—changed the world.
And now continues to realms beyond our understanding as we scatter his ashes, we know that we will continue to travel without his immediate presence.
Victor’s energy and presence has now passed to us.
As we bid him farewell let us remember and know we will carry him forward with us wherever we go, whatever we do.
His mark cannot be erased, just as the mark we make on others cannot be erased.
To Victor I say: This I know. Though we are parting I am not leaving you and you are not leaving me. For in this time together we have been opened to one another.
And in closing, I carry a part of you in me, and you a part of me.
© 2018 Rob Fellows, Parent Care Consulting
Rob Fellows is a member of Amava and the principal consultant at Parent Care Consulting where he provides education, guidance, and coaching about parent care for the benefit of the elder’s children, spouses, and family.
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