I have been writing letters. To the exercise classes and AA and NA groups that meet in our building, to tell them the dates by when they must move on, and to the folks who have left the cremains of their loved ones with us. For some years, the urns were stored in the bell tower (in which no bell resides) but, more recently, a beautiful little columbarium was built off the chancel. Oak cupboards and a backlit stained glass window; a lovely space to visit.
A neighboring Presbyterian church has offered to remove our columbarium and install it somewhere in its building, so probably most of our cremains will go there. But we still have to send a letter to everyone to explain the situation and ask what they would like to do. Some are current members, who will receive a personal note from me on the form letter. Many are themselves long gone from the congregation, and perhaps from this world. Some will no doubt come looking a few years hence, and frantic calls to the Presbytery will ensue.
I have presided over many funerals since becoming a pastor four years ago, and many interments of caskets and urns. I have also continued my own little worldwide journey with ashes of my son in hand, most recently to Canada. Most people look inside caskets; few, as far as I can tell, look inside urns. Although mothers do. I'm not sure that the sense of the world flung out of orbit ever leaves us after that first look. "Bone of my bone," as a dear friend said to me about our children. As with most things related to the deaths of children, scripture offers cold comfort.
Despite the stress involved in learning to scatter ashes so as to render them, and the activity itself, invisible in spots where others might raise objections (and sometimes the humor as well, as we finally experienced it, in the form of an early morning campus paintball game on a day when we were sure we would encounter no one), I prefer the winds and the wilds to urns locked in a an interior space. And this latest experience has turned out to transmit its own stressors. My own reaction where cremains are concerned is a relaxed one, but you never knows how others will respond. One person's calm is another's horror, and vice versa.
I need to remind myself that the conversations that lie ahead will be holy ones.