To Dust

February 28, 2017 § 6 Comments


It is six years to the day that my mom was found dead, and I still have some of the afterglow of the trauma. You’d think it would be gone if you followed the American model of mourning and had never lost anyone close. The rest of you know. The sad seeps through my day, and I don’t care that it is Mardi Gras and don’t want to go to the party—after all, this is New Jersey, and there will be no costumes, and on a Tuesday, no drinking after 10:30. We have work tomorrow.

But tomorrow is Ash Wednesday, and I remember that my mom was way into Lent and Ash Wednesday. And what you remember after someone dies becomes them.

I ask my kids what they remember of her. They both give the same answer: She had a bag filled with change and she gave them all the quarters. Cole, who studies such things, says generosity sticks in the mind. Jack Henry was nine, so lots of quarters were a big deal. A soft blue Crown Royal bag full of change is what my children remember of their grandmother. She was pretty smart. They think of the gift, forget the rest.

My mom was raised sort of Baptist, but went to Catholic school, and became Episcopal as an adult, so that’s what I was raised as. I remember the ashes, smudged on her forehead. Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return. The darkest of days, after the pancake supper, dust. I remember going to school. You weren’t supposed to be embarrassed, to look in the mirror and see the dark smudge. You couldn’t wipe it off.

Nobody said, um you’ve got something right here. It was a remembrance. And I am not religious. Maybe on the tiniest edge of spiritual. I believe in ashes, of course. To dust I will return. I believe in forty days in the wilderness, at least. I believe in confusion and trying to make sense of the world. I remember the fog of trying to understand death. Sometimes it is good to have a real mark on your forehead. And then you are supposed to give something up. I know about this.


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