Sigrid Erro lives in a cohousing community in Santa Cruz, CA. She has worked as a massage therapist, security officer, avocado ranch owner, graphic designer, and lay chaplain. She is writing a memoir set in a psychiatric hospital.
My friends want to be cremated when they die. Not me. I want my bones to survive.
I’m home for Thanksgiving, visiting Oak Hill cemetery, where the bones of my ancestors live. My paternal grandmother, Sigrid, and my grandfather, Paulin, lie here. Their flesh has disintegrated, but not their skeletons. Bones can live for hundreds, thousands, of years. When I feel my clavicle, press on my rib cage, I know these parts will endure, and it comforts me.
Some people want their ashes spread over the ocean. The notion chills me—to have no idea where my body will land, particles traveling this way and that. I know exactly where I’m going to end up: in this cemetery, buried six feet under the ground, in our family plot, the space furthest from my father.
I find the place where we buried my father’s ashes. The headstone is small and unadorned, as he wanted. First and last name, middle initial, 1928 to 2002.
For forty years, I prayed he would die. As a child, I imagined his headstone with longing; I stand on it now. Anger and relief course through me. It feels good to be on top of him, for a change. People nearby place flowers at the graves of their loved ones and weep. I’m afraid I appear irreverent, but I don’t move. Having been cremated, his skeleton does not remain; this pleases me.
When I was younger, I came to the cemetery with Honey, my maternal grandmother, and we visited the graves of her husband and daughter. I stared with dread at the empty spot next to my grandfather, knowing Honey would be there someday, her kind face decaying. Then I reflected that the bones in the hand I held would always be here, just under the ground.
I see my own grave site and move to the space where I will be buried.
As Honey’s headstone now sits on her grave, mine will eventually rest here. I wonder, though of course it would be impossible, what I might think about in my coffin. What would I regret? What, like Marley’s ghost, would I wish I had done, but be forever unable to?
So I ask my dead self. I talk to the ground. What is it that I need to do? What is most important? And I imagine myself underneath, forever unable to see, or move. My message to my living self is clear: Give up your rage and bitterness.
Immediately, I feel a release—a vast, cool river, washing away my fury, grief, and shame. And in that instant, it feels possible. Like Scrooge on Christmas morning, I know my life can change, and I’m eager to begin.
I turn to leave and eye my father’s headstone. I want to stand on it again, grind my heel in, feel the power I now have over him. The brilliance I just felt is gone. My reverie disappears as my wrath takes hold.
So I stand there. Angry at my father. Angry at myself, for giving in to the rage. Angry at my dead self, for not granting me the power to cling to its message.
I don’t stand on his grave again. Instead, I take a deep breath, grateful for lungs that still breathe, legs that still carry me.
I return to my car. With one stride, I yearn for freedom from bitterness, I pray for grace; with the next, I picture his headstone with vengeance. Whether I stand on him or not, his bones are nothing but dust.