Ever so often, maybe once every two years since I turned seven, my mother would come down to my room, hand me a sealed, embossed envelope, and say - not without striking a brief note of casual drama - “please keep this in a safe place”.
Written across the envelope, usually typed, was something along the lines of “Instructions for the disposal of my body at the time of my death, delivered to my daughter Alexandra” and the date.
Inside, it would contain specific instructions on what to do with her remains.
Through the years, I got a total of ten or twelve envelopes. Each one had a different, brand new set of requests, which would, like a Will, effectively cancel out the previous one (throw the others out, was the dictum.)
Certain themes within were always the same. She wanted to be cremated. She wanted my brother and I to take her ashes and scatter them around the places that she loved. The only variation was the location.
The first envelope requested her ashes be scattered in Greece. She loved Mistra, but also Santorini, her favorite island. She fell in love with Turkey. Her favorite place was Konya, but also the archaeological sites, like Sagalassos and Aphrodesias. She fell in love with Petra in Jordan, with Angkor in Cambodia, with Luang Prabang in Laos. The deserted atolls in French Polynesia. East Africa. She fell in love with Syria. She loved Palmyra, Apamea, Aleppo and castles like Krak des Chevaliers. She loved the sites out on the Euphrates, like Mari and Doura Europos. She fell in love with Peru, especially the gigantic adobe temples on the North Coast and the ruins of Chan Chan near Trujillo.
She always sustained that her true intention all along was to make absolutely certain we traveled even after she died.
At one point, she realized that having us ramble across the Globe, going from, for example, Tibet to Persepolis to Samarkand with an urn full of ashes wasn’t very practical. She then switched to the Ajusco, a beautiful wooded area less than 30 minutes from our house.
If she gave us a letter requesting that her remains be sprinkled within the confines of the city we grew up in, then the letters had nothing to do with her making sure we continued to travel. So, why did she do it?
I always understood that this scattering of ashes business had nothing to do with death. It was her way of not leaving. Other people visit a place they love and think, “I have to come back”. Her feeling was “Coming back won’t be enough. I want this place to be mine, all mine, forever”. Scattering ashes was more associated with “This place belongs to me” than with “I think I’m going to die”.
It was only recently that I asked her if she even remembered these letters. She was mildly irritated. “Dushka” she sighs. “I told you to just throw those letters out”.
“So” I say “you do remember that there were letters?”
“Yes,” She concedes (which is good, since I still have them). “But I think we'll ignore the subject of my ashes until further notice.”