Tuesday, November 20, 2007


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.”


Carol Miller said...

I appreciate your remembering so many of my favorite places, and spelling them all correctly. And I remember asking you to scatter my ashes there. Then I gathered up those places, in files, photos and texts, made them part of me, and discovered, in passing, that you were both capable of your own travel. I decided to let you off the hook and make it easier on everyone. Besides, nothing is what it used to be and travel is no longer as accessible, or pleasurable, as it once was, so just put me under a pine tree in the Panteón Jardín, or scatter me on the Ajusco, or do what makes it easier to keep me close to your heart, because even from beyond the grave I will be whispering in your ear, how much I love you, and how much these blog entries have meant to me.

Miguel Cane said...

Dear Mother & Daughter:

Thank you.

I am emotional, and now you've made me cry. I hope you're happy now!


Muy instructions upon the event of my permanent dissolution from this plane of reality are as follow:

1) I want to be cremated.
2) One portion will be placed in custody of my grandparents Miguel and María -- this has been a constant since 1981, when I knew I was mortal and I started making up my mind about death and dying.
3) Another portion will be please scattered upon the Cantabric Sea in the Gijón area, please.
4)There's to be a party, not a service. Everybody must rejoice with a drink of their choice.
5) The only acknowledgment of my passing is to be a brief reading of Shakespeare's closing verse for Hamlet "Goodnight, etc..."
6) No tears, okay?

Much love to you all!

Dushka said...

I'm more like Woody Allen, who said "I'm not afraid of death. I just don't want to be there when it happens".