St. Mary’s cathedral and cemetery grounds which more than likely is home to the Fulton family dust is under construction and surrounded by a tall fence and cameras. It sits right downtown Kilkenny Ireland, surrounded by pubs and shops. Sheila, the woman I met at the visitors center, after hearing my story and helping me research the family said that if she was me, she’d probably jump the fence. Usually after 30, 35 most people abandon those sorts of ideas, hell, I don’t know, maybe most people abandon those ideas at 20 but that is something I do, jump fences, even now. She looked to be my age and might be the only other 40+ woman I know who would still sneak into a landmark graveyard with a bag of ashes and a bottle of Scotch. I liked her instantly but was relieved she lived nowhere near me. I told her that before I left my brother had said he wouldn’t bail me out if I got arrested which I think pretty much jinxed me. She agreed but also said that St. Mary’s is the most likely place to find what I was looking for.
Jumping the fence was clearly a bad idea so I had a beer instead and decided that every single other thing in life is working out just how it is suppose to so I would wait. Apparently Dad or one or all of the others in my tupperware box didn’t want to be left at St. Mary’s and until something, someone or someplace inspired me I would keep packing them around in my bag.
As we walked over the bridge toward home, a giant Guinness sign on one side and Kilkenny Castle on the other I suggested the castle and Grace said if I put them in the river they could just go with the flow and since St. Mary’s was closed that sounded perfect.
Last summer we decided to have a reunion and spread the ashes of my grandmother who died about 30 years ago, my grand father who died about 15 years ago and my aunt who died three weeks before my Dad, two years ago. Gramps and Grandma Betty had been pulled out of the back of the closet and set on the table on Christmas at my aunts house long enough.
Because this family is not shy about being inappropriate I named the event the “Pyle Family Spread the Dead 2014”. My brother called it the “The Great Bone Chuck”. The cousins, aunts and uncles all came and we ate and drank and visited at a park on the river. My aunt Lea had packaged up little bags full of the combined closet ashes and at the chosen time we all went down to the river with our own bags and set them free. Those of us who could, walked way out into the water and released them into a set of small rapids but the rest tossed them into the still water at the shore. The dust floated and the bigger pieces sank. The once brown sand in the 8 or 10 inches of water nearest the shore was now white. The film over the water just hung out there sticking to your hand if you tried to swirl it up a bit. Almost three human bodies worth of ash just floating like a strange white oil paint on the barely moving water, the bigger chunks of bone visible in the sand. I suppose one of us could have put out more effort into dispersing them but we didn’t.
We went back to the picnic tables where we were drumming, playing poi, drinking and visiting and not one of us could, or would, do anything to stop the group of kids who ran down the little hill at the shore and threw themselves into the water of the Willamette river which we immediately renamed “The River Styx”. They had to have been covered in ashes but it was a hot day and they were little boys splashing in the river. They were oblivious, we were all a combination of mortified and immensely entertained. One or two of them had to have gulped down some water which we decided is one way for the dead to live on….
The ashes I have been packing around, in addition to Dad, were the two leftover bags from that day.
Grace, her daughter Kiah and I walked through the castle grounds to a path along the river Nore that runs through town. Kiah took us to her favorite skinnydipping spot beyond a fence, the castle behind us. There was a shallow area not to different from where we had placed the ashes at the Spread the Dead Bone Chuck reunion over the summer. I told them the story as we walked there.
Down at the waters edge I poured the ashes into the river and they floated like before. The three of us stood watching them in what was very briefly a somber moment or to be exact, about thirty seconds, when out of nowhere a little dog bolted over the knoll behind us and ran straight into the floating ashes and started drinking the water.
He was shoulder deep wagging his tail and lapping up my family. He never even looked at us, just drank his fill and ran off covered in wet ash. Some people pray or cry or say something profound or thoughtful when laying their loved ones to rest.
My thoughtful words were “Seriously? What….the…..fuck?” and we all agreed that it was perfect, and a good thing St. Mary’s was under construction.
When Dad was alive he said it would be cool to mix him with chum and toss him into Odell lake so the fish would eat him. The eagles would eat the fish and he would then fly and swim forever. I guess instead, little boys in Springfield Oregon and dogs in Kilkenny Ireland will have to be his vehicles for world exploration.
I had a couple of handfuls left to leave on the grounds so we put them in part of the rose garden facing the castle and buried them. I told Kiah I was so glad she was there. I felt like I was in the middle of a perfect circle. I was there when she came into the world. I was holding her head at birth. I was holding Dad’s head at death. I heard one of her first heartbeats in this world and I heard my dads last, with the very same stethescope and here we were together.
I recently decided to let my dreams and intuition guide me which is why I am here in the first place. Over the winter I had two important dreams, one was traveling here with little to no plan. I remember living that way before. It’s how I was able to be a midwife, a life usher for both for the birthing and the dying, a mom, and survive cancer, but over the years I forgot a little. I got caught up in doing what I was suppose to do and getting through the day. I forgot to trust. Sure, I trusted a little here and there but I also usually plan, and reason and fix and figure it all out. I didn’t just trust to the point of surrendering. Religious people do that. I don’t have religion but I do have faith and this trip has reconfirmed and redifined that for me.
The spreading of the ashes was transformative as I knew it would be. And both times I felt good, surrounded by love both old and new. Kathy and Trevor are recent additions to my wonderful life. Grace and Kaih are not, they are part of an almost forgotten past. In the middle of it all is now and Now is pretty damn perfect. I think I will stay awile.