…In Memorial…taking a risk….and a Seat…

How to mark the passing of a loved one?

Matt's memorial bench, adorned with daughter Paige.

Matt’s memorial bench, adorned with daughter Paige.

An arena in which people are often happy to fall back on tradition….prayers, rituals…to tell us the right thing to do.

But sometimes that isn’t suitable.

My father-in-law, a Holocaust survivor who died just now at 97, left explicit instructions, written in green felt marker on a yellow piece of paper: NO RELIGIOUS SERVICE. Against tradition, he wanted to be cremated. Despite a life framed by Jewish identity, he didn’t want any part of it. He did, not, though….leave us a green marker note telling us what we were supposed TO DO.

So we had to feel our way. The rabbi did readings from Primo Levi, “which I don’t think would upset him too much.” And he read the kaddish because as his son said, “I’ve always done what I wanted anyway.”

Across the street, where Tom Downer died last summer, there has been a similar feeling of the way. For months and months his wife Nancy was utterly bereft, their flag out front flew at half-mast. For Mother’s Day, in a kind of coming out, Nancy rode for the first time on the back of a Harley Davidson, laughing all the way.

Just now their son Matt Downer, a fine wood worker from Colorado came for a visit, bringing a gorgeous bench he has made that will sit in the front garden, looking at the ocean. “We were supposed to distribute Dad’s ashes, but I don’t think everyone is ready.” They had a little impromptu ceremony, installed the bench, and put the flag back to its normal position.

A lovely gesture. I have several pieces of Matt’s myself and had more than one unkind thought about how difficult it might be for someone, perhaps a neighbor, to make off with the bench.

He thought of that, too, apparently, and secured it nicely.

Leave it to loving family to think of everything.

About Karen Ray

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