Saturday, August 18, 2018

Ata Lives On


It was an intense three days when our whole family got together to spread my mother Ata's ashes. Before she died, she told us that she would like her ashes to be spread where Jack London had lived, in upper Sonoma County in California.

This was not an easy request since my mother was cremated in Holland, which means that her ashes had to travel 6,000 miles. At first, there was talk of compromise - wouldn’t it be more practical to find a nice secluded beach in North Holland, near the assisted living where she had spent the last 20 years of her life?

But as usual, one of the Dutch angels that I previously wrote about, came to the rescue. She spread her large angel wings and together with her husband, she flew across the atlantic to bring the ashes and help honor Ata’s last wish.

You might argue that the place where someone’s ashes are spread is of no consequence. After all, the person is no longer around, it’s just a heap of dust, so what does it matter where it ends up.

But Ata was a strong-willed woman. Prior to moving to Holland, she had lived on the West Coast to be near my brother Tom, where she had developed an intense fascination for the famous American writer, Jack London. Towards the end of her life, she was trying to publish a photo book about him, but old age sapped too much of her energy and her final project was never finished.

So, even after death she whispered in our family members’ assorted ears that it was in the Valley of the Moon that she preferred to be strewn about and not some random place in Holland. And we listened. As my brother Tom so lucidly put it: ‘she is still guiding our actions’. Ata’s children, grand children and great grandchildren had been summoned by the grand wizard to guide us through a final farewell.

The separate family tribes packed their bags and came together from all corners of the world: England and Spain, Boston and San Francisco, Los Angeles and Sacramento.

We all left our lives behind and stepped into Ata’s world for a few days, as we had done so many times while she was still alive. Her influence was still at full throttle, even if she was no longer here.

On that memorable day, we arrived in Jack London Park and set out on one of the trails that led to the ‘Jack London Lake’, where we finally settled on a spot, away from the beaten path. Here, Ata could become one with the giant redwoods, the Douglas furs and the oaks.

The ceremony was marvelous and we all knew that Ata was looking down on our small group with an approving smile.

She is happy, knowing that she lives on in every single one of us. In her grand-daughters Kirsty, Leah, Aniko and Dani, for whom she was a friend, a mentor and an inspiration. She lives on in the absent tribes that couldn't afford to cross the big pond. She lives on in her gread grandchildren; six-year old Kaya who saw Ata in her casket back in Holland, and probably thought she was looking at a porcelain doll rather than a human being. But the future Kaya will have many questions about her great-grandmother. As a young woman, she might visit Jack London Park and listen for a whisper among the giant redwoods that might remind her of this day. Ata lives on in me, who was often annoyed with her but who never stopped loving her. She lives on in every single one of us, to say a final farewell to this formidable woman.

In life, Ata’s personality dictated how her many friends, colleagues and family members saw her, a small, fragile woman with a sweet smile, an ability to laugh at herself and a will of steel. She was simply Ata. But in death she has acquired the ability to shape-shift. The Ata that lives in me is different from the one that lives on in Dani, Leah or Aniko. Death frees you from the limitations that life imposes on your identity and the people who love you will take that piece that they need to remember you by. And that is as it should be.

So you see, scattering ashes is not such a trivial things after all. It is a way to say: ‘You are here, in my heart, forever, until someone else will spread my ashes and I too will return to the earth. leave comment here