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  • Carolyn Lackey

It's All in the Packaging

Yesterday, I did something new. I gift-wrapped my mother. Let me explain.


Alan went by the funeral home to pick up "Meems." That was an errand that I could not do - pick up my mother's ashes like I would pick up starched shirts at the cleaners or Bare Minerals highlighter powder at Ulta. Alan's task didn't really even qualify as an errand. It was more of a mission of mercy. He's my rock.


Let me back up a bit and tell you that over the past week, I have missed my sister terribly. Not because I wanted to cry with her, but because I wanted to laugh with her. She had a fresh, quick and smart sense of humor. Together, we could bring down the house even if we were the only ones in the house.


We would have exchanged furtive glances at the funeral home when the sweet funeral director asked how much of Mom's ashes should be kept separate for "spreading." How, exactly does one answer that question? A fourth of a cup? Three and a half tablespoons? Or, are ashes measured by metric weight? If so, that would have been problematic because I totally forgot the metric system the moment I graduated from high school. Is it kilograms or grams?


Kathy and I would have gotten a lot of mileage out of how to respond to the lady. Her lips would have pursed and her eyes would have watered as she suppressed a guffaw. I would have had to put my head in my hands and pretend like I was weeping.


Instead, it was just me, and I explained that I am going to spread a few of her ashes around the base of the magnolia tree in my side yard. She gestured by cupping her hand, "About like this?" "Yes. That should be plenty," I said straight-faced. The lady was so kind. She was gentleness and love personified. She would have probably laughed along with Kathy and me.


So, when Alan came through the door at lunchtime yesterday, he was holding a small rectangular white cardboard box on top of which he was balancing a small velvet bag filled with spreadable ashes. I gathered the white box up in my arms and hugged it close to my heart. The weight of it felt like my mother. I held my whole mother in my arms like a tiny newborn baby and hug-patted her cardboard back.


On top of the box was a mailing label that read, "re: Helen Kinzbach." I stared at that label for a minute. "Regarding Helen Kinzbach?" What? That box wasn't regarding my mother. It contained my mother. Insert a sisterly field day of humor. I wanted to turn to Kathy and say with a British accent. "Regarding your mother..." "But in regard to my mother..." "Give Helen my best regards."


At the funeral home, I looked over all the cremains urns that were lined up like solitary soldiers on well-lit glass shelves. Some of them were displayed in a lovely piece of furniture reminiscent of a china cabinet which hinted that the selected urn could hold court alongside someone's grandmother's Haviland dinner plates ad infinitum. All of the urns looked mournful and formal. They didn't have a pink and yellow chintz teapot or a chinoiserie vessel with a knobbed lid. I opted for a blue plastic case for Mom.


Within the white cardboard box was the blue plastic container and a slip of paper that took me by surprise. Wait. What? All I could think of was autographed copies of a Beatles album on an auction block. Authenticity? Then. Oh. Oooooooh. It's really her. I closed the cardboard box and hugged it again. It was really my mother.

I then faced a bit of a dilemma. I could not bear the thought of placing my mother next to my brother and sister in either a blue plastic box or a blue plastic box tucked inside a "re: Helen Kinzbach" cardboard box.


And then, it hit me. I decided to prepare her remains in the most loving and beautiful way that I, Carolyn Lackey, could. I jumped in my car and drove to Homegoods, then TJ Maxx, and finally, Tuesday Morning. Mom would have LOVED that I ran errands on her behalf. She well knew that I have a bad attitude about traipsing all over town in search of things like the perfect buttons for a homemade purple dress or pants to match the solid blue Chico's blouse she got on sale two years before. In that respect, I was a terrible daughter.


At the third and final stop, Tuesday Morning, I found exactly what I needed. Then, I travelled to Hobby Lobby for the piece de resistance. The gathering of supplies was a happy time for me. I knew that I had made the right decision in regards to laying my mother's ashes to rest in a beautiful, respectful manner.


Late yesterday afternoon like an Egyptian carefully wrapping a loved one in fresh, white linen cloths tucking savory spices within each layer, I wrapped my mother in beautiful floral paper.


Kathy and I loved to tease Mom about labelling every single plant in her yard. "Umm. You forgot the grass. Shouldn't it have a big old Saint Augustine label?" We laughed when we told her that when she went to Heaven we were going to plant her body in one of her backyard flower beds and label it with a garden tag that read "Helenaria Kinzbachius." We laughed and laughed. Meems did not. That made us laugh all the more.


So, Mom, you're looking more like "yourself" all wrapped up in floral paper with silk flowers bursting forth from double-faced satin ribbon in one of the colors that you wore best. The tag is a loving wink towards Heaven. You'll be happy to know that this very morning, I dabbed some of your Chanel No. 5 on your pretty pink petals. You look and smell delicately beautiful. Just like always.

Oh! I almost forgot. As I was signing all of the "permission to cremate" paperwork that the funeral home required, the lady kind of explained all that I was signing. "Now, this one you're signing means that you understand that we cannot undo cremation." Kathy and I would have fainted away in one giant paroxysm of inappropriate laughter.

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