Busted Halo
feature: religion & spirituality
April 18th, 2011

What Sticks to Our Fingers

A Good Friday reflection



I am thinking about death. And ashes. Possibly this is because Easter is looming on the horizon, and if you have any truck with Jesus and think that what happened to him really happened, going through the Triduum is scary. Relentless. Deeply emotional, riveting, and scouring out of one’s emotional innards. Because in order to get from the Last Supper to the cool part where Jesus shares grilled fish on a beach with his disciples, you have to go through the crucifixion. And I so don’t want to do that.

I’ve been rereading Kate Braestrup’s amazing and emotional memoir, Here If You Need Me, which chronicles the sudden and surprising death of her husband, Drew, a state trooper, as he chased a speeding motorist. One moment, here, with your cereal bowl still in the sink, its spoon leaning against the side; the next, just left, with the bed still warm where you slept, your smell and shape impressed on the mattress. Then, dead — as Kate bathes her husband’s face, dresses him in his uniform, and watches him be cremated because her fierce love for him calls her to witness it all, no matter how painful. Like Mary. That’s about as close to a personal crucifixion as I care to get.

What sticks to our fingers when we lift to the wind the remains of those we deeply love? Anne Lamott talks about scattering her mom’s ashes off a small mountain in California, as well as shaking the ashes of her dearest friend, Pammie, off a boat. (If I remember this correctly.)

As I think about these ashes in boxes and Jesus sagging on the cross, all breath gone, I wonder what I will hold in my heart, like Mary.

Ashes stick. And are heavy. There are bone fragments in the box, as I discovered to my horror when I picked up my mom’s cremated remains, and my dad’s years later. There is something so undeniably solid about those fragments. They knock against the side of the box and keep us from getting dreamy and talking drivel about seeing each other in the next life — not that I don’t believe that, mind you, but it feels like drivel when you are sifting the remains of someone you adored through your fingers.

In the boxes of our hearts

So — in the end, what is left? My brother Nick made a beautiful pine box to hold Dad’s ashes; some of us chose to add things before burying it. Nick put in a shiny beetle, to remind us of how Dad shared his son’s love of insects. My stepmother put in a piece of paper covered with writing. (A last message to my father?) I just wanted to say goodbye, and anything I had to say to Dad could not be represented by something physical.

As I think about these ashes in boxes and Jesus sagging on the cross, all breath gone, I wonder what I will hold in my heart, like Mary. Here are some things that stick for me, which I expect to find nestled inside my heart once it stops beating:

  • the look in a friend’s eyes when she took my hand after great sorrow;
  • the feel of a warm baby nursing at my breast as the sun set outside the window;
  • my husband touching me silently after a miscarriage;
  • my kids skating around our living room, shrieking with laughter;
  • the feel of our “therapy dog” lying on my lap, twitching in sleep;
  • the sound of geese as they call to each other over the pond;
  • how my dad’s voice lifted at the end of my name when I came in the door to visit;
  • God’s presence inside, closer than my own breath.

God’s creation, family, friends, pets and more are stored in the boxes of our hearts as reminders of God’s deep love for us and His world. And I expect Jesus to have some really fine sliced lemon (no tartar sauce, please) and maybe a splash of good wine to accompany that grilled fish when we celebrate our resurrection on the beach when time is no more.

Originally published on April 18, 2011.

The Author : Annie Turner
Ann Turner is a passionate convert to the Catholic faith, who is also passionate about life in general, small dogs, food and wine, friends, nature, and the blessing that comes from just showing up and being a witness with other people. Follow Ann's faith journey & more at: itsthegodthing.blogspot.com. Ann is also the published author of over forty children's books. She loves to hear from her readers.
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  • Kathy Crosby

    Thank you so much. Memories are such a gift when a loved one passes.

  • Ann W. Turner

    James, I believe we carry the voices of those we love in our hearts–we carry the touch of their fingers in our hearts–and it will all be there when our hearts are no more.

  • James

    Thank you for such a thoughtful reflection on the loss of a loved one. We lost a dear friend last week to cancer. He personified the joy of living his life to the full in laughter and love. The sound of his voice and laughter are very present to me still. Thanks for sharing.

  • Mike Hayes

    An awesome reflection to start my Good Friday. Thanks.

  • William Grogan

    You have said it all, Ann, in this short piece. There is no more to be said. Thank you for a beautiful contemplation.

  • Christine

    Oh Annie,

    Dearest Annie, Be still my heart…! Thank you my dear HCC friend for once again giving me something to reflect upon as we begin this holy week. You are truly a blessing. xo Christine

  • Laura

    my eyes. they’re leaking. those are some powerful words you just shared. wow.

    thank you. oh, thank you.

  • Rev. David Stembaugh

    Ok I do not cry easily but this certainly has tears flowing. Beautiful!

  • JMS

    Tears streaming here… What a powerful reflection.

  • Elsie

    Beautiful – thank you for this.

  • Patty

    Like James, your article also brought tears to my eyes. Thank you.

  • PJ

    Inspired- and inspiring. Thank you.

  • Dana

    You have the most beautiful way of expressing very difficult things–the important things.
    Thank you.

  • Jesse Ross

    Yes, wow. That was very powerful.

  • James Leo Oliver

    Wow. This is so powerfully written. I am writing this in tears. Thank you.

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