New York State Funeral Directors Association

“We sincerely apologize for the unfortunate delay,” the pilot announced just after we touched down at Prestwick Airport in Scotland. I scrambled to get off the plane and through customs, but with over an hour drive to the Glasgow Crematorium, it was no use. I was too late.

She was already gone.

I was 23 and this special trip to visit my 83-year-old grandmother—for what would likely be the last time—had been carefully planned for months. What wasn’t planned was that my scheduled day of arrival would also be the day of her funeral.

But I missed it.

My mother and her siblings were gathered at my aunt’s house, which had also been home to my grandma since dementia had stolen her memory and independence five years prior. With tear-stained faces, they greeted me at the door with sympathy, knowing that I missed the chance to say goodbye to the only grandmother I had ever known.

As I scanned the tiny living room for any signs of her, I realized I would never again inhale her distinct scent: A fusion of 4711 perfume and Imperial Leather soap steeped in my grandfather’s pungent tobacco. She would no longer fix my favourite supper of square sliced sausage on fresh crusty bread smothered in brown sauce. And the large hernia she was unable to repair would no more serve as a resting place for her teacup and saucer, a longstanding source of amusement for my family.

A cane propped against the wall in a corner came into focus as a numb sense of nothingness washed over me. I was 3,000 miles from home, in the land my grandmother had lived her whole life, sitting in the tattered chair that had cradled her ailing body. Yet I had never felt farther away from her.

As is common in Britain, she was cremated, and her ashes were scattered to the wind, somewhere insignificant, following the short ceremony.

As a result, there was nowhere for me to go to commemorate her life. No stone to show she had lived. No resting place to feel her presence. No plaque on which to read her name. No sacred earth to call her home. No proof that she had lived and been loved. It was as if she had simply vanished.

As a Life-Cycle Celebrant, I understand that when it comes to death, dying, and funerals, there is no right or wrong. What brings one individual solace may deliver despair to another.

My grandmother did not like cemeteries because one was home to her firstborn, Thomas, who died when he was only three years old. Forever heartbroken and guilt-ridden for failing to visit his grave, she had requested no burial, hoping to unburden her family from similar feelings.

But for me, cemeteries have always been a place of comfort. A place that whispers the stories of the ages and marks the ground with the history of our ancestors. A place that nurtures life rather than houses death.

After suffering that complicated grief surrounding my grandmother’s death, I now understand that, for me, it’s essential to preserve my parents’ stories, as I don’t want to again be left without a comforting place to remember them. So I gently requested that we purchase their cemetery plots. While they resisted at first, they came to recognize that this is for me, not them, and allowed me take the lead.

I have even started designing their monument: A fully backed granite bench engraved with memories and their many recurring phrases, the highlight being my father’s favourite: “Life Goes On.”

It is a strange feeling to stand on soil that one day will be home to the earthly remains of someone you love. But there is also peace in the knowledge that I found the perfect spot: Under mature, protective trees nestled within the Toronto neighbourhood where my family was created and called home 50 years ago.

Perhaps, as the famous lyrics say, “All we are is dust in the wind.” But I know that one day, hopefully many years from now, I will sit on my parents’ bench, see their names, and feel comforted knowing the story they started continues to live on.

LindaStuartLinda Stuart
Linda Stuart is a Life-Cycle Celebrant/Officiant who creates meaningful, one-of-a-kind ceremonies to help people honor the difficult transitions and celebrate the joyful changes in life.