There were many things to love about Pat, but one of my favorite things about her were her silver Marcel waves. She was an extraordinary beauty her entire life and for me, her natural waves were the essence of that.
This time last weekend, I was at my mother-in-law’s funeral. My beautiful, wonderful mother-in-law, Pat. I stood in the chapel in nearly the exact same spot I stood ten years ago when, at 80, she married for the second time. The Catholic chapel in rural Maryland, austere in the lush rolling hills of the mid-Atlantic.
Ten years ago I stood in the chapel and laughed. Last weekend I stood in the chapel and cried. The timeless, elegant woman who walked down the aisle then floated down the aisle now. Floated down in a simple, elegant box of pine. How I already miss her.
She was buried in a plot next to her first husband, Will’s father, and her mother, “Mimi”. I, for one, don’t want to be placed in the ground when I go. It freaks me out. Don’t pump me full of chemicals and fillers and make me up so people can gaze at me dead. Gaze at me alive or not at all.
“All of us have in our veins the exact same percentage of salt in our blood that exists in the ocean, and therefore we have salt in our blood, in our sweat, in our tears. We are tied to the ocean. And when we go back to the sea – whether it is to sail or watch it – we are going back from whence we came.” – John F. Kennedy
Burn me first.
Then divide my ashes. Mix me with the beauty of the places I’ve loved. Above the snowy tree line in the Rocky Mountains, below the salty tide of the Salish Sea. And don’t forget to let a physicist speak. One last time for me.
“You want a physicist to speak at your funeral. You want the physicist to talk to your grieving family about the conservation of energy, so they will understand that your energy has not died. You want the physicist to remind your sobbing mother about the first law of thermodynamics; that no energy gets created in the universe, and none is destroyed. You want your mother to know that all your energy, every vibration, every BTU of heat, every wave of every particle that was her beloved child remains with her in this world. You want the physicist to tell your weeping father that amid energies of the cosmos, you gave as good as you got.
And at one point you’d hope that the physicist would step down from the pulpit and walk to your brokenhearted spouse there in the pew and tell him that all the photons that ever bounced off your face, all the particles whose paths were interrupted by your smile, by the touch of your hair, hundreds of trillions of particles, have raced off like children, their ways forever changed by you. And as your widow rocks in the arms of a loving family, may the physicist let her know that all the photons that bounced from you were gathered in the particle detectors that are her eyes, that those photons created within her constellations of electromagnetically charged neurons whose energy will go on forever.
And the physicist will remind the congregation of how much of all our energy is given off as heat. There may be a few fanning themselves with their programs as he says it. And he will tell them that the warmth that flowed through you in life is still here, still part of all that we are, even as we who mourn continue the heat of our own lives.
And you’ll want the physicist to explain to those who loved you that they need not have faith; indeed, they should not have faith. Let them know that they can measure, that scientists have measured precisely the conservation of energy and found it accurate, verifiable and consistent across space and time. You can hope your family will examine the evidence and satisfy themselves that the science is sound and that they’ll be comforted to know your energy’s still around. According to the law of the conservation of energy, not a bit of you is gone; you’re just less orderly. Amen.” – Aaron Freeman