There are at least three forms of “commemoration”. A first type has to do with having “a ceremony to honor the memory of someone”. Other kinds of commemoration have to do with other non-ceremonial actions, such as a pilgrimage, or displays of memory, such as a statue or plaque.
My father, Ronald John Stoda, who passed away late last December 2007, did not wish to have a ceremony or a grave. Moreover, like his spouse of 19 years, my father desired to have his remains cremated with no ceremony. In making such a choice, through such an act, my father possibly wished to state that he is simply “ash”. This was the status of our heroes from the Bible, like Abraham (and others in the Bible). Abraham had stated before God, “I am nothing but dust and ashes . . . .” (Gen. 18:27b)
Dad, born October 18, 1934, was a voracious reader, sports fan, card player, and movie watcher. In all, dad read well-over 7000 books and spent many total years of his life following sports at the high school, college and professional levels.During my last 2 visits with Dad in his home in Jackson, Michigan in late August and early October 2007, he twice alluded to a scene in the classic revisionist-Western movie, LITTLE BIG MAN (1970). Dad said then and at several other times over the year that he would like to be taken up in the hills to die like the Native Americans of old. He clearly didn’t want to die in an old folks home.
It wasn’t till earlier this year—i.e. a few months after my Dad had passed away—that I sat down for the first time to watch the movie, LITTLE BIG MAN. I subsequently came across the somewhat humorous scene (with actors Chief Dan George and Dustin Hoffman) that Dad had so often referred to .
In one of the last scenes in LITTLE BIG MAN, Chief Dan George is playing the aged chief of the tribe of “Human Beings” or Cheyenne Indians. Chief Dan’s character is named Old Lodge Skins, and he is the adoptive grandpa of Jack Crabbe (played by Hoffman), who eventually lives to the ripe old age of 121.
Old Lodge Skins doesn’t desire to live nearly that long and oversee his people becing totally overcome by white man’s domination of 19th Century America. Old Lodge Skins therefore asks his protégé, Jak Crabbe to take him onto a hill overlooking the expansive North American prairie where the aged chief anticipates dying at the end of a mystical ceremony.
However, in keeping with the irony and tongue and cheek comedy of the film’s overall narration, a big rain storm comes along at the end of the ceremony, but instead of the ancient warrior quietly passing away on the prairie, the aged Indian father played by Dan George recovers and both walk back down in the rain from the higher elevation to the plains and to his tribe’s teepees below. They are both laughing and making jokes about the whims of the gods and spirits all along the way.
Although my father had been ailing for many years, his death at the end of 2007 came a bit too sudden for most of us family members. Ronald John Stoda had suffered from heart problems, bad knees and hips, diabetes and other illnesses for a decade or more.
In order to keep with his wishes upon his death, our father was cremated immediately after the first of the year in 2008. Dad definitely did not wish to have his ashes placed in any particular permanent memorial cemetery. He wanted things simple--and evidently with as little traditional sort of commemoration as is possible.
With the help and attendance of many family members, we children, however, organized a small memorial for our father later this summer. (This is why I returned to the USA this July. After the memorial, our family spent time together.) Before my older brother left us that last week of July 2008, though, my older brother gave me Dad’s ashes to distribute to my other two siblings to keep or commemorate in their own special way and in their own especially chosen places.
Over the preceding months, we siblings had discussed via e-mail the possibility of dispersing Dad’s ashes to all corners of the globe. For example, I had suggested taking some of his ashes to a Wisconsin grave where his great grandfather Friedrich Stoda was buried near the Mississippi well-over a century ago. It was also suggested taking the ashes to Asia where I have lived and traveled recently. My youngest sister had suggested taking her ashes (of Dad’s remains) to where his father and mother are buried in Illinois.
The reason I had hesitated to take Dad’s ashes to India concerned the fears I had about the logistics and legality of importing and exporting “cremains” or ashes to other countries. That is, I fathomed I might get into some international legal problem in carrying out the transportation of cremated ashes on airlines without filling out proper paperwork and fees.
I also looked on-line and discovered that there must be a billion-and-one possible ways of commemorating with ashes these days. After all, didn’t Scotty of Star Trek fame have his ashes beamed up into outer space recently? There are even jewelry designs being hawked on the web by those who claim to be able to turn ashes into “articles of art” to be worn by the mourner.
From reviewing many on-line options, I noted that other families have simply put up a permanent on-line memorial to their loved one to go along with their ashes and memories. Still other parks for such memorial ashes are being opened up in cities and towns across the land each year. (My dad would never have gone for that sort of permanent memorial—on-line or not. He didn’t want anything big nor flashy. However, it has been interesting to learn of all the options.)(Part 2) The following is a fantasy short story of how and where I placed dad’s ashes and memorial container (one of 5 bricks of ashes provided by the crematorium). Fantasy is in telling such a tale is important because of the multiplicity of laws, standards, practices, regulations and rules encapsulating every town, village , territory, and various department of government regulators or bureaucrats in America who are currently making a mountain of differing rules concerning how and where to place ashes of loved ones. In short, the process in America is too varied and unwieldy. For example, I have noted through my on-line research that the U.S. Coast Guard in the San Francisco Bay area will dispose of ashes at sea for free—but only if the ashes are from a veteran of war who had served in the Navy or the Marines. Meanwhile, the only legal way to disperse ashes or commemorate at sea in San Francisco involves fees from 400 dollars or more. There are different rules for different residents all over North America as of 2008. Therefore, instead of fantasy baseball this season, I will deal with fantasy dispersal of ashes. MY MEMORIAL JOURNEY WITH ASHES OF DAD
Finally, I had determined to take my father’s ashes to both the waters of the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers.
The decision to take Dad’s ashes to the Mississippi River was obvious in many ways. (The Missouri, of course, flows into the Mississippi.)