When my family gathered to intern my father’s ashes in July 2011, I was overcome with the need for more ceremony. His ashes were contained inside a plastic bag within a plastic black box from the funeral home. The unimaginative, and cold hearted priest presented the most monotone and meaningless reading at the graveside you could possibly imagine. It just wasn’t enough.
Family had come from all over the country, and our hearts were overflowing with grief. Together we had placed roses and day lilies in the small hole, and my mother had placed rosemary and lavender from her garden. There was sacred intent from all of us, unfortunately just not from the priest. Afterwards I waited, and at last most everyone left and it was just my husband, my two sons, myself and the lovely caretaker from the cemetery. After talking to the caretaker a bit he let me know that “technically” ashes needed to be in a container, and then he took a walk and left us alone.
As a child I played in and around that cemetery often, as it was just down the road from my early childhood home. Once I was alone with my boys I went out through the trees at the edge of the cemetery and into the nearby field. My father was a healer, he practiced medicine for over 50 years, it occurred to me that all four of the plants my family had already placed in the hole were medicinal, and I set out to pick him one last bouquet.
There are so many healing plants growing around us, that it only took a few minutes for me to find yarrow, plantain, dandelion, oxalis, chamomile, and red clover, all of which I brought back to the grave. Ten plants for his ten children. The boys and I opened the plastic and carefully placed his ashes onto the bed of healing herbs. We sang a bit, prayed, and with tears streaming down my face we filled in the hole with our bare hands. I was so grateful to have my boys with me. It was high summer, and the sounds of wind in the trees, insects, birds and the far off low of a cow embraced us as we kneeled on the ground together.
The lovely caretaker returned to us and gave me words of kindness. It is a small town, he of course knew my father, and my siblings. His gift of time to allow me to create a space of reverence for my father’s life was very meaningful to me.
At the time it felt too vulnerable to share that moment with my siblings. But I hatched the plan to make a healing salve using all ten plants as a way to share it. I even made a label, deciding to call it the year of the horse salve, since my father was born the year of the horse. The last few years have been too busy to gather all the plants and make medicinal oils, but this feels like the right time- because it actually is the year of the horse- in so many ways.
So today Martin and I gathered the first plant, blossoms of beautiful dandelion- and after letting them dry a bit I will immerse them in oil to extract her healing magic.
We all need ritual and ceremony. I believe we are hard wired for it. As I gather the ten plants over the coming months I will make of it a healing ceremony, for myself, but also for my family. When it is done, all green sweet smelling goodness I will send it out to my family. May it soothe their skin, and soothe their hearts.
p.s. I have made a page about all things horse about the pooka ride, so if you have wondered what a Pooka is, or who Hosi might be click here.