When Elizabeth died, I was as well prepared as I could be. She had been at home, my home, in hospice care for almost two months, and I was able to be with her that entire time, letting go of almost everything else for that time. It was heartbreakingly sad and breathtakingly beautiful – the grace and love of Elizabeth’s Presence was immense. She was in a state of egolessness. She no longer cared how she looked, she had no anger, almost no fear or sadness – none by the end, and she was radiant in love.
We knew she was dying, and we had time to prepare ourselves emotionally, and also in practical ways. We are blessed that our close friend Victoria, Elizabeth’s godmother, had recently taken a training in home funerals, and found an amazing woman here who also supports families in taking care of the bodies of their loved ones. I hadn’t known this was an option before, and am so grateful that we didn’t have to send her body off to be tended to by strangers. Kristine Bentz, of Sweetgrass Ceremonies met with us – Elizabeth, me, and our close family, a few times, to let us know what our options were and listen to our hearts.
Elizabeth left her body around 4:30 on a Sunday morning, September 23, 2012. My sister had had the amazing foresight to arrive the night before (though scheduled to arrive several days later), so she was there, and after some time of sitting with Elizabeth, I must have woken her up, and began calling and texting family to let them know. I wanted our family to have that day to be with her body. The next day was for others who wanted to come and visit. Tashe and I did a ritual bathing of her body: cleaning her, touching her skin one last time, anointing her with precious essential oils, then dressing her in a brand new, simple white long dress that was the last piece of clothing Elizabeth had bought herself, not consciously knowing she’d wear it to be cremated in. We then placed beautiful flowing sheer fabrics under, around and over her. We placed her body on a massage table that Kristine had brought us, and used dry ice under her torso to keep her cool, so she could be at home for a couple of days. Finally, we showered her in rose petals…
I almost forgot to include some of the practical details, as I was spared from dealing with the outside world right away. Kristine helped to guide Elizabeth’s father through the process of becoming the “funeral director” which involved filing some paperwork at City Hall, which allowed us to then transport her body ourselves for cremation. We could have had them come to transport her body, but it just felt right to us to do the whole process ourselves.
The funeral parlor (if that is what they’re still called) provided a simple cardboard casket which Kristine brought us, that we asked friends to decorate with messages and artwork, and we placed some of Elizabeth’s belongings in with her, along with many rose petals. The day of the cremation, our family said our last goodbyes to her at home. It was so hard to know that I’d never touch her skin again, very hard to let go…And then we brought her to the crematorium, where we were able to gather and watch as they placed her body inside the crematory. I didn’t think I’d want to do that when she was still alive, but when it came time, it felt better to be there . I knew then that it was not Elizabeth going into that fire, but an empty vessel – as she said, her “flesh and blood holder of humanity” had ceased to exist…
Here is the email I sent after the home funeral, about the cremation and as we began to prepare for a larger, public memorial and celebration of life:
September 26, 2012
Yesterday was very difficult, and beautiful. We gathered with close family and said our last goodbyes to Elizabeth’s body at home, placing her body into the casket, which had been decorated by friends and family, and putting her baby blanket (Silky) and some flowers in with her, to help her make the transition. We transported her body and were able to support each other and witness the box being placed in the crematory. I didn’t know if I’d want or be able to witness this, but I am grateful that I could be present, in the way that seeing a burial might also bring some sense of completion.
We had a lovely open house the day before, with many friends coming by with flowers, love, tears, laughter and stories. It was good to be with others who love Elizabeth. Thank you so much to those of you who were able to be here.
We have confirmed the date and location for Elizabeth’s Celebration of Life/Memorial Service. It will not be a religious ceremony, but one that represents Elizabeth’s diverse and deep spiritual beliefs and an opportunity to gather, celebrate her life, tell stories, share images, music, ritual, and more.
with much love,