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A Father's Ashes Spread Among Trees
Dad suffered a massive heart attack resulting in extensive brain damage while clearing snow from his front step.
As he laid in the intensive care unit with no hope for recovery, we made the decision to let him go. Clearly, the time had come to "open the window and close the door" for Dad. Death came four days later.
Dad must have had a sense of the end coming because he not only put his affairs in order but planned his last rite. He was a man who looked for good in all situations. He believed strongly that every experience in life had positive meaning and should be learned from. In making his preparations, he chose cremation. He wanted us to plant a tree in his memory and mix his ashes into the soil around the base. Dad felt the part of him which we added to the soil would, in time, be drawn up into the tree and in a different way, he would be a part of life again. For a man with a masters degree in agronomy, a love of the earth and what grew on it, his request was so meaningful.
This past Father's Day, we gathered to scatter Dad's ashes and have a picnic. Picking them up from the mortuary on Saturday morning was the beginning of a highly emotional weekend. For a man weighing over 200 pounds, there wasn't much left. What we picked up was a brown plastic container the size of a shoe box. Weighing about 5 pounds, it was labeled "remains of Joseph Edward Pazandak."
Looking back, I can see the humor of that painful day. Dad spent a lot of time traveling on Saturday as he went from house to house. Each of his six supposedly enlightened, mature adult children was thoroughly spooked at the thought of keeping his remains in their home overnight. They finally spent the night on the shelf in his garage. We all learned that day how easily fear can take over and control one's actions. Sunday morning, I raised the garage door and said, "Good morning, Dad." Picking the box off the shelf, I felt a strong sense of love for the man who shaped the lives of his six children. My daughter was still a little uneasy over it all and suggested Grandpa ride in the trunk. I told her that he had never ridden in the trunk before and he wouldn't start now. Grandpa got the front seat as we drove to my sister's house.
Each of us wanted a bit of Dad close by, so instead of one memorial tree, we planted one in the yard of each child. Opening his box, we found a plastic bag tied at the top. We expected to find ashes but what we found was off-white in color and felt like fine gravel. What some people might have expected to be a morbid experience was instead a family celebration completing a most important event in the life of a much loved man. Holding the ashes in the palm of my hand and gently mixing them into the earth was a powerful experience.
Looking back, I see how our lives can be positively shaped by events which are so difficult and painful. A few weeks ago, I read an article about how it is not enough for a parent to let a child go, but a parent must teach a child how to go. I am thankful Dad gave me the inner attitudes and values which enable me to live fully without him. Having personally experienced the death of a loved one, my attitude towards death has changed. I am not so afraid now. Even in his death, my father gave me a valuable lesson in living.
Someone once said "life is a journey homeward bound." I feel pride in knowing I helped my father home.
(Carol Pazendak Burmaster lives at 5921 View Lane, Edina, Minn. 55436 (ph 612 926-0693). She works for Cargill and writes as a hobby. Her father, who held a master's degree in agronomy from the University of Minnesota, was a well-known professional wrestler.)

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1985 - Volume #9, Issue #1