“Dust to dust…. Ashes to ashes….. We return unto thee oh Lord the body of our sister, our teacher, our friend……....Yola Patricia Alleyne.”

The little tap on my shoulder means now…. I should do it now.  Beneath my feet the sodden earth is sweetly fragrant in its rich decay. Each step, cushioned deep in leaves and fallen shoots, crumbling and melting back into its fecund carpet  – undisturbed by time or man or God. Tightening my arms around the earthenware jar, now filled with the ashen remains of my Aunt Pat, I choose my steps cautiously, tenderly, through the underbrush. Wouldn’t want to drop the old girl now, we have come so far. But carrying her is cumbersome and heavier than I thought, heavier than I remembered.

“Dust to Dust…Ashes to Ashes…..”

They say the magic in this place is at sunrise or sunset but this is neither. The mid-afternoon sun is playing peek-a-boo through the cathedral of giant bamboo soaring to the heavens, reaching for each other like lovers reunited in holy communion. Yes. This place will serve. Making my way up a soft sloping bank, I begin my climb. The river just beyond is dry still, but soon the rains will come taking with it all things dead and half dead to the mouth of the sea. Aunt Yola always feared the sea. “De sea don’t have no branch” she would say. Alas, there is no choice. In the end, we all return to the sea.

“Dust to Dust……Ashes to Ashes…..We are grateful, O mighty God, for this time Yola Patricia has spent among us on this earthly plane. We are thankful for all she has taught us, O God……”

There are no tears today, just a quiet sense of finality. She died hard, this old woman, hard and alone and in pain. Tied to her bed and muzzled with tubes, she could no longer rail at the world for all it owed and never delivered or mutilate her body attempting to reach the unreachable crawlings raging in her flesh. Forced to be still…did she know Peace? I pray she knew some kind of Peace in the end. For there is a place deep in the midst of suffering – a quiet place which gives rise to redemption. There, is the seat of Grace. I pray she found her way into that room.

She died on December 28th  alone in an ER, of mass organ failure. It would be four days before we learned of her passing. The hospital never called.

“Dust to Dust…..Ashes to Ashes……  In this place, O Lord, we return to thee the body of our beloved Yola Patricia Alleyne. We ask, O Lord, that you open your loving arms in welcome, for she has come home.”

Holding the jar deep into the center of a knotted root, I tip it, pouring from its gaping jaw the ashen grit of bones and flesh and dreams. As soft grey clouds envelope my white dress, ballooning around my feet, falling and sifting into the open heart of roots at my feet my heart pounds in my chest. Is this really all we are? This dust..this nothingness? It is so quiet here; save for the cry of a howler monkey in the distance giving warning to a flock of  bright yellow orioles as they soar to higher round.  In a final gesture of completion  I smash the jar and dropped it amidst the ashes. It is done.

We don’t linger in this lovely place. There’s no need. Picking our way out of the inner grove, there is soft laughter and easy conversation about this and that and where shall we go for dinner. The kids run on ahead. Mr T. lingers behind checking a text that has miraculously come in. And just like that…we get back to life.