Friday, January 16, 2009

cast your soul to the sea

Rhiannon's latest post features a video of a song by the wondrous Loreena McKennitt and it opened my emotions in the late of night to considerations of my mother's death in 2000......because I had another of McKennitt's songs played at my mother's memorial service. It's the one in this video, beautifully-produced by a creative someone known at You Tube as Azurelce5, who not only provided the words to the song in the video but also provided this additional information:

Dante's Prayer
inspired by Dante's The Divine Comedy (a vernacular poem in 100 cantos), Loreena thinks about the human condition and how we all want to believe there is a place better than our own. An almost sorrowful and yet hopeful melody. Italian poet, Dante (1265-1321) gave an explanation of what happens after we die and this question is still just as controversial today.

Loreena McKennitt's haunting music combines a Russian Orthodox Easter hymn with her own music and imaginative lyrics about a prayer Dante might have uttered after he and Virgil had left Hell's icy center and were journeying close to the threshold between Hell and Purgatory.

My mother died without specifying any wishes about a funeral or memorial service. But she raised me with instructions to scatter her ashes in the ocean. In her lifetime she lived near the ocean in New York, California (Berkeley and Santa Monica), Florida, and finally here near the Oregon coast. When she passed away at the end of October 2000 Mike and I played a wait-and-see game with the stormy sea and the captain we commissioned to take just the two of us out on his whale watching boat. We had scheduled a day in early November that grew too stormy by the time we arrived at the appointed time. There was no way the boat could attempt to cross the bar* at Depoe Bay without being slammed into the giant rocks on either side. So that night I stayed in a motel with my mother's ashes (and, having brought this CD for the trip, played this song over and over before sleep) and Mike drove home to care for the pets, then returned the next morning early hoping it would be a "go"...and it was.

The captain and his deck hand stayed inside the cabin, affording us complete privacy on deck. They said that there had been a whale sighting early that morning so we had that on our minds, although it's a stretch to say I had anything on my mind that day. It went in a whir. When the captain got us out there he cut the engines and we opened the urns (my mother had saved the ashes of her beloved dog, Tippy, who died a few years earlier and asked that they go together) and Mike scattered Tippy's while I scattered my mother's ashes. I wish I'd been more mindful of it at the time but I was in a daze as some of them blew back into our faces and onto our tongues. The ashes stayed momentarily on top of the water before being folded into the wake of the boat and then accepted by the sea. We tossed a beautiful wreath of flowers that my sister ordered from Indiana (it was a little dried after having had to wait an extra day but it looked lovely on the water).

And then it struck me. I hadn't given any thought to saying something at that private moment. My mother hadn't requested anything to be read, Mike and I hadn't discussed it, and so there we stood at the back of the boat watching the wreath bob away from us. What came to me was a favorite poem of mine and also of my mother's after I introduced it to her, one that I, thankfully, had memorized. So I spoke over the ocean the words to Yeats' When You Are Old.

........You'd have to have known my passionate, romantic mother to realize that it was an ok poem for the moment, maybe even a perfect poem. Because if there was ever a woman who loved life and lived it as a sensual journey she was that woman. She did not go easily from this world, questioning God about her having to go at that time right up to the last days. She didn't pray about it, she pouted. And then, in her final two days, she meditated from deep inside, returning to the surface to talk with us briefly and to relay fabulous hallucinations.......or maybe they weren't hallucinations, who knows. Did a little boy really dart across the floor of her bedroom and disappear into the wall? Could I possibly have been sitting on the lap of fat Chinese man there on the chair beside her bed (she scowled at him)? Did she feel her mother holding her hand as she said? ..........

The poem said, Mike then took his trumpet to his lips and played Taps so beautifully that it still brings tears to my eyes when I recall the moment. The captain and deck hand were truly touched. Then suddenly the deck hand was pointing at the water near the boat and screaming: Thar she blows! Because I was in such a daze I didn't see the whale breach out of the water and I'll always so regret that the cabin obscured my view. We quickly ran to the side of the boat and stood next to the men and watched with total excitement as the whale simply swam close to the boat. Close, like ten feet away, with just the back arched above the water. We took good pictures of the whale and treasure them, but how I wish I'd gotten one of it coming out of the water.

We held the memorial service the following week and ended it with Dante's Prayer by Loreena McKennitt. The funeral director, who took charge of playing the CDs we selected, unfortunately cut off the chorus at the end. The St. Petersburg Chamber Choir is heard at both the beginning and the end of the song, and the voices are deep and low. (Turn your volume up so you don't miss the chorus like the funeral director did.)

The right words to close this post simply won't come, so I will let Yeats provide them once again (there is an excellent commentary on the poem

When You are Old

When you are old and grey and full of sleep,
And nodding by the fire, take down this book,
And slowly read, and dream of the soft look

Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep;

How many loved your moments of glad grace,
And loved your beauty with love false or true,
But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,
And loved the sorrows of your changing face;
And bending down beside the glowing bars,
Murmur, a little sadly, how Love fled
And paced upon the mountains overhead
And hid his face amid a crowd of stars.

--W. B. Yeats

* (I'm including this nautical definition because I'd never heard the term before moving to Oregon):
Bar - Large mass of sand or earth, formed by the surge of the sea. They are mostly found at the entrances of great rivers or havens, and often render navigation extremely dangerous, but confer tranquility once inside. See also: Touch and go, grounding. Alfred Lord Tennyson's poem 'Crossing the bar' an allegory for death.



dmarks said...


~ Tabitha ~ said...

That was a touching post Lydia..

And just a sidebar note to your Mom's fabulous hallucinations-
My Nan had those a few days before she passed away.And I will never forget them as she described to me watch she saw as they happened.

Thank you for sharing again .. xo

Mibsy said...

Hey Lydia, very beautiful it just me, I can't see the video, its just not there...

Rhiannon said...


What a beautifully written heartfelt post. I have a few tears in my eyes right now as I write this. What a story...I just envisonioned all that had happened that you wrote. The sea, the whale, Mike playing the trumpet beautifully, the ashes being taken by the sea and maybe a whale "acknowledging" this to you..who knows?

I think there could not have been a more hauntingly beautiful song to play at your mothers service than "Dante's prayer". It's perfect.

Believe or not I was trying to decide which of the two song vidoes to post of Loreena's "Dante's prayer" or "Full circle". I was also watching the video on you tube of "Dante's prayer" and then "Full circle"...I decided upon Full circle as I then remembered that I had already posted Dante's prayer video not too long ago on my blog.

Dante's prayer I feel is probably my first favorite of Loreena's as on a more personal level I relate to it. When I first got her cd "Book of Secrets a long while back I first heard that song and listened to it over and over...and your are right, the ending chorus is a very important part not to be missed, as it slowly echos through your soul..."Please remember me please remember me, please remember me"...and then the beautiful choir of voices...patience is a virtue.

The song Dante's prayer is very important to I read in the cd of Loreena's travels she wrote how she came to writing this song. She is a well seasoned "traveler of the soul". Years ago I cut out some large cardboard into a small frame size and put together a collage of what that song helped me see and "feel". Then on one side of the collage I hand wrote the words to Dante's prayer and I always had it on a wall to "remember" whatever or wherever I was's packed away somewhere..I hope to find it again.

I am very sorry of the loss of your mother..but it sounds like you have a lot of special memories of her "forever".

Serendipity" Lydia?...:o)..might well be.



Jennifer said...

This was beautifully written, Lydia. I could picture it all. I really like that you chose a whale watching boat and that you treated the moment with ceremony.

My husband/then boyfriend's mother wanted her ashes scattered in Muir Woods. I accompanied the family -- D, his brother, and his father -- and we wandered off to a secluded area. It felt a little strange, each guy with his baggie, choosing an appropriate place to scatter. No ceremony, only silence. Probably appropriate for them, but your recitation, Mike's playing of taps, the wreath -- it just makes it feel more like a tribute.

Buddha said...

I am amazed at the quantity and quality of your posts – and it isn’t just me, look at the following and the comments.
You have God given talent for writing that you should consider harvesting into a bigger project – maybe a memoir, maybe a historical detective novel or something like that.
What do you say?

Elizabeth said...

That was a beautiful and heartfelt post. I felt like I was there. My dad wants Taps played at his funeral, and I've always thought it would be the most beautiful thing to hear on that day.

Lydia said...

Thanks much.

Thank you for touching on your experience hearing your Nan's hallucinations/experiences prior to her death. You have to be there to feel the power of it.....

I'm so sorry you can't see the video. I do hope it's just something to do with your computer; none of the others have mentioned not being able to view it. You can see it at You Tube by keying in the name of the person who made it (I far preferred that one over the others available there).

I will visit your blog to see which of the Dantes Prayer videos you have there. Did you see the one of her live in concert singing this?

The collage you made sounds way too lovely to have stowed away. I hope you are able to find it soon. Your creating that art piece is a true demonstration of how deeply connected you are to the song. Sometimes it saddens me that artists don't ever know how much their music means to us, and this is one of those times.
Yes, I think serendipity...just like the whale!

Muir Woods. I've heard so much about that place but have never been. It's probably a beautiful place for a scattering, even a silent one.
A peculiar dilemma follows those scatterings...what to do with the plastic box/urn/plastic baggies afterward, since some ash residue remains there. I decided that we'd use the creek that runs through our town to rinse it out clean. Then I felt I could dispose of the box.
Thanks for being here and for your comments.

Your compliments are so kind. I have a lot of blockage and constraints that I allow to be blockage and constraints that block and constrain additional writing. The one piece of fiction I wrote, ages ago, a short story, was along the line of a mystery. So when you mentioned detective novel that made me smile!

You probably know Depoe Bay, right? Have you gone on a whale watching boat from there?
It's good that your dad has shared some of his wishes with you. I hope you don't have to follow them for a long, long time.

Darlene said...

A very touching post and a lovely tribute to your mother. You did write it so beautifully that I was there with you on the boat.

My children scattered my husband's ashes from a point on the back side of Mt. Lemmon. There wasn't a path there and was hard to get to, so I was unable to join them. I regret that now. I suppose they will scatter mine from the same place when the time comes. It's their choice.

The video was beautiful.

francessa said...

What a sad occasion! But you did so many great things before, during and after the ceremony,the wonderful poem, the wreath, the trumpet, the lovely Loreena McKennitt songs - this must at least be some small comfort, although there's no real comfort for the loss of a loved one.

But, Lydia, the emergence of the whale has such powerful imagery, being a symbol for wisdom, inner depth, eternity. Interestingly, in dream research the whale symbolizes one's mother, or femininity.

Lydia said...

Thank you for saying such nice things about this post about my mother. I'm so glad that you enjoyed the video. It interests me that you've left the decision up to your children....I hope they choose Mt. Lemmon (years from now!).

I read your comment hours ago and have thought and thought about what you wrote about the whale and dream imagery. It's made that whole day all the more meaningful for me and I'm so appreciative of your part in that. xo

Rhiannon said...


I checked my blog post and found Dante's prayer posted July 17, 2008..but when I clicked on it yesterday it would not play. It wasn't the live one they have on youtube..the one at Alhambra, Spain. I did watch Loreena perform Dante's prayer of that concert on Youtube but it would not allow me to download it at that time.

There is a Youtube video with the song Dante's Prayer played for the movie "The lord of the Rings". You can find it on youtube titled "Dante's Prayer -Aragorn & Arwen,Lord of the Rings"..or something to that affect. It's a very lovely romantic well put together video to Loreena's beautiful voice. You might like it.

Loreena has a new cd Mystic Muse I think it's titled.

Have a great day on Inauguration!



sharryb said...

I love this song and listen to it often. Now, now whenever I hear it, I'll think of the way you said fare well to you mother.


Lydia said...

A music video I featured early in my blog was removed also. I guess it's a lesson that we should go back and check because when embedding is blocked at You Tube it appears to delete all the vids out there.
I did see the video with the Lord of the Rings theme. It was fine but didn't convey the meaning I needed.
YOU enjoy Inauguration too!

That's so sweet of you. Have you noticed what good "road music" that CD is? It fits many moods.....



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