When Rob’s mother died, I had mixed feelings. Phyllis and I had a flimsy, at best, relationship. The only thing we shared in common was our love for Rob. My love for him was the romantic and strong love of a spouse for a partner in both life and parenting. Phyllis loved the man we shared fiercely, possessively, proudly—as only the mother of an only son can really love.
Now, all that was left of Phyllis and her love was hidden away in the blue and white ceramic urn on our mantle, awaiting inurnment at Hebron Cemetery next month. Suddenly my teenage daughter’s voice broke into my quiet reflections about love and death.
“Hey, Mom! The cat just sprayed on Grandma’s urn!”
I ran into the living room in time to see our orange tabby, Mister, jump down from the mantle and slink guiltily into the kitchen. Sure enough, the telltale odor of a male cat marking his territory was coming from Grandma’s direction.
“Stupid cat.” I headed after Mister to grab a rag. “You never did like Phyllis very much, did you, Mister? Why you decide to claim her as your personal property now that she’s in a jar … geez.” Mister sulked under the table, looking like he expected me to scold him further or toss him outside. “Oh, whatever. Just sit there and feel guilty.”
The rag proved ineffective. The cat stench was overpowering, so I carried Phyllis and her urn into the kitchen to rinse off in the sink. Warm water and a sink full of suds always makes me chatty. So I decided to have a final chat with my mother-in-law.
“Well, Phyllis, here we are, again. You in your prim-and-proper ceramic urn and me in my sweatpants and t-shirt. You never particularly liked that stupid cat, did you? For that matter, you never liked me much. I was just Rob’s wife. The woman who bore your grandchildren. The continual disappointment. The never-good-enough housekeeper. But here I am, cleaning your urn. You probably thought I’d just let you sit in cat pee.”
I had to chuckle at the thought of Phyllis watching me carefully rinsing off her urn. She would’ve been standing with hands on hips, telling me which was the correct temperature water to use, which detergent would be gentle yet effective on the now-defiled urn, and “By all means, Dear, be careful not to jostle the lid because it might come loose and then …”
“Holy crap!” The lid came loose and Phyllis’ ashes dumped out in the sink.
“Mom, are you okay? What’s going on?” My daughter ran into the room breathlessly, and then stood, mouth agape, as she took in the scene. Her wild-eyed mother standing over Grandma’s open urn with what looked like ashes in the sink. Ashes?
“Oh, Mom. Geez. Seriously? You dumped out Grandma?”
“Oh, hush!” I was so panicked, I wasn’t even sure where to begin. I muttered, “Crap!” more than once and turned off the water.
Stop and think. The sink’s full of ashes. Ashes! I’ll need to scoop it up. Wait. Some of it’s gone. Gone! Where’d it go? Oh, crap. Phyllis went down the drain! This isn’t just regular old sink debris. This is Phyllis! This is Rob’s mother!
I ran to the toolbox, grabbed a wrench, and hoped the ashes hadn’t gone any further than the elbow trap under the sink.