Today was the day. The day we completed our immediate rituals for taking care of Chris. In some ways it provides some peace, knowing I was able to take care of him in the ways in which he would have wanted. And, it’s been a terribly almost impossible day, too. It’s the day I start to figure out what the rest of my life looks like without Chris present physically in it. But that is probably many more posts I’ll save for another day.
Today we were able to send Chris down his beloved Mississippi. For me, that is one great headstone for him. We were blessed to have Pastor Marlene Hegelmo and Sharon Day, Water Walker lead us in this sending along with two brothers who played and sang for us. I will be forever blessed by the ways in which they have supported Chris and us as family and friends of Chris.
Here is the bulletin from this morning…
We started by hearing stories of this artery, the Mississippi River, from our hosts from Anishinabe, Ho Chunk and Lakota/Dakota nations. We heard of zagay, love, in different forms. We heard of our hosts love of this water and we heard about some places where the Mississippi is dead because we have not taken care of God’s creation, of which we are a part.
Two young brothers sang for us and played their drums. Sharon sang for us and taught us a song, too.
And people’s love poured out…for Chris, for our immediate and extended family, for our friends and our relatives, all people. I could feel it in the presence of those gathered and those breathing with us in our sorrow. I have felt it these last weeks with the love and support of others who have lost a loved one at a young age. These sighs and breaths are often what keep me breathing.
My friend Emilie brought her canoe and invited Jeff along to help guide the canoe into the waters to set sail to Chris’s biodegradable urn with his holy ashes. I’ve maybe met Jeff a couple of times, but God sends people to be together and to support each other and to be in community. This is what Jeff wrote and posted on Facebook today, and I think it is a good summary of this part of the morning:
This morning I had the intense, and deeply humbling honor of paddling on the mighty Mississippi to inter the remains of a dear friend to many of us; Christopher C. Stanley. The family held an intensely spiritual Service led by tribal elders and holy people from the Anishinable, Lakota/Dakota, and Ho Chunk nations. I was honored to be part of a tobacco blessing and sacred water blessing led by the elders. We paddled our young friends remains into the swift current of the big river and sent him on the next part of his journey. Remarkably, when the Tribal elder poured the water blessed by all 35 of us, a massive tree crashed down in the woods behind at the exact moment to water left her copper pot and touched the river. We were all amazed and reverent to the moment. This was easily the most honorable moment I’ve ever had in a canoe; or perhaps will ever have. What a blessing to have been a part . Thank you Christopher C. Stanley. Swift and steady current as you travel on.
Both times we have had ceremonies at Hidden Creek for Chris, once when he was still lost, and now, he has not wanted to leave me. The first time we placed the tobacco vessel in the river and it hung around for awhile before finally going into the current. This time, we used the canoe to place his vessel and remains into the current. He spent some time again with us at Hidden Beach, even going upstream for awhile, before the current took him away on this journey. I won’t say his last, because I think he’s having some kinds of amazing adventures in whatever eternal life is.
Here is a poem that Chris wrote about a year ago, I think, that I had wanted to read at the sending today that I couldn’t pull up on my phone, but like so much of his poetry, it speaks to this moment:
Something I can’t do is
stop thinking about the way water flows.
Streams of solid fluid rush past me,
the rapids tumbling over my ear drums.
A crack is all I hear
a tooth splitting, spine biting, it snapped
and the rivers color danced out of my visual range.
I saw an x-ray of the fish swimming
over a sandy shore and their fins shimmer
like lakes reflecting an exact image of
the faces you keep deep inside memories.
If you were to somehow make a boat,
and it would need to be sturdy,
take it down the river and go faster
than the pulling current. If you can find
familiar water, would you
drink and bathe in it? Take it up
against the strong motion, fight against
oppressive pressures pressing you back.
Be careful not to contaminate,
be careful even in parting the stream,
the bow pointing towards the answers to
questions, towards a forbidden knowledge
which was never deciphered.
And thus I released the remains of my oldest son down the currents of the might Mississippi.
And then we made one last stop on what seems a bit like a marathon, though I know I haven’t even reached the one mile marker.
We planted a tree in Chris’s memory at Bohemian Flats where we spent much time as we waited to find Chris, when we still had just a tiny glimmer of hope we might find him with life still in him. And the place where we found out his spirit had left his body.
I read some of Chris’s poems, friends and family added dirt. I added a little bit of Chris and the people who helped us with this promised to take good care of this beautiful Huckleberry Tree that will grow and bear fruit and be a home for lots and lots of birds. If you ever want to visit, please do. It’s accessible and right on the path. And if you’d like to visit with me, please let me know and I’ll be happy to meet you there.
In memory of mine and Tom’s beloved son and Austin’s beloved brother, and beloved by so many…