Many of us ignore death, pretend it will not happen and when it does, we leave our family to tidy up, settle our affairs and carry out the funeral arrangements.Alternatively, we seldom express our feelings to those we love in case we might upset them with a reminder of their own mortality.The traditional funeral is what we are familiar with and has become to many an unsatisfying final chapter for both family and friends, not least for the one who died without a celebration of his or her life.We gather and talk, recalling all of the important ways in which we have been touched, but the one who should hear these things is gone.Of all life’s events, we do a poor job responding to the idea of loss and grief.
As a potter, people ask me to make a funeral urn a few times a year and there have only been three pieces, which have touched me and seemed to have meaning for the families requesting them.The first was for a man whose family wanted a vessel in which to keep his ashes, which would represent the profession he most loved.The second was for a family who planned to release the ashes at sea by sinking a pot with an inscription, and in addition wanted five small pieces with the date and inscription using some of the ashes in the making of the each pot.The children and spouse would have something tangible to hold and the man who was dying planned what he wanted and involved his family.
My 86 year-old Mother commissioned the third piece, and this is the piece that led to my desire to change, at least for our family, the tradition of the depressing American funeral.In the course of designing the piece, I had many conversations with my Mother learning the things, which defined her life.I also spoke with siblings, extended family and some of her friends to hear their views on her life and how her presence touched them.There were three major themes, which spanned her lifetime, and the design incorporated all three.She wanted the ashes scattered in her favorite body of water but none of us wanted to keep an ash urn hanging around.In the course of speaking with family and friends, I realized that some of us had a need to impart a record recalling the impact this woman had on our lives, a record not a headstone or a vase to keep.One method involves family and friends in the process of designing the vase and writing on the clay with descriptions of the one whose life they were commemorating.Our family is so scattered I decided to make a series of small “tiles” which would contain a word or a phrase that is recognizable to Mother and the person who chose the memory.The tiles would contain the phrase and date of Mother’s birth and would be scattered as the pot sank with the ashes into the sea.The currents would take the ashes and the pot would remain to be home to a fish or sea creature.The lid of the vessel is personalized and will exist as a record.When completed, I gave the vase and disks to our Mother who was touched and pleased with the responses.She was delighted to have her memory refreshed of events that had faded and she learned a great deal of how she affected the lives of many people. She reports that she is comforted to know some of what she means to others and enjoys the vase itself with the representation of things that have meant so much. I am comforted to know that someday no matter where I go near water; I will know that my Mother is there.I intend the vessel become a mini reef for fish and the contribution tiles of our loved ones will scatter to become markers of events, which touched their lives thanks to our relationship.
PET CELEBRATION VESSELS
As a potter, people ask me to make pieces for pet cremains and I find special pleasure knowing that my work is being used for such a loving purpose. A number of years ago, I learned how to use hair and feathers to “smoke paint” the surface of a pot. While similar in look, each hair has its own signature. I have saved grooming hair of our own beloved dog who died at 16 and every time I make an art piece using this technique, I used just a few of her hairs loving the idea that there she goes, out into the world one more time.
In making pieces for other people who have lost their “furkids”, I use some of the ash in the glaze and make a lid, which can be personalized as well as “painted” with smoke from their grooming hair or feathers.