Ashes to Bashes! When Your Loved One Passes, It's Time for a Fling

Break out the vegan, fair-trade, lesbian, sustainable tofu dogs, because on Friday, June 20, yours truly officially became a US citizen.

I am doing my best to whip myself into a patriotic frenzy in time for the Fourth of July, but I must admit it’s taking a great deal of effort. I guess I am a trifle worn down from the stops and starts of my application process, made more complex by my wicked past. Among the sticking points were my arrest record—God, that sounds so much more glamorous than it was!—and my frequent sojourns in the U.K. The Citizenship and Immigration Services officials had a hard time believing that my relentless trips across the pond in recent years were undertaken in order to hang out in an old people’s home with my fab dad. I think they thought I was smuggling diamonds up me bum.

Last Friday, right before we all said the Pledge of Allegiance, I hit yet one more stumbling block: "You traveled outside the U.S. again?" said the official in an are-you-wearing-ladies-knickers accusatory kind of tone.

"To scatter my dad’s ashes," I said, adding, somewhat unnecessarily, "because he died."

The truth of the matter is that my sister, Shelagh, and I did not so much scatter my dear old dad’s ashes as drive around Brighton thinking of creative ways to dispose of them. In doing so, we made an important discovery: There is no existing protocol for dealing with one’s cremated relatives. Remember Anna Nicole Smith orbiting around her living room, clutching the urn containing half her husband (the judge gave the remainder to his irate family) and finally plonking it on the telly?

And because there are no hard and fast rules, it always seems to go a bit wrong. My mum is a good example: We hurled Betty Doonan all round her little backyard in Northern Ireland—the place she loved to smoke a fag and tend a gladioli—and then promptly moved house, leaving her to haunt the new owners. I would not be surprised if the new folks occasionally encounter a wraithlike figure with an upswept Bette Davis hairdo lighting up a Woodbine in the twilight.

My atheist dad, Terry, always maintained that he wanted to be dumped, uncremated, onto what the Brits call "the compost heap." Keeping this in mind, Shelagh and I began our little ceremony by pouring some of his ashes into the organic waste thingy that she keeps in her Brighton backyard. Then we hurled a few handfuls onto the flowers. Then, when we saw how much was left, we headed to the seafront "because Terry loved to bird-watch down by the ocean." Down on the beach, gusts of wind blew the ashes all over my Prada cardi and Shelagh’s hair. By now we were starting to look like an avant-garde Japanese Noh theater group. This would have amused Terry no end. He was an unconventional, good-natured bloke who lived his life unencumbered by any sense of occasion.

Meanwhile, back at the urn: Seeing the copious amount of ashes still therein, we toyed with calling Keith Richards and asking him to help us snort up a few lines, thought better of it and headed for the more sheltered Brighton Marina, a promenading spot favored by Betty and Terry Doonan. The remaining remains were deposited in the murky green waters, near the hulls of the boats Terry never sailed on because my folks were not really in that kind of income bracket. A good job well done. Sheesh! We had worked up quite an appetite. We elected to enjoy a more couture dining experience than was offered by the Marina fish-and-chip shops and headed back to the posh end of town for what the Brits call "a slap-up meal," because, after all, that’s what Terry would have wanted.

The phrase "because that’s what so-and-so would have wanted" comes up a lot postmortem. Example: Shelagh, her partner, Anna, and their daughter, Tanya, once shared their home with a pet rabbit called Briar. When Briar was torn limb from limb by a particularly sadistic fox and draped all over the backyard, the gals reacted by fleeing to enjoy scones and jam at the local ye olde tea shoppe, "because that’s what Briar would have wanted." Grief prevented them from seeing the terrible truth: What Briar really wanted was to have her head reattached and to not have her giblets adorning the privet hedge. Pass the crumpets, please!

My most elaborate scattering experience took place some 15 years ago and involved a male model turned photog named Jeffrey Herman. When he died, his mother gave some of his ashes to me, and some to Drugstore Cowboy diva Kelly Lynch.

I scattered my portion on a hilltop outside Santa Fe (the fashion-fabulous Jeffrey had a crunchy side that he kept concealed in a vintage Hermes scarf) and Kelly hurled her stash on a European fashion runway: "Because that’s what Jeffrey would have wanted."

I phoned the gorgeous thespian—you can catch her next in Patrick Hoelek’s film Mercy and The Perfect Age of Rock ’n’ Roll with Peter Fonda—in L.A. and dragged her down ash-scattering memory lane for the specifics.

"I tucked Jeffrey safely into my briefs," Ms. Lynch said of her anxious encounter with airport security, "and let me tell you that was the closest he ever got to muffy."

Upon landing in Milan, Kelly headed straight for the front row of the spring-summer Versace presentation. As soon as the show started, the flinging of ashes began: "I just couldn’t let the opportunity go by without leaving a bit of my beloved Jeffrey, a lover of Fashion with a capital F, on every supermodel, and I’m talking the biggies," recalled La Lynch with a chuckle and a tear. "That’s right, Linda, Stephanie, Christy, Claudia, Cindy—all the C words, Hell, Naomi was so exquisite on the catwalk, I probably hit her four or five times."

The morbid moral of the story? When it comes to scattering ashes, make an effort, think outside the urn.

Happy Fourth!

sdoonan@observer.com

 


Ashes to Bashes! When Your Loved One Passes, It's Time for a Fling