An Odd Fourth of July Farewell

Her mother had a dying wish—to blast off with the fireworks on Independence Day.

Posted in , Jul 2, 2015

Independence Day fireworks memorial for mom

This Fourth of July, Americans throughout the country will sit and stare toward the heavens to watch colorful fireworks explode in the sky. For writer Janna Bialek of North Chevy Chase, Maryland, however, those fireworks will represent more than patriotism. They’ll always remind her of Mom, and her mother’s unusual last wish:

“So, she wanted us to send her up in a firework.”

As Janna wrote in the Washington Post magazine, at first, she thought it was a joke. Sure, her mother always loved watching the family launch fireworks in their Iowa backyard on Independence Day, but to fire her ashes into the sky along with them seemed bizarre. Soon, however, Janna realized she was the only one who didn’t take the request seriously:

“After two days of cleaning out my mother’s apartment, we regrouped at my youngest sister Kayte’s house for Cincinnati chili... Between helpings, her husband, Chuck, brought up the Fourth.

“‘Remember, I know that guy in Madison. Do you still want me to call him?’

“Then Chuck was on the phone and everyone was paying attention. I tried to figure out what was going on. My 11-year-old nephew, Corwin, a practical-minded savant, said, ‘Be sure you tell him she’s already been cremated.’

“I stopped mid-mouthful, realizing that my family actually knew people who could pack fireworks with the ashes of their parents.”

In the end, Janna came around on the idea of the strange farewell:

“The day hadn’t felt like the final send-off of my mother’s ashes; it felt sort of the way it always did. I missed the small, quiet part my mother played, giving directions and telling kids to be careful, taking in all the craziness as if it were a TV show. Then I realized: All that time she was our audience. She just watched, applauding us for simply being who we were—her kids, her grandkids. The Fourth of July might be Independence Day, but for us it was about needing one another.”

There’s no one way to say goodbye to someone you love. In our premiere issue of Mysterious Ways, we shared the story of Donna Teti, who tied messages to purple balloons in memoriam of the twin sister she lost. One of my favorite stories I edited for Guideposts was by our Senior Digital Editor Sabra Ciancanelli, about how a treasure hunt inspired by her sister, Ria, helped the family heal after Ria’s untimely death.

In our August/September issue, we’ll introduce a new section, “Here and Hereafter,” which will provide more stories about the moments surrounding death—before, during, and beyond. Have you said goodbye to a loved one in an unusual way? How did it help your family heal? Did you sense or see evidence of a comforting presence in your midst? Share your experience with us.

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