I came to San Francisco in September of 1987, after the death of my mother. I was still grieving and counting hours and days from when I had been told about her death.
One of the first persons I interviewed in San Francisco was Judi Stone, a woman who had lost her son, Michael. He was 19 years old.
We talked a little bit before we started the interview, and hearing about my grief, she wondered if I should not have waited with this work for a while, but I knew it was my way to handle it. Having experienced real grief, became almost a key for me to this work.
Before I went to the US, I had read about new ways of celebrating the memory of loved ones. I read that family and friends went out in boats and sprinkled ashes and rose petals on the water.
It was so unusual for me, that had gone to many ordinary funerals. It encouraged me, and made me strong.
There were problems surrounding my mother´s ashes, as her last husband disregarded her wish to be spread close to the love of her life, that she had lost many years ago. So, I decided to ”steal” my mother´s ashes, and fulfill that wish.
I traveled outside Stockholm and picked up her ashes at a crematorium in a forest – still a troubling memory – ordered a taxi and went to the cemetery she wanted to be in, and spread her ashes on the top of a hill immediately, like a sower, before anyone could stop me. There was only one problem – the wind twisted and turned and some of the ashes came back to me, on me.
The Second March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay rights, in October 1987 was coming up, and I heard there were aids activists who had died, who wanted their ashes to be thrown at the White House on that occasion, as a protest against president Reagan, who did not seem to care at all about all the people that died of HIV/AIDS.
It was this photo of a woman who wanted her friends ashes to be used as a protest, that inspired me to write this text, although it happened some years later.
Her name is Rebecca Hensler, and her friends name was Colin Blakeney. He was a S.F. AIDS Activist and ACT UP member. The protest against Gov. Wilson, took place at the State Capitol in Sacramento, in October 1993.
One of the men I interviewed, Keith, wanted the White House to stand in a cloud of ashes from dead men, including the ashes of his late partner Jay, who had really wanted that to happen. I thought it was a fantastic idea, the ultimate protest. But I remember warning Keith about the ashes and the winds.
I don´t know if it happened with others– but it did not happen with Jay´s ashes, as his parents wanted to split his ashes between them. Keith kept some of it.
I went to Volunteer training in Oakland at The AIDS Project of the East Bay, and there we listened to People with AIDS, parents, friends and people who had lost loved ones.
One of the men that had AIDS, was called Charles. He was a tall man who spoke softly to us, he reminded me of the elves in The Lord of the Rings.
I later came to visit him for an interview, but on that day he had such anxiety, and such fear of dying that we had to give it up. We took a walk instead, and then we said goodbye, as I was going back to Sweden.
Eventually I found out that he had died, and I got in touch with his mother. She talked lovingly about her firstborn, and told me that he was not buried. No, she kept his ashes, and would be buried together with him.
We stayed in touch for many years, a letter now and then, but since she does not answer letters anymore, I don´t know if she is still alive, she was near 90 the last time we were in contact. If she has passed away, I hope they are now buried together.
Another couple that I met in San Francisco, Keith and Gery, had decided that when one of them died, the other would commit suicide. However that did not happen, and Gery is still with us, and has quite a remarkable story that I hope to write about later. He still keeps Keith´s ashes with him on the cabinet beside his bed.
There are so many ways to deal with grief. I set my mother´s ashes free… and worked and worked, and still work.
Judi, that I mentioned in the beginning of this post – buried Michael´s ashes in the garden, so he never really left.
Judi and her husband Ralph Stone have created a wonderful garden, and they can always be together with him.
After I wrote about this, I decided to contact his mother. I wrote a letter, but wrote something wrong on the envelope. But just as I was going to write on another one, I decided to write his mother´s name and place of living on Google – and there she was, her Obituary. She passed away in the end of May this year, 2020.
I have written to both the family and the Funeral Home, asking about his ashes. But I never heard from them.
I have his mother´s letters and will write about them in a while.
Please see what I wrote in the piece: I have lived on signs and impulses…
There is more there about Charles and his mother.