The year my father died I fell in love with beavers. All summer I watched them at dawn and dusk gnaw down the poplars, drag them to the plume, observing keenly how the trees slid so easily into the stream… as the kits grew, little furry heads accompanied their parents carrying whittled sticks in their mouths to help shore up their ever expanding lodge. I always sat quietly so some evenings around dusk the kits would swim right up to me. Occasionally one would slap a leathery flat tail before diving deep.
When the ‘call’ came on All Hallows Eve my father sounded sad and resigned. He was being operated on for colon cancer that week. The shock of finding out so suddenly choked me up with grief so intense I could barely respond. He had told no one he had cancer. We hung up. A trip to NY and to*** the hospital was distressing. I saw my dad twice. The first time he barely acknowledged me; that night he looked into my eyes and called me “his girl,” words he had never used to describe me, his daughter, during our entire life – time together. Two days later, after returning to Maine, I awakened from a dream with the words, “your father has become a beaver” just as the phone rang. My father had died minutes before.
A second frantic trip to NY was cut short. My mother had decreed there would be no funeral. If anyone needed to have a memorial of some kind it was my father who had spent his entire life doing his best to care about his family and other people. He was an extrovert that tried too hard to please. Although, sometimes overly kind in public, privately he had a problem with explosive rage. As a child I was terrified of him – I never knew when mindless chaos would erupt and it destroyed any sense of safety I might have had being with him (I so desperately needed to feel safe. I had been an unwanted child; almost aborted it turns out).
Yet in retrospect, I remembered that my dad was the one who held my head while I was throwing up, carried me in his arms when I fell asleep after a long car trip. My father took me to the hospital, the circus, read to us at night, helped his children climb the circular stairs of the Statue of Liberty, bought me my first prayer book when I chose to become Episcopalian, told me that when he prayed it was always to Mary…
It didn’t help that my mother and her family kept her children away from my father’s Italian family. We grew up with cousins, aunts and uncles we barely knew. My mother despised Catholics and Italians and made no secret of it (why did she marry one?). My little brother and I knew enough not to cross her, and sadly, aligned ourselves with our mother although secretly we never shared her beliefs. When my brother killed himself (‘myself’ – I wrote this word first by mistake – gives the reader an idea of how close we were) it was my father who went to see his dead son, who made every necessary arrangement. I stood by him. Helping. My father burned the Navajo Hogan my brother died in, in my parents driveway. I can still remember the smell of burning skins… My mother drove me out of the house at midnight.
The morning after I returned home a pure white dove appeared on the ground along with the other mourning doves I routinely fed outside the window. A white dove? I had never seen one before. I had the uncanny sense that my father was trying to communicate with me through that bird, perhaps an aspect of Mary? The dove stayed only one day, leaving me, if possible, more bereft when s/he left…
When I spoke to my uncle Alex, my dad’s only surviving brother, he told me another even more incredible story. He was eating pasta one night when he bit into something hard. When he pulled the object out of his mouth it was a tiny white stone dove. We had been in the process of planning a Memorial service for my dad just before this happened. The seemingly miraculous presence of the dove sealed the rightness of what we were doing, although personally I had never had doubts and either had my aunt and uncle.
As soon as my father was cremated and his ashes returned, my mother pawned them off on one of my sons who promptly gave them to me. No one wanted them.
The Memorial service would be held in two months time. I called my mother to invite her. She screamed “you selfish girl” and I hung up. My father adored his two grandchildren. When I contacted my sons and they informed me they would not attend the Memorial service either I was sickened. I knew from personal experience the dark power of my mother’s ability to influence young people in a negative way. My children, who loved their grandfather deeply, were making a horrible mistake that they would come to regret for the rest of their lives if they ever woke up, and I knew it.
Meanwhile, I placed the ashes on a table where shafts of light lit up the plain brown box almost all day long…My father loved the sun. The little prayer book that he had given me found its way to the top of the box. I kept it open to a passage that I poured over and over during my two- month vigil … “ in my father’s house there are many mansions…”
I cleared a place within a copse of cedars for my dad’s ashes, dug a hole before it became impossible to do so…It was still November…I spent thanksgiving alone except for the beavers who I had been visiting all along until the week before when thick ice froze over the stream. Oh, how I missed the beavers; it was like losing my dad again… by then I understood (on one level) why I had the dream about my dad becoming a beaver when he died. He was a man who got things done, a doer just like the beavers; even in his spare time he was always busy building something (To this day when I think of my father I also think of beavers).
That thanksgiving morning it dawned frigid and clear. I took a crowbar down to the stream, punching a big hole in the ice. Then I sawed up a few poplars and stuffed them into the black water. My thanksgiving gift to the beavers, an offering to my dead father…
The next morning, I raced down the hill to see if the beavers had accepted their thanksgiving feast. The fresh poplars were gone, and a solid sheet of ice covered the open water.
On January 9th, two months after my father’s death, I met with my Aunt and Uncle and their son Billy and we honored my dad’s life as a family….
When I returned to Maine after the Memorial service, I immediately dug through mountains of snow to place my dad’s ashes in the earth.
The ordeal was over; I could hardly believe it… Peace that literally ‘passes all understanding’ flowed through me like the purest water as I felt my father’s spirit join me in that snowy cedar grove. My father taught me a lesson that I would never forget:
Funerals are not just for the living; they bring peace to the dead.
*** I am editing the sentence where I am visiting my father in the hospital when a mourning dove SLAMS into my bedroom window and somehow survives; stunned, the bird flies away unharmed as I race out thinking it has to be dead. Every – living – thing, virtually every – thing is connected within and beyond space/time. The ultimate “both and”.
A few words on transmutation:
In biology, transmutation occurs when one species change into another by the process of evolution.
Another way it might occur is by nuclear transmutation. Some studies show that it occurs within living organisms.
If Einstein’s thesis is true, namely that energy is neither created or destroyed; it simply changes from one form to another then my experience reinforces what we already know – Transmutation is real and true. All Life Occurs in the Round.
Sara is a naturalist, ethologist (a person who studies animals in their natural habitats) (former) Jungian Pattern Analyst, and a writer. She publishes her work regularly in a number of different venues and is presently living in Maine.