Dateline – Seattle, Washington:We interrupt the accidental plague diaries for an afternoon of travel journaling. Believe me, I would much rather be writing about new and interesting places or people, the rehearsal process for a new show or any of the hundred and one things I would write about in these columns pre-coronavirus. But, as someone much brighter than I once said, write what you know and modern life over the last four months has been pretty much a lurch from one uncertainty to another due to the advance of Covid-19 and, being a physician who is still gainfully employed, it’s impact on myself as an individual, the collective of my friends, family and society, and the world at large became something I could help clarify to others as I attempted to work it all out for myself.
Anyway, I am enjoying my first time off in many months and a trip to be with the family in Seattle. I’m not making my usual rounds as I’m trying to adhere to social distancing, mask use, and all those other little rules of the moment. I have no particular wish to be part of one of those human interest stories that read something like ‘Fourteen family members sickened after welcome home feast’. I’ve been welcomed into my brother’s immediate family bubble, but with everyone else, it’s been distance and masks. Fortunately the weather has been lovely so we have been able to gather outside for the most part. I’ve met friends and family for walks on the beach, glasses of wine in lawn chairs in the yard, coffee on terraces and while it’s a little awkward as everyone tries to determine correct etiquette, even among those who have known each other for forty or fifty years, it all works out in the end.
Today was a bit melancholy, the entire American branch of the Saunders clan gathered at my uncle’s house at Magnolia bluff to bid formal goodbye to my mother. As you may recall, my mother died rather unexpectedly in late January. She had had a serious genetic dementia for some years and was non-communicative and unable to function the last few years of her life. She just didn’t wake up one morning. We wonder if possibly she may have been an early Covid-19 victim as she had had a bit of a cough the week before her death and the disease was spreading silently in the Seattle area at the time. No one thought to look for it then so there is no way of knowing. We had planned a memorial for her in early April here in Seattle, but that was cancelled by the spreading pandemic, so we decided to have a private family gathering to scatter her ashes at the same place as her sister.
When my uncle’s parents died in the 1960s, he took the money he inherited from the sale of their house and bought an undeveloped lot at the base of Magnolia bluff on Puget Sound. Just off shore from the lot was a boulder sitting on the sea bed, a glacial erratic placed there at the end of the last ice age by the retreating glaciers that carved the Sound and its landscape. It may have an official name, but my generation, children at the time, dubbed it Turtle Rock due to it’s resemblance to the shell of a turtle breaking the surface of the waters at high tide. Not much happened at the Turtle Rock property for 25 years or so other than scrambling down the bluff for beach walks or blackberrying in the summer.
Around 1990, my aunt and uncle built a house on the property. It took some doing as the city had forgotten there was an undeveloped lot still on that road and the permitting process was a bit of a chore. He is an expert on Japanese culture and policy and she was an artist with an interest in Asian art forms and the house they built took both Japanese and Northwest design elements and has become quite the gathering place for the clan over time. My aunt died of breast cancer in 2012 and, after her cremation, was scattered at Turtle Rock at the July low tide that summer. We took my mother to join her this morning, eight years to the day later. The group consisting of myself, my uncle, my brother and his family, my sister and her SO, and my two cousins and families who are in town, made our way down the bluff to the tide flats, went wading past the herons, the geoducks, the moon snails, and a mildly curious bald eagle, armed with the ashes, flowers, and a few words of remembrance. It was quite nice. I think she would approve. My father was not up to the climb up and down the hill so watched from the balcony. I haven’t made any specific requests regarding my remains when I die other than cremation. I shan’t be around to either approve or disapprove but I won’t be upset if I end up at Turtle Rock as well.
Talking with various cousins, I kept getting the same question. What do you think comes next. So that will be the subject of the next edition of the Accidental Plague Diaries. Stay tuned to this space for my thoughts on that.