Scattering Susan Keegan’s Ashes

David and I scattered a small vial of Susan Keegan’s ashes on Sunday, in the northern part of Manhattan’s Central Park. Some of them came to rest on a hillside overlooking Turtle Pond, others mingled in the waterfall of the North Woods Ravine and were carried downstream.

It seemed like the right place and the right time to do it. Susan had been there before, on her last visit to New York City. Our husbands, David Elsasser and Peter Keegan, had joined us on a warm August evening in 2010 for an outdoor theatrical production of Richard III. Free and offbeat, it was one of those only-in-New-York summer events. Before a crowd of perhaps 250, a professional cast enacted each scene, then dashed to a new location, with audience members following briskly behind, to act in the next one.

That patch of park is near our Upper West Side apartment — in the vibrating heart of the city my cousin Susan so loved, and yet it is peaceful, in the unique way that an urban park can be peaceful. Susan had a passion for Shakespeare, tragedies, histories and comedies alike, and the makeshift stage can now be a place for remembrance.

It won’t be her only resting place. A number of other close friends and family members long ago created their own memorials with her ashes.

But it was only when law enforcement officers called Susan’s death a homicide last week that we felt ready. The Ukiah community is beginning to get answers to questions that have lingered since the healthy, 55-year-old woman died suddenly in her home almost two years ago. Justice seems possible. We have something to celebrate.

Naturally, we brought appropriate food for our ritual, as Susan would have insisted. We had her favorites, rye bread, smoked salmon and herring in white wine. They were all from Zabar’s, the store she always hit first when she landed on New York soil. Despite her family heritage, Susan didn’t have a lot of Jewish tradition left in her life, but food ties run deep and she still loved “appetizing” (which the ever-helpful Wikipedia defines as “foods one eats with bagels”).

With another summer coming to a close, our backyard park remains a cultural oasis. As we set up our private little ceremony, African drummers and bedecked dancers provided entertainment in the distance. Their beat was rhythmic, their dancing hypnotic. It was a serendipitous catch of a late August weekend, just the kind of thing Susan loved to stumble across when she came to town.

David read several poems, powerful expressions of the loss, sorrow and frustration so many of us have experienced over the past two years. I don’t do his work justice with these brief excerpts, but some lines linger with me:

Searching for Susan

You, most solid friend who stood behind

And steadied wobbly leanings for so long.

I guess it’s our turn, now…

we will be your stepping stones

through sun and moonlight’s stream

so you may hop among us as you please

in thought and dream.

 

We Are Sorry for This Delay

The anguished season of suspense stalls

Like a crowded subway train…

yet somehow we still trust our ride

will haul us to the station up ahead

that doors will open and we’ll go our way

where all the journey’s trials will fade like mist

in daylight’s exposition of things just.

And finally, as we scattered Susan’s ashes, David read

Spectrum:

I watch ash starlight white

combined spectrum

of the rainbow you were

filter through fingers into earth.

It was a great comfort to release those ashes, which were of course Susan, and so not Susan. I have not yet scattered them all. I am still waiting for the right moment to do that.

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