by Sybil Sage
My brother, at the age of 79 and suffering with a number of serious conditions, had just gone into hospice and was savoring the tiny bite of pasta I’d twirled onto a plastic fork and put into his mouth. “What kind of spaghetti is this?” he asked. “It’s spaghetti to die for,” I answered.
It was an unlikely time to be laughing; I’m not sure which of us was most surprised.
“Let’s make these days as much fun as possible,” I said. And we did.
I interviewed him with the intention of reading his reflections at his funeral. After a moment of hesitation, he loved recalling his fondest moments and expressing his feelings to those he knew he would never see again. We sang together.
“These last memories of you are the best I will take with me,” he said, squeezing my hand. My jokes were an anti-depressant whose only side effects were forging a relationship that for decades had eluded us. He confided that he expected to rejoin our parents. “I’m thinking about what I want Mama to cook for me.”
My brother, the real estate lawyer who’d always been grounded and skeptical, believed he was going somewhere. “What do you want her to cook?” I asked.
“For one thing, gefilte fish.”
“I’ve got bad news for you,” I told him. “I have her grinder.” Again we laughed. Tears would follow, but I succeeded in using what little time we had to enjoy each other.
Each time I’ve lost a loved one, I’ve been reminded how important it is to find coping mechanisms. I found that looking at photos was comforting. That’s why I set out to find a way of embedding photos into the mosaic art I had been doing. I was determined to transform an ordinary cremation urn into a uniquely personal “creation urn” that celebrates a life. It would be attractive enough to be displayed in the home. This process, like the experience I had with my brother, is a way of staring death in the face and introducing an element of resiliency. Working in the French style known as pique assiette, I carefully nip plates, treating the tiny pieces like paint. Each mosaic piece I do is one of a kind. The photos and text are protected by glass. Different grout colors enhance the design. I enjoy including surprising elements – glass gems, words, and themes.
The first petURNity I designed was for Cinnamon. I collaborated with the owner, who asked that the colors be compatible with their sofa. The process felt therapeutic, which had been my hope. The dog’s name is spelled out in alphabet beads and her tags make the piece lifelike.
“I feel that Max is back with me,” was the response I got when I presented this urn to Max’s owner, whose cat had just died. “It’s as if he’s looking out at me,” she said, stroking the urn. I almost expected to hear purring. Memorializing a pet is gratifying.
I was very honored, though, when a woman who’d had a stillborn contacted me. “All I have are her tiny footprints, but I want one of your urns.” I suggested she write her loving feelings and I would include them with the footprints. I worked around the clock so she would have the urn by Mother’s Day as I knew that would be hard for her. Lucy’s footprints and some of the text.
“How would you feel about my doing an urn for us?” I asked my husband and our grown son. When they agreed, I nipped our own dinnerware so the urn would look like the dinner table. Our son, to whom this will go, will be reminded that we enjoyed life and feel uplifted by that. The etURNity that awaits us:
Above are some close-ups showing photos and text in other urns.
Sybil Sage sitting on a bench she designed.
About the Artist: Sybil Sage has had a successful career as a comedy writer, freelancing and being on the staff of many situation comedies. She also writes humor pieces for magazines and is working on a book about loss, recognizing that loss can be a growth experience and has often forced her into a better direction. Sybil’s encore career as a mosaic artist provides her with a creative and original way of confronting the final loss. She is proud of being able to design a loving tribute that’s personal, not the generic “loving son, daughter” Collaborating with her clients has proven to be a joy. Visit her website, Sybil Sage!, to inquire about a memorial mosaic.