Where Wendy Resides

Wendy called herself a reupholstered Catholic, saying “you can’t recover it, so reupholster it.” Whereas Erin and her mother would have wanted a mass to mark their passing, Wendy would have been dead set against. So we decided to scatter her ashes in a private, informal ceremony, out on the Nebraska prairie.

The site that we chose, for the scattering and for the memorial service, was the Holy Family Shrine outside of Gretna, Nebraska, not because of any religious significance, but because it was replanted, naturalized prairie, full of wildflowers, standing atop a hill overlookiing the plane below, and surrounded by big sky. Wendy loved all of those things, and captured these in her paintings. She would have liked the place very much.

Ironically, the shrine is run by Catholic volunteers, and holds masses every Saturday, although I don’t believe it’s an official church within the Omaha/Lincoln diocese (I’m sure Erin will correct me if I’m wrong). The place was born out of a collective vision of a number of the founders in the mid 1990s, to build a place of reverence and light, and they certainly accomplished that. The pictures on their website don’t really do them justice. Neither do ours, but we’ll try.


The Holy Family Shrine is located off of a dirt road, within sight of I-80. To get there from Omaha, you get off at exit 432 and turn south past the gas bar to the first dirt road on your right. There’s also a red and white cellphone tower to act as a land mark. You then proceed along the very hilly dirt road until you see it. The driveway is on your right.


This is the first sight you see of the shrine (although you can see it off the interstate) — actually, not really; this picture is shot from the wrong side, but it gives you an idea of what it’s like, set back from the road, an odd-looking structure. But there’s more.


Parking in the parking lot, you follow a path to the visitor’s centre, built underground. The path is lined with prairie wildflowers and is quite nice. You can’t really see the shrine from the parking lot, or get a full sense of it, which is just as well, because this building comes in stages.


Stage one is the visitor’s centre, which is a place of startling serenity. Geothermally cooled in summer, the drop in temperature is a blessing. Although underground, the place is not dark, thanks to the light colourings, the lamps, and a skylight. The centrepiece of this space is this sculpture, representing the shroud of Jesus falling after his resurrection. I’m not sure if it uses pipes or condensation, but a steady trickle of water runs down the metal, and drips into a small pond. A small channel of water leads the visitors to stage two.


Stepping out from the visitor’s centre, you enter the rock garden and collenade. The water feature continues, although this section is a separate system powered by a recirculator pump. The sound of water flowing is louder, now, as you walk among the plantings.


A picture of the water feature, looking back to the visitors’ centre.


Some of the wildflowers en route.


All of this is simply a leadup to the centrepiece: the shrine itself.


You’re not seeing things: Holy Family Shrine is made almost entirely out of glass, with the thinnest hardwood and iron support possible. From it, you can see everything for miles around, including incoming storms. It’s already been knocked down by a windstorm once, during construction, and was said to be strengthened. The water feature continues, again a separate system, beneath the floor, with holes beside the pools, and a final pool before the altar area. You hear the trickle of water throughout the place, which is also geothermally cooled, and very pleasant.


A shot of some of the roof structure.


This is a shot of the shrine from where we scattered Wendy’s ashes. This shrine is still in its early stages. There are plans for a pathway leading to the stations of the cross, and residences for a retreat. This is what they’ve managed to build in about eight years, however, with just volunteer labour and fundraising.


Another view from the same shot as above.


Wendy’s Sunlit Pampas Grass, which we hope to donate to the visitors’ centre.


Real grass found at the site.

Like a Band of Gypsies Running Down the Highway

Willie Nelson was one of Wendy’s favourite singers, which I suspect she liked partly for its camp value, as well as for its honest simplicity. Whenever she and Erin would hit the road together, she would always put on a tape of Willie singing On the Road Again. Her parents always tell how, when she was four, she’d always sing along and “improve” upon the lyrics, like “like a band of gypsies running down the highway” instead of Willie’s “like a band of gypsies, we go down the highway.”

As a result, when Wendy’s mother set up the memorial service, she had Lars’ brother Phil (a professional cellist) play four classical pieces from Bach (which Wendy also liked), but for the recessional she had someone press PLAY on a tape-deck with Willie’s tape all cued up. We left the shrine to On the Road Again. It was Wendy’s signature tune.

Before we headed back, Erin and I stopped off at Borders and purchased a three-disk set of a lot of Willie’s hits, including On the Road Again. It’s fun music to sing along with, even though there’s sometimes crying involved too, now. I suspect I’m going to be hearing a lot of this man for years to come.

Good thing Willie’s easy to listen to.

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