My first out-of-town adventure in this new rootless life of mine was going to be a pilgrimage to dispose of Jeff’s ashes. (For those of you who are new to this blog, Jeff was my life mate/soul mate who died five years ago, catapulting me out of our shared life and into a life of accepting whatever comes my way.) I’d been taking care of my nonagenarian father, but now that he’s gone, too, my stuff is in storage. And, I am appalled to admit, so are Jeff’s ashes.
It’s past time for me to dispose of those cremains (as the funeral industry do quaintly calls them), but I don’t know quite where to release the ashes. Disposing of them is more a matter of myth and ritual than reality. I know he is gone and that they have nothing to do with him or his life, but they are his last earthly remains, the inorganic part of his body that was left behind when he was cremated.
I’d planned to take the ashes to northern California when I went to visit a friend, to scatter them in the ocean near the Redwood Forest because he loved both water and trees, but since neither of us had ever been there, it seems wrong, somehow. Disposing of this last vestige of his life should feel right to me —- I am the one left to deal with his goneness. But I don’t feel right about any of it. I don’t feel right about his being gone, though when I subtract him out of the equation of my life, I’m fine. Happy even. I certainly don’t feel right about keeping his remains in a rented storage unit, but they’ve been there five weeks already, so I don’t suppose it matters if they are there a while longer.
People tell me I will know when the time is right, and this time does feel right. It’s the place that confuses me. Do I take him out to the desert on a windy day and let him go where he wishes? Do I take him back to Colorado, back to the creek where we talked about our future, or maybe back to where we lived? Do I take him to Minocqua where he’d dreamed of opening a mom-and-pop store on the lake? But oh! He’d feel so far away. As if he isn’t already so far from me.
In the days after Jeff’s death, a minister friend advised me to save some of the cremains, which was good advice. I’d never planned to keep them but having them with me brought me comfort. But I don’t feel right about keeping some and getting rid of the rest. It would feel so . . . scattered.
Though I have his ashes with me, it feels as if I left him in Colorado. I left his car there. (I donated it to hospice.) I think I would feel better if his ashes were there, too, for no other reason than that is where I picture him. We never talked about what to do with his ashes, but once when I mentioned I was considering taking them to the North Fork a mile or two from where we lived, his eyes lit up.
It will be a while before I get back to Colorado — I have a dance performance coming up, housesitting jobs, and a New Years resolution to keep. (I promised an online friend — my first and staunchest fan! — that we would meet this year for sure, so with or without Jeff’s ashes, I’ll be heading for northern California first chance I get.)
I never thought it would be hard to scatter his ashes — after all, they are doing no earthly good sitting in a storage unit — and now I realize it’s going to be immensely difficult, that final letting go.
But it has to be done. Doesn’t it?
(Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.”)
May 18, 2015 at 12:15 pm
So brave, Pat! Maybe the desert, or the once remembered happy place is best for the cremains. My d-I-L her sister and mother took Papa back to the Okefenokee swamp–the place he wanted to go–about 5 years after he’d died. They too couldn’t quite do the task until something clicked over in their collective mind. All the best!
May 18, 2015 at 1:52 pm
If you feel it’s necessary, Pat, then it is. Maybe you should spread them somewhere beautiful and scenic. Even if Jeff has never been there, I’m sure he’d appreciate knowing his ashes are in a place where they can contribute to the soil of a beautiful place.
May 18, 2015 at 2:26 pm
Pat, you have some time before you decide about the ashes. Just relax and go with the flow. An answer will come. I’m thinking and praying for you.
May 18, 2015 at 3:14 pm
I’m so very glad this is one decision I won’t be forced to make. Having a dear, dear younger brother and ‘sis-in love’, who are also co-executors of my estate, are going to abide by my wishes. That is to ‘mix’ the ashes of my darling husband and those of my precious son along with mine. I have assured him that whatever decision he makes will be fine with me. . . We won’t be there anyway. (“To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord.”)
I so wish you continued happiness in your future endeavors whatever they may be, and the certainty of heart that whatever decision you make concerning the disposition of Jeff’s ashes, will be the right one for you. . .
May 18, 2015 at 4:17 pm
Perhaps bring them along when you come up. If it’s not right, you’ve lost nothing but if it is right then you’re prepared. I’m not a good one to even give advice since my views on the cremains are still the same as what I taught my children years ago when they asked what happened when someone died, why we had cemeteries, etc. I told them it made people feel better to take care of the body but that I believed it was rather like a can of soup. Once the soup is gone it’s just the can left. I don’t attach any importance to the can.
But having said that I’ve asked that whoever deals with my body to cremate it and return my ashes to the sea since I believe we all spring from the sea. That’s mostly because I don’t think land should be taken up storing my ‘can’ once my soup is gone. 😀
Looking forward to seeing you in June. Hugs girl.
May 18, 2015 at 5:10 pm
I’m sure you can hear Jeff’s voice in your heart of hearts… all you have to do is listen to what you think he’d want. Blessings and best wishes to you.
May 18, 2015 at 6:46 pm
Where he considered Home.
Or, a beautiful place in CO like where my brother requested his ashes to be put. He called it “GOD’s Country”. Had directions. Found it. An area in Wolf”s Pass. When I saw it, It was what he said. Awesome! I can stll visualize it.
If you would like the directions, just let me know.
Follow your heart.
May 18, 2015 at 7:56 pm
My dear, sweet Richard is still residing in the box inside a red velvet bag (provided by the mortuary) in my bedroom. I thought I would taken him to Colorado soon after he died. But I found that I could yet part with his ashes. When I feel the time is right I will take him to Colorado to be scattered beneath the tree where we were married. That was his wish. I want to be scattered in the Caribbean. I know you will decide what is right when the time comes.
May 20, 2015 at 10:00 am
It’s hard parting with the ashes. It’s the final connection we have with our loved one, the last thing we can ever do for him. Right now it’s more a way of finding a place for it in my mind, though no matter where I dump the ashes, I suppose I will always feel as if he’s back in Colorado.
May 21, 2015 at 12:15 pm
“It’s hard parting with the ashes. It’s the final connection we have with our loved one, the last thing we can ever do for him” (Or in my case, ‘them’.)
Even being a devoted Christian doesn’t exempt one from the earthly pain and heartache of letting go of those they cherished and loved so much. The reason I still have their ashes and want mine added to them. . . the last ‘earthly’ thing I can do.
May 19, 2015 at 5:14 am
A friend of mine lost her beloved brother much too soon. They are a very close knit family, and often travel and vacation together. Wherever they travel, they take a few spoonfuls of the missing brother’s ashes and scatter them wherever they go. In that way, he still travels with them, and is present on all their new adventures. It gives them the opportunity to talk about him, to remember him, and to acknowledge that he will always be an important part of their lives. For them, it’s not that their scattering parts of him in many places; it’s that they are adding him to all the memories and fun they are having, living the life he never got to have.
May 20, 2015 at 9:56 am
Funny – that was what I originally intended to do. I no longer remember why I decided not to – maybe because I planned to take off on foot and didn’t want the extra weight. I’m going to reconsider this idea. Thank you!
May 19, 2015 at 8:45 am
Maybe you don’t know where he should go because he still wants to stay with you!
May 20, 2015 at 9:53 am
Good point. Something to think about…
May 22, 2015 at 1:39 am
I know your struggle, as I lost both of my parent awhile back…. I am thinking for my dad I wll go to a place that I know I will have access to for a long long time ( like a park, or land owned by my family ) and then I will choose a tree and take it there, dig a hole, dump his ashes and then plant the tree. I guess it is great for us in many ways, ecologicaly, sentimentally, and financially. As for my Mom I have decided to put her ashes in a ballon and just send her off into the wind… Kind of fitting now that she is free from all the pain.Then each year on the on the day of her death ( or her birthday, can’t quit decide ) I will write her a letter, place it in a ballon and send it up into the wind as well.