I’m waiting for the ashes…or, as the mortuary says, “the remains.” I like ashes better. The ashes of mourning. The ashes symbolizing a move into a new life. It’s hard to wrap your mind around it though, that a once vibrant human is reduced to a pile of gritty ash and bone. It is just the body, the vessel, the container–and now that vessel will be contained within a vessel, an urn to be deposited in the earth. Which seems odd, too. To take an urn of ashes and place them in the ground at the tune of $1,500.
A friend told me last week she still had her mother in an urn on a side table in the living room. Another friend said her father had been in an urn in the bedroom for six years. (Which reminds me of the scene in Meet the Parents when the cat knocks the urn — was it grandmother ?– off the mantle and then uses the ashes as a litter box. It’s a hilarious irreverent scene.)
It’s important for me that our family gathers at my father’s grave and bury mom next to him. It feels like we will be completing a circle, long needing to be closed. Dust to dust, returning to the earth. But in an urn? A family member suggested we save the $1,500 and go to the gravesite and just sprinkle her ashes over dad’s grave.
It wouldn’t be the same for me. And besides, you have to have permits to bury ashes or sprinkle ashes. But who would know if you climbed a mountain or sat by a river, or threw them overboard off a sailboat. A sailor friend sprinkled his parents’ ashes into the ocean near San Diego. He sent me photos of the kaleidoscope of color his mother’s ashes made as they swirled toward the bottom of the ocean.
In Seattle, so many people were throwing ashes off the side of the ferries that passengers were complaining that the ashes were blowing back into their eyes. Now people can request that the ferry stop so they can dump their loved ones remains into Puget Sound without blowback. It sounds like a made-up story, but I think it’s true.
I asked that the crematorium keep a few of mom’s ashes separate from the ones in the urn, which is actually a plastic bag inside a black plastic box. We have to buy the urn. I want to throw a small portion into the Sound, not off the side of a ferry, but when we go sailing around the San Juan Islands in September. We’ve chartered a boat called the Morning Light. For some reason I never told mom we had scheduled the trip. I thought she might still be here. She would have loved to know we were finally going sailing.
Last year we told her we wanted to charter a boat and she told me sailing was in my blood. She just assumed so because she loved to sail. She and my dad owned a sailboat and I was onboard before I could walk, but then dad died and she sold the sailboat. After that she took cruises, once around the world for four months with my stepdad. They didn’t actually sail…it was on some sort of freighter. Another time she took a canal boat through a part of Great Britain with her third husband. She loved the ocean or any body of water.
My DH grew up sailing with his parents. Every weekend, instead of yardwork, they sailed. As an adult he sailed in the TransPac from Marina Del Rey to Honolulu and in a race from Los Angeles to Tahiti. He’s had numerous other sailing adventures before he bought a 55-acre orchard in the middle of Washington State.
It’s hard to figure why a sailor would decide to do that, but he did. Maybe it was a reaction to his parents sinking their sailboat, Querida, in Monterey Bay, California, in 1980–with them in the boat. They agreed years earlier that when they reached 42 years of marriage they would sail off into the sunset together. His dad had a stroke and didn’t want to be in a nursing home. Mom simply didn’t want to be left without her husband.
DH and his brother had no ashes to toss into the wind off a sailboat. His parents remains are at the bottom of the bay. Some might say, well, what’s the difference. There’s a big difference. One being lack of control. Which is actually what his parents wanted–for no one else to have control. They are together as they wanted.
Mom and my dad didn’t have the same kind of love affair as DH’s parents. But the last year of their 13-year marriage, after I was born, they were in love. “Just when things were getting good, he died,” she would always say. She remarried and had a full life, but there was always a wistfulness and deep sadness that he left us so soon.
It’s time for her to be by his side, even if it’s only symbolically. I’m just certain that they are in heaven in new bodies, dancing to the tune of Tommy Dorsey.
We are left with the remains.