Before last week, I’d always thought funerary ashes were something to scatter – at a beloved place – not something to ever keep. The very idea of having someone’s ashes nearby, or in my home seemed, well, unpleasant. Beyond the obvious, there was a sort of ‘out of fashion” feeling to the idea. In fact I got a lot of laughs out of the scene from the film “Meet the Parents” where the uptight character played by Robert DiNiro reads an ode to his mother. As the family gazes up to the mantel, her ashes ensconced in an urn, there is a shade of the misguided or even perverse in the moment of filial intimacy. (What happens next is really taboo, and will probably either offend you or amuse you).
Still, the message came last week and hit me quick – I was being shipped a portion of my father’s ashes. My sisters already knew what they would do with their packets of ash, arriving via USPS in a cardboard mailer. They would take them to special places…Colorado…California…places of beauty and places of good memories with him. I loved it. Yet I felt anxious and uneasy about my own decision. My Dad traveled far and wide, for business and for fun. He tried everything he wanted to do – from piloting a glider alongside a hawk, to teaching and mentoring business school students, to living fully and completely until complications from Alzheimer’s took his mortal life.
I clenched my fists and tried to fathom it. Ashes. How weird.
As I contemplated what place I’d been the happiest with my Dad, it wasn’t in my home state of North Carolina. I knew the best moment of my time with my Dad – hands down. Though, as it was considered, it turns out there were many to think over and choose from. The best memory was a ski lift, and a powdery breeze on a sunny day, pines and the cleanest air in our lungs, runs that smoothed and bounced us a little and made us wide and peaceful; silent and peaceful and happy. Together.
That run called “Harriet’s Hollow” was the place our finest daughter and father connection lived. Yet as I contemplated going there, or maybe paying a pilot to fly there, I knew I was on the wrong track. What if it rained the day I went? How could I trust a pilot if I wasn’t going to be there? I knew that even when we try and go back we cannot, as the river is never the same twice. Add to that the pace of modern change, and the way that newness brings intensity and at times anxiety to our world. How could I make a day in 2015 compare to that one fine day possibly a decade ago? The day I had with my Dad and skied the best ever, no worries or bumps or spills. Just smooth sailing. I knew trying to recreate that was not possible and possibly could disappoint me.
As it turns out, after some thinking, I understand now that I want to be nearer to the ashes. Nearer! Surprise. Now they are something more personal, something not abstract. And, they are a sacred substance to me. And now I get it – I understand that they are not him. As my partner Daniel put it, that is not him, it is the ashes of a fire that consumed him. What a beautiful way to say it. My father’s ashes.
My father’s ashes are here now in my home, in a special box that stands on end and looks like an old fashioned, fascinating book. I put a picture of it up at the top of the blog. On the book shelf where this book sits, I have my journal, and my daily reader, and a box he once received that had his name inscribed. It’s a way of remembering this month of my life in 2015, when the ashes came, and where I came to know and understand even more what it means to me to be my father’s daughter.
God bless my Dad, may he rest in peace.