Ashes To Ashes
For the past seven months Shel’s ashes have rested in my closet. I didn’t know what to do with them, but the closet didn’t seem to be really the thing. Today, getting ready to go back to France, they were on my mind.
I’d already decided to take some with me to France and scatter them there, and I thought I’d keep some for myself in a little faiënce pot Shel bought me about 15 years ago in Moustiers Ste. Marie. Beyond that, I had no idea.
But today I was cleaning out a lot of Shel’s stuff, making space for the person who will be living in our house while I’m away, and it struck me that I shouldn’t just go off and leave Shel’s ashes in the closet with a total stranger. I decided, just like that, to scatter his ashes today.
I made a little urn to take some to France, and set aside small pots of ashes for myself and for Eric. I scooped them out with a kitchen spoon, in case you were wondering. And yes, I’m going to wash that spoon and return it to service.
That all barely used up any of the ashes. A person leaves behind a surprising amount of physical residue, and it’s heavy. I carried the box up to the garden and spread some around, thinking that rain would wash them down to the roots of the plants that will bloom so beautifully when I return in the Spring. But the ashes looked so starkly grey against the lush autumn soil that I felt compelled to cover them all with dirt, a little burial.
And then I waited. I waited for the tide to be higher, for the tide to be lower. I wondered whether I should put the rest of Shel in the water on a rising or an ebbing tide, washing toward or away from Seattle. I wondered whether I should really instead scatter them in deeper water, from a ferry in the middle of the Sound. I waited for the answer to these, and other, questions. Questions like: do the ashes bear any relation to the person? Would Shel be nearer or farther from me once his ashes washed away? Would the ashes wash into our oyster bed?
And finally I came to know that I wanted the ashes right in this water, not deeper water, but right here in the water that I see every day, so that whenever I look out I’ll know that a tiny part of him is there. And that I wanted to scatter them when the tide was right up high, so that a bit of Shel would stay as near to the house as possible.
So when the sky and the water were pink and violet with sunset, rare after so many days of rain, Toby and I went down to the beach. We stepped across the concrete pad at the bottom of the stairs, where Shel’s and my names were inscribed in a heart in the wet concrete. We went right down to the water, which had risen up to where I stood against the bulkhead and could come no higher. I put the ashes gently into that water and watched while it turned to milk. The white, white water lapped against my feet and Toby jumped up to safety. I watched and I watched, but Shel didn’t wash away. As long as there was light to see, his ashes stayed close to home.