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.

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8 Comments on “Ashes To Ashes”

  1. cigalechanta Says:

    I put my husbands ashes in two containers, one a an antique pitcher with a lead pouring cap in my bedroom,, the other in a Provencal terra cotter capped urn in the living room on the book shelf there was so much ashes that some I scathered in our small garden. the rest to be scathered in N.H at his family’s summer place that he loved. the hole in the heart will remain, mine almost 8 years

    I try to be the kind of person my dog thinks I am. Date: Sun, 9 Nov 2014 02:27:07 +0000 To:

  2. Your comment “A person leaves behind a surprising amount of physical residue, and it’s heavy” made me laugh. When my mother passed, my father, brother, and one of my sons made a pilgrimage up to Kelowna where my mother grew up. We stopped along the way to spread ashes at places that had meant something to her: our family cabin, some camping spots along the Hope-Princeton highway, and others.

    By the time we made it to Kelowna and spread ashes at all the appropriate places, we were amazed to find we still had about 1/2 the ashes left! We started spreading more, and getting creative with the places we were spreading. In the end we decided that mom would have found it all quite amusing, and that the important thing that resulted from the experience was the four of us spending time together.

    I’m sure Shel is chuckling at the time and thought you put into this. Thank you for sharing.

  3. Linne Stringer Says:

    What wonderful words. You are such a wonderful writer.
    When we scattered my Dads ashes we were lucky enough to have his ashes half mixed with the roots of the oldest tree in England. (800 and still going) and then the other half with one of the rare saplings from this oak. Only the Queen and prince Phillip have saplings harvested in their honor. My Dad was a forester his whole life.
    It’s a great place to honor him.
    So finding those places that Shel was the strongest in his spirit are the best and most meaningful to honor him. Knowing you can look out to your waterfront and know that some of his essence will be in the life that continues. These places are for our memories and lasting connections.

  4. Barry Twyman Says:

    We have Patricias’ Mothers cremation Wednesday . Her ashes will be placed on the Family Tomb in a granite urn . It was her wish . I must write down my preference for disposal of my ashes to save Patou the problems encountered by so many families . I wanted a Natural Burial , but it isn’t allowed in France .

  5. Lucy Says:

    Wishing I could hug you now.

  6. Silvia Carry Says:

    We scattered my mother’s ashes in the ocean where she loved to swim. My brother got a friend to sail him (and the ashes) to the spot she had chosen and that’s where they were dropped. There was a ceremony ( we are Buddhists).
    Same thing with my grandmother’s ashes, she too wanted the ocean.
    I definitely want to be cremated and made my wishes known in no uncertain terms. My father was buried in the family plot.
    In my mind there is something beautiful about being cremated. And I have no preference as to where my ashes go, but will think about it and save the family the heartbreak of the decision.

  7. This was a gorgeous post. Thinking of you from Rodez, Aveyron.

  8. Michel Says:

    Beautiful. Loving thoughts from all of us here in NYC (now 3).

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