I was fortunate in that Mark always said when he died at age 120, he wanted to be scattered into the Atlantic at Newport, RI. Although he unfortunately died much sooner at 48, his final resting place was one decision I didn’t have to make. And since he died on Halloween, I didn’t have to act right away, giving me time to focus on other things like Christmas coming,…and remembering to wash my hair.
Nothing in life prepares you for picking up your loved one’s ashes at a funeral parlor. I’m not quite sure why I thought that would be Just Another Errand on my list for the day, but when they put that ominous box in my arms my mental strength reserves depleted to nothingness. As I sat in the car, unable to drive unless it was deliberately into oncoming traffic, the CD I’d just bought kicked on. The words to Pete Yorn’s ‘Come Back Home’ jolted thru my despair: “And you know you’re hard enough; And you find you’re strong enough; And you feel you’re strong enough.”
I made it home and put the ashes at the bottom of my closet where they rested for the next eight months. I peeked inside just once because I wanted to bring some to a few local spots and also give some to each of Mark’s parents. Again, nothing in life prepares you for what cremated human remains look like…I wasn’t sure I was going to be up to the final scattering moment. But I still had time, so I closed the box and pushed it where I couldn’t see it all the time.
Some months later, I took Mark’s two boys and my two girls back over to Newport for one last summer vacation, partly to scatter the ashes, partly to let them have their fun ritual one last time. When it came down to the very last day and the ashes were still sitting there, I told the kids, “This is it, so who’s with me?” None of them wanted to accompany me, and I didn’t feel right forcing the issue.
I left the kids at the condo and drove out to the spot I’d selected across from Brenton Point Park [should you ever find yourself on Ocean Drive in Newport]. I climbed out the rocks and opened the box after all these months. FYI, should you find yourself in this same position, remember to check the wind direction. Like in ‘The Big Lebowski?’ you need to stand upwind. [“Just because we’re bereaved, doesn’t make us saps!”] After having ashes blow back on me, I shifted directions and completed my obligation. When the last speck of Mark pixie dust was gone for good, I reached a new low point in an ongoing rocky journey through uncharted widowhood waters.
If I thought picking up the ashes eight months ago was hard, NOW I was ready to give up, having been tested enough, thanks. The vast Atlantic before me was looking pretty good, if I could just swim somewhere to safety from the weight of the world that had placed upon my unworthy shoulders. Then I remembered that I didn’t believe in destiny and master plans, so no one was testing me but Fuck-it-all-anyway, I’m-outta-here. No one was there to shore me up afterwards; no one to maybe make this surreal moment a little easier. I lost my soft landing place eight months ago, the person who always made things right for me when he chimed in with “Now, Love, it’s not as bad as you think because…”
Just as I got into the car, a Newport-based friend rang my phone about our intended dinner that night, and I spilled my guts like a crazy person. A survivor of the same cancer [we actually found her on-line], Kendra talked me down from my personal clock-tower with the wisdom of a cancer survivor and the support of a friend. And I remembered Mark’s constant refrain, “It is what it is.”
I dusted myself off, literally and figuratively, squared my shoulders and just kept on livin.’
“Life is not what it’s supposed to be. It’s what it is. The way you cope with it is what makes the difference.” ~Virginia Satir