The place: Canada. The destination: Barbados. The timeline: the night before departure.
I lugged my over-sized blue suitcase up the stairs from the basement. I’m pretty sure everything I need I can fit into hand luggage.
- Passport? Check.
- Swimsuit? Check.
- Camera? Check.
- Ashes? Debate.
The day I collected my late-husband’s ashes from the funeral home, the Director handed me an envelope.
“What’s this?” I inquired.
“If you choose to scatter your husband’s ashes, this letter will allow you to take them on the plane.”
I hadn’t thought about taking his ashes abroad. The only places I had considered for scattering where places close to home. Even then, any time I thought about leaving the grey flecks of Neil’s abandoned, cremated shell behind, I felt hollow about it. My husband was not in his ashes. There was no soul in them, no spirit. I feared scattering his ashes would feel like casting emptiness into the wind.
In uncomfortable or intense situations, I tend to think strange and funny thoughts. I have no intention of being disrespectful. It is the way my mind copse. Jokes off-set heaviness. Humour maintains equilibrium. As I thought about packing I imagined trying to lug the heavy, industrial, black container that held my husband’s ashes, through security. What if security thinks I am smuggling drugs? Next, thoughts about my husband getting a free ride on the plane made me laugh. Then, I pictured him strapped into the seat next to mine, the container labeled with a Brother P name-tag sticker. Hello. My name is Neil. I imagined the airline steward telling me to put the box in the overhead bin. What would I say? How could I put my late-husband up there? Maybe I could carry the ashes in my handbag, or disguise them in gift wrapping so passengers wouldn’t suspect my morbidity.
About six months ago I stumbled upon a movie called Bonneville, starring Jessica Lange, Kathy Bates, and Joan Allen. The movie was about a widow (Lange) who promised to return her late-husband’s ashes to his daughter (her step-daughter.) She embarks on a road trip with two of her closest friends. Along the way they detour to destinations that hold fond memories of places she and her husband had visited. At each spot she finds herself inspired to scatter her husband’s remains.
The idea of scattering in locations of significance was idyllic to me, romantic even, but the perfection of the idea remained only in my head. What moved any individual, in any movie I had ever seen that depicted the ritual of scattering, was a connection to the departed, even in their ashes. That was a connection I just didn’t have. I didn’t think of his ashes as sacred. They were not my husband. They were only ash.
Plus, I was going on vacation. I planned to leave all reminders of my messy year behind me. I would step off the plane into a new and sunny holiday.
But, what if? What if I got to Barbados and changed my mind? What if I suddenly had the urge to scatter his remains? What if I regretted the decision to leave the ashes at home when I could, in this moment, choose to bring them with me just in case?
I don’t often ask what if when looking back. That past is behind me. History is written. It can not be undone. But the future is open, and full of opportunities and intriguing possibilities.
I open the black ashes container, and pour some of them into a zip lock bag. No, that doesn’t look like it’s enough, I think. I pour out some more. That should do it. What if the baggie opens? I find a mason jar. I put the baggie inside and screw the cap on tight. I think about mod podging the jar with tissue paper to make it look more…festive? special? The peeling spaghetti label doesn’t seem appropriate, but there is no time to fix the jar now. I will soon be heading out the door.
I pack the remains in my carry on luggage, while the phrase family vacation runs through my head.
I review my packing list. Ashes? Check.
Onward bound to Barbados we go.
To be continued…