The place: Barbados. The destination: Earthworks Pottery. The timeline: mid-vacation.
My late-husband’s ashes rested in my black leather bag. Every morning I walked on the beach, and in the height of the afternoon sun I swam in the sea. I barely thought about my husband’s remains.
I have a lot of family who live in Barbados. On my last trip to this beautiful island, my husband was with me. We had stayed in the beach house next door to where I am staying now. Strangely, there are few reminders, few intervals of our trip to paradise that connected with my return trip at present. Although we stayed right next door, no room in this new beach house holds memories of my previous trip with him. For that reason, there are no triggers. No reason for me to dwell on his absence. Everything on this trip is new.
Then, my mother suggests we visit Earthworks pottery. Earthworks is a place my husband and I had visited together. Our visit had meant something significant for me because it represented an outlet we enjoyed together. We took mutual pleasure in the art of Earthworks pottery.
On my previous trip, Neil had picked out a delicate hand-made clay bowl that had been decorated as uniquely as Neil was unique. It was one of a kind, rare, like him, and he was proud to participate in my family’s passion for the unparalleled local art.
Until this moment, I had no desire to scatter Neil’s ashes anywhere, but as soon as I pictured the Earthworks studio up high on the hills of Saint Thomas, Barbados, I know this is where I want part of him to be.
It is now the next day. I lift the mason jar containing my husband’s ashes, out from my black leather bag. I move the jar to my every-day bag and run out to the car where the others are waiting. I, like the rest of my family, love visiting the Earthworks studio, but no one knows what else I have in mind; what is truly propelling me off the sandy beach, and into the hills of Saint Thomas.
I have yet to learn how to drive in Barbados, an island of narrow, unmarked roads, where the vehicles drive on the opposite side of the road than how I am used to driving in Canada. My mother navigates us past coloured chattel houses and sugarcane fields, until we reach the hills and I spot the studio on high.
While the others are distracted inside, I lead my daughter by the hand, beneath the shade of tropical trees. I have no idea how to explain to her what we are doing, so I tell her we’re going to do a very special secret, which keeps her voice hushed. We kneel below the green canopy on a place where no one walks, and I am at peace laying his ashes here.
I open the mason jar and remove the baggie that holds the grey flecks of dust. I open the bag and release half the ashes to the ground below. “Ashes to ashes, dust to dust“ is the famous quote from The Book of Common Prayer, that comes to mind. This moment is perfection. I would not change a single thing. I know Neil is not in his ashes, but I realize that this process is still a step in releasing him, honouring him, and embracing freedom through my personal expression of how I will love him, and celebrate his life through his death.
As soon as I start I want to go on. I feel a need to scatter more, but not here. There is a spot on a different part of the island, Barclay Park, a beach in Cattlewash on the East Coast of Barbados. My family and I had stayed in the cottages above the beach many times. After my engagement to Neil he flew to England, and I to Barbados where I stayed at a blue and white cottage called Bit by Bit. We talked on the phone every day, and I always imagined I would show him this place. That opportunity was gone, but I can at least scatter him here, and that is meaningful to me.
Onward bound to Cattlewash we drive. We stop at a side-road convenience store to buy snacks and drinks so the others can have a picnic, and scout for shells on the beach, while I go off like the dog Marley, from the movie Marley and Me, to confront the subject of death.
I look to my left and see my daughter crouched down on the sand picking sea shells with her cousin. My mother walks beyond them towards Chalky Mount. I remember that Neil and I had taken a tour of the island two years earlier, and stood on the side of the road at Cherry Tree Hill. High above Barclay Park we overlooked a spectacular view of Cattlewash, which I stood at the bottom of now. How I thought then I would one day show him the view from the ground up.
The raging white caps of the Atlantic Ocean remind me of the white unicorns from the 1982 cartoon film, The Last Unicorn. I could picture the army of unicorns creating the white foam upon the fierce waves at the ending of the movie.
I look to my right, and see Bit by Bit, and Round Rock. Well past the others, I pick up a hand full of sand and mix it into the bag of ashes, as though I am enabling my husband’s feet to touch the sand of Barclay Park. The tide is high and the unicorns lunge towards my ankles, drenching the bottom of my long red dress. I scatter half of the ash/sand mix at the base of Round Rock, an iconic figure of my time at Cattlewash. I wish I could show Neil the bench perched on top of Round Rock by Rastas, as though a fantasy bus is going to pull up at any moment to whisk imaginary passengers away.
As I turn back towards Chalky Mount, I release the rest of Neil’s ashes from the bag onto the sand, and watch as they are washed into the Atlantic by the waves.
Now that I have begun the process of scattering I am absolutely confident that cremation was the best decision I could have made for myself. Cremation allows me to come to terms with the death of my husband, and the releasing of him, in my own time, in my own unique way. I find tremendous freedom in the expression of scattering, and the creativity I can imbue into the process. Then I think, what if I not only release Neil’s ashes in meaningful places? What if I release them during significant moments in time? I had heard enough stories from widowed parents and orphans alike, telling me how the children can feel the void of their missing parent, especially during milestone events such as a graduation, or a wedding. I imagine how lovely it could be to honour Neil, and his place as the father of my daughter, by including this ritual during poignant moments in time. My daughter is almost three years old, and too young to understand what is happening, but the thought of scattering through a timeline as opposed to a geographical map, reassures me that perhaps she might find some comfort in the years to come knowing that, if there is a time when she would wish for nothing more than to have her daddy present, we still have access to a small, but meaningful way, to include him.
I join the others on the beach where we continue to pick sea shells while entertained by ghost crabs playing peek-a-boo out of their burrowed holes. I sit next to my daughter drawing pictures in the sand, and reminisce in an incredible moment just past, where everything that has just happened feels entirely good.
If you have an idea, or a scattering story, please leave a comment. I’d love to hear any suggestions, ideas, or comments in general.