Ashes to Ashes: The Road Trip
My mother was cremated after her death. To celebrate her life, I planned a day of traveling to the major places in her life to disperse her ashes. The day of the big event was what would have been her 80th birthday. For nourishment during our daylong celebration, I packed a basket full of snacks. Plus, a birthday cake and champagne to have at the last stop; a restaurant that always brought out my mother’s happiness.
The first stop was a nearby island where my mother spent a few summers at camp as a young child, while my grandmother worked. The camp is long gone but the island remains. I wasn’t sure how it would feel to dip a Dixie cup into the bag of ashes, stroll around the dunes to find a quiet place, think of something meaningful to say, and leave her ashes. But once we got started, I realized it felt okay to release her ashes. It actually felt fun. She was being honored and released to her next destination at the same time.
Our next stops were 40 minutes southwest. We sprinkled a cup of her ashes in the hedges at her high school, another cup along the sidewalk of her childhood home, and needed to dodge the current residents of the neighborhood where my brother and I grew up. While meandering from town to town, we told stories, discussed the changes to her childhood home, and joyfully relived the memories that took place in these homes. We laughed as we discussed our strategies to release the ashes without getting caught. At each stop, my uncle took pictures. Later creating humorous captions and emailing us each a well-chronicled digital memory book.
After a few hours of driving, reminiscing, and ash tossing, we returned to the seashore; my mother’s favorite place. The first seaside stop was an unkempt beach strip hubbub where my mother spent summers with her sisters as young teenagers. The beach crowd was in full swing and so were we. No longer feeling cautious about our mission to release her ashes at all her favorite spots, we confidently walked onto the beach, identified our spots, and released the ashes. Even though there was a large late afternoon beach crowd sunning on the sand. No one even noticed!
After strolling the strip to locate the restaurant my mother worked at as a teenager, we returned to the car. Driving a few miles south, we arrived at our destination. A high school friend agreed to allow us to park and toss ashes at her beach front cottage; another beach that my mother spent a lot of time with us, her two children. As serendipity, would have it, my friend was home and generously busted out a bottle of wine to toast my mother after we returned from the beach. My friend’s mother arrived who had a strong and important connection to my father. While sharing the bottle of wine we told my friend and her mom about the hilarious and poignant moments of the day. As a group, we reminisced about life in our childhood town, the events that brought us laughter and trouble, and how we handled the passing on of parents and spouses.
Eventually, the story telling died because our stomachs were rumbling. Now hungry we headed to my mother’s favorite lobster, fried food, and BYOB shack. After we ate the healthiest meals we could order at a BYOB fried food joint, I lifted the glistening chocolate birthday cake from a basket, rooted the number 80 candle into the frosting, and lit the candle as we sang Happy Birthday to my mother. The large family surrounding us on 5 different tables joined in the singing not realizing they were singing to my dead mother. After my brother, aunt, uncle, and I enjoyed our cake slices, we shared the cake with the “choir”. They happily devoured it. It was likely, a perfect ending to their day of sun, drinking few too many beers, and stuffing themselves with belly full of fried food…. a perfect mix of sweet and salty.
My brother, aunt, and uncle, and I stopped to watch the setting sun behind the restaurant. That we were ending our day while the sun set seemed symbolic and a bit of a nod from my mother. A very satisfying day indeed!
My mother’s encouragement didn’t end with the sunset. The next morning during my daily coffee run, I heard the song. The one that started as a joke in my post Stairway to Heaven. While adding milk to my coffee, I heard Bob Dylan singing Knocking on Heaven’s Door….now, my mother’s way of communicating from heaven.