When Spreading Ashes is Saying Goodbye
I was too young. I didn’t know what I was doing. How could I?
I didn’t know how to process it. The loss. Of the person who loved me more than any other.
But I had no choice. It wasn’t an optional experience.
It was a long time coming. I watched her dissolve before my eyes. Breaking my heart every step of the way. But I was too young. So I bottled the emotions. I knew no other way.
I would have to let go. I just didn’t realize at the time that I would physically have to let her go. Because I had her ashes. In a can. In the trunk of my car. At twenty years old.
Cremate is defined as: to reduce to ashes by burning. If you’ve never seen the ashes of a pet or loved one, it’s not exactly what you think. It’s not just ash. And when you realize this, it’s too late to go back.
Because you aren’t looking at the ashes until you are releasing them.
Cremation is at least 20,000 years old. But that doesn’t make it any less creepy to think about.
I am completely areligious. I had no grand visions of what I would decide to do with my mom’s body. It was simple. She wanted to be cremated. So she was. It didn’t change anything for me.
But when you are twenty years old and going to work on a summer morning you shouldn’t hear the can that your mom is in rolling back and forth in your trunk. For months. Maybe longer. Because you were paralyzed.
And because you couldn’t let go.
I didn’t know. Or that’s what I told myself. Because I was terrified to say goodbye. By releasing her ashes. Where I knew she would want to be.
I may have held them in my trunk for an entire year. I can’t remember for obvious reasons. But I had to decide at some point to let go.
I always knew what to do. If we really know our loved one, we will know what to do. That should be comforting and horrifying at the same time. Because even if we didn’t really know, our loved one would trust us to figure it out.
I knew my mom trusted me more than anyone.
I had to do it.
I had to lay her to rest somewhere meaningful. And it was only between her and I. My dad was very supportive and offered multiple times to come with me and help me. But even at twenty, I knew this was my journey to take on my own. With her.
Growing up, we spent every summer in the Hamptons. It’s probably the place I know better than any other. Even better than where I grew up in Brooklyn. Because there was something special about summertime. Many of my greatest memories with my mom are from out East.
After we moved to California, my mom didn’t get back to the Hamptons that often. But I did. Because my dad was out there every summer. So she would come to visit once a summer as I got older. And she would stay in Amagansett, at the White Sands motel.
I would visit her every day and drive her around. We would go out to eat. We would sit on the beach. My mom loved the beach. Growing up we spent countless summer hours on the beach. But as I got older our time on the beach was different.
Because she was sick. And in pain all the time. But direct sunlight was her magic. It made it all better, for the time being.
And that’s how I knew where she would rest. Because we had done it so many times before. On that beach.
I was ready. I had the ashes. I didn’t tell anyone I was going to do it. I chickened out multiple times before the last one. But I was determined to say goodbye. To the ashes. Not to her.
So I pulled up at the White Sands and parked where I always parked. It’s a casual motel, as if those two words weren’t intertwined anyway. You can just walk through and go right onto the beach.
So I did. And the final journey began.
I had already taken the ashes out of the can. And there I sat on the beach with my mom, one last time. Her ashes in a plastic bag, in my hand.
I was too young. I didn’t know what I was doing. But I was going to do it.
I wrote in the sand with my finger:
I love you Mom
I have a photo of it somewhere. But it’s hard to look at for me. The memorialization of the moment I let go.
And then I opened the bag.
And let her go.
Into the water.
Into the sand.
Into the air.
And I said goodbye. Forever.
But only to her ashes.