Teach us to care and not to care
Teach us to sit still
Even among these rocks,
Our peace in His will
And even among these rocks
And spirit of the river, spirit of the sea,
Suffer me not to be separated
And let my cry come unto Thee.
– T.S. Eliot
The reality of what has happened is slowly sinking in. One way to expedite that realization is to pick up your husband’s remains from the funeral home.
I took a half day off of work to do it, not sure how I would react. Ever since the memorial, I’ve been able to keep it together when I’m around people for the most part. I want to mourn alone, but am currently being smothered with love. I mostly let the smothering happen because intentions are good and the reality is I probably shouldn’t be alone a ton right now, but at night I let my guard down when it’s just me and the dogs in my room.
Anyway, I wasn’t sure what to expect when I walked into the funeral home. The last time I was there it was with my Dad and Tim’s closest family members. Upon arrival yesterday, I was walked into the same office as before and waited while they brought everything out to me. This time I was alone by choice, so I waited.
Some details are almost funny. His ashes were in a box inside a green tote bag like you would get at Whole Foods for your groceries. It had the funeral home name printed on the side in white lettering. If you weren’t careful, you’d easily grab the tote to go to the store and pick up some dinner.
The funeral home director (not the old man, but still nice and calm and professional) carefully walked me through different line items to discuss. Early on in this process, he handed me an envelope and quietly said that it contained my husband’s wedding ring.
I burst into tears.
Of course the funeral director wasn’t phased and just calmly and softly kept going over things while I tried to get my composure back. He explained there is documentation needed for traveling with remains, and I must carry them on a flight with this documentation because otherwise the TSA will ground planes for mysterious powder. While I dabbed my eyes with a Kleenex, he told me that more than one client had held up an entire flight because they tried to check luggage with their cremation ashes instead of carry on.
I cracked half a smile and said I had no plans of ever putting him in checked luggage.
Before he handed the tote bag over, he also warned me that it was heavier than people expected. About eight pounds. I took the bag, walked to my car and sobbed some more before driving home.
That night my friend and I had a fancy food party with groceries from Whole Foods, mostly nice cheese and bread and gourmet desserts. We watched Pitch Perfect and drank Prosecco. I pet my dog, and laughed some… but still these remains sat on my bed in their green grocery store tote bag.
When I went to my room later, I knew I had to open it. The “minimum container” is a medium size white cardboard box which has a thick black, plastic box fit perfectly inside it. I knew from previous explanations that everything would be contained in an identified bag inside this black box, and I wanted to see it. I needed to see it.
Of course the damn thing was super difficult to get open, and I sat there struggling to pop the top with a bobby pin and a pair of pliers. I found myself thinking I should ask Tim to help me, which just made me sigh deeply.
The bobby pin ended up doing the trick, and I opened the top of the box. What I saw took my breath away. You always hear cremation remains referred to as ashes and I had pictures of soft, velvety dust that would gently blow off into the wind when it was time to spread his remains somewhere peaceful. The reality is an off white range of coarse gravel to soft sand. It looked like the “Beaches of the World” science project my elementary school teacher had, only mixed up in one bag.
Looking at it is very final. This is the person you once shared your life with.
I’m not deeply religious, and Tim was an athiest, but I don’t believe that the only part left of him is that sand. To me, that bag does not contain his character or intelligence or memory in any way. I don’t know where his soul is, probably some of it with me, but I need to believe there is more than just organic life and death.
These are questions I won’t ever be able to answer. Even still, I stared at that bag for a long time last night and felt the different grains through the clear plastic.