At the beginning of the school holidays when your children ask “what are we doing today?” you should never have to reply, “picking up your dad’s ashes.” Nevertheless that was the start of my week. I wanted to have them ready in anticipation of the perfect day to scatter them.
Yesterday started off as such a day. The sun was shining and the air was still.
While sitting in the undertakers all those months ago he asked what I wanted to do with the ashes. I made the impromptu decision to scatter them over the cliff tops where we live. It seemed a fitting place. Andrew had always joked that was where he would dispose of my body if he got tired of me. He would return tearful from his walk with tales of how I had accidently slipped over the edge never to be seen again!
I on the other hand always said, in jest, that I would poison him. We laughed about it last year when we went to Alnwick and visited their poison garden. Andrew called the guidebook we bought a cook book and we discussed which poisonous plants I could easily get hold of.
That was the kind of relationship we had, secure enough in each other’s company to discuss such things knowing it would never get anywhere near that bad.
My original plan for scattering his ashes was for a large family group to walk together along the cliffs to find the perfect spot but over time my thoughts had changed and I knew it was something that we had to do just the three of us.
The only planning I did beforehand was to check the tide times. I didn’t want Andrew’s remains to tumble down onto the unsuspecting heads’ of people walking past. So we set off just before high tide.
But the clouds were beginning to roll in by this time and the wind was getting up. The bag was heavy, oldest son and I shared the duty of carrying it. We tried to laugh and joke remembering when we had walked this way before.
When we got to the cliff we looked for a suitable spot and knelt down to open the rucksack, then the box and finally the plastic bag they were held in.
Oldest son and I scooped out a handful each.
As we let go the wind caught the ash and blew it back at us, tell tale speckles landed at our feet.
We sat and cried knowing this wasn’t the place and time to say goodbye. Andrew wasn’t ready to say goodbye and maybe neither were we. Wearily we walked back home the way we had come still weighed down.
I’ve always hated saying goodbye. You could guarantee when we were leaving anywhere Andrew would already be sat waiting impatiently in the car along with the boys while I made my final farewells with hugs and kisses.
I’m the sort of person that can’t help but write long emails. As I get to the end there are so many paragraphs starting “anyway must go but….”.
My phone conversations go on and on as I remember some other small detail to be discussed. I don’t like finally hanging up.
And in the days when I wrote long letters to pen pals my writing would get smaller and smaller as I tried to squeeze my remaining thoughts onto the last scrap of space on the page.
The trouble was this time I was ready to say goodbye. I needed some kind of closure for want of a better word.
While cooking tea I devised plan B.
I’d already thought of various places Andrew had liked to go and suddenly one popped into my head that hadn’t before. It felt perfect.
The boys weren’t unduly bothered about my change of plan as long as I didn’t keep it a secret. They needed to know where we were going before we left. And youngest son needed to know that there was little or no walking to be done as he was fed up with that game.
So we got in the car and drove. It’s not far away but the weather was closing in fast. I had to switch the windscreen wipers on along with the lights to lead the way. A thick mist descended as we reached higher ground and I thought of turning back. However rather than making it inappropriate somehow the spooky atmosphere of the foggy evening made it strangely even more apt.
I carefully lifted the box out of the rucksack and took the plastic bag once more out of the box. As we walked around this remote spot with the open bag the wind caught the ashes and although some of it swirled around back towards us it was amazing to see the majority flying free. This was where he should be, unencumbered, no more burdens, no more pain.
It was just like releasing a flock of birds or a cluster of balloons and just as beautiful and satisfying to watch.
Andrew approved of this final resting place, this was where he wanted to be.
We have photos of him here with the boys, happy times and good memories. Now we have another memory to add to the collection and I’m sure it is a place we will return to again and again.
My expectations and plans for the day had been thrown into disarray but I have learned there is no such thing as a perfect day to do the things you need to do. Sometimes you have to make the best of what you’ve got and you may accidently stumble on the answer that has been there all along.
I am making this up every day as I go along and learning there is no right or wrong way to deal with my grief.
What I also know is that even though we have thrown Andrew’s ashes to the wind we haven’t completely said goodbye. Just as some of the ash remained clinging to us in the damp air there will always be a part of him that is with us.
It reminded me of the ending of “E.T.” when the spaceship returns and the little alien has to leave. Elliott, the young boy who found him is distressed at the thought he will never see his friend again. E.T. reaches out his bony finger and points it to Elliott’s chest, where his heart would be, “I’ll be right here,” he says in his croaky new found voice.
We now have another place to "find" Andrew if we need him and when we go back we will probably discover he’s always been with us all along. He never really said goodbye.