Ashes to Ashes

‘Ashes to ashes, dust to dust’ or as the Bible (Genesis) says ‘… for dust thou art and to dust shalt thou return’.

Scattering my parents’ ashes was on my mind but I was wary. For starters, I think it might be a tiny bit illegal. Plus I saw what happened to Donny in The Big Lebowski (a bad case of bereavement blowback) and to Ricki Gervais’ character’s dad in Afterlife.

Neither my mum nor my dad was especially religious or spiritual in life, but my brothers and I wanted to make some kind of statement about their passing. It seemed like scattering their ashes (mixed together … I know, a bit creepy and presumptuous) at the beachside suburb where they grew up, met and fell in love would be, well, appropriate. Touching even.

Days earlier, like any conscientious criminal, I’d done a recce. I found a pleasant spot with a seat where the grandchildren could rest quietly looking at the ocean, checking their iPhones and contemplating their dear grandparents.

Task number one. Release Dad from the receptacle. I was emotional when I put the box of my dad’s remains on the table on my back deck, ready to liberate a respectful portion of his ashes for our little ceremony. Miss you, Dad.

I’m not sure what these boxes are made of. Maybe kryptonite? Or the stuff they use for black boxes in planes. Talk about hermetically sealed! I tried to open the plug thingy. Impossible. After about ten minutes, an oversize screwdriver and a hammer, Olympic swearing and sweating, and more tears (of frustration this time) I was no longer wistful and sad. I was mad. Damn you Dad! Why must you be so difficult?

One last frenzied attack (think Netflix serial killer) and I’d made a hole the size of a tennis ball in the receptacle. Small gusts of my father were starting to escape. Did I mention the wind? The weather had become unseasonably blustery.

I carefully tipped a small portion of dad into the jar of mum’s ashes (Mum died in 2000 – we buried her ashes under a tree in Dad’s back yard, so her portion dug up from the base of the tree was mainly gravel and rocks. Sorry Mum). Then I unceremoniously closed up the original container with gaffer tape. Oh well.

Next, my brother, daughter, nieces and I head off to the beach to do the deed. There was a definite sombreness, a gravitas about what we were about to do and my family doesn’t really do gravitas at the best of times. Or should that be at the worst of times? By the time we reached the designated spot the wind had really picked up. Let’s face it, it was blowing a gale. The sea was angry-grey and whipped into a maelstrom.  

We all got out of our cars, hugged, removed shoes and yelled greetings at each other over the howling wind. My brother had brought a bottle of Guinness to add to the ceremony. I shyly showed the pickled cucumber jar that contained Nana and Papa. This would be their last trip together.

Down to the water’s edge we stagger, the mighty wind almost blowing us all over. I stumble into the grey, roiling waves, my brother beside me with the opened bottle of Guinness. By this stage all sense of decorum was lost, as we struggled with the cyclonic wind, the wild water and uncontrollable laughter.

On my count the contents of the jar along with the Guinness were hastily tipped into the ocean. The willful wind scooped up the ashes and the Guinness and blew them across the water (we had the sense to empty the contents upwind … or is it downwind?) and we all stumbled back up the beach overwhelmed by the wild weather, the stinging sand and the absurdity of it all.

We face-timed our brother Chris, in Cairns and a lovely niece in Melbourne and all sang our parents’ favourite duet, ‘Quicksilver’, the weather making hearing our harmonies and keeping in time near impossible. Pathetic.

We couldn’t wait to get back into our cars and into the calm and warmth of a local Italian restaurant. It was here that we finally reflected on Mum and Dad, sharing our favourite memories, a few tears and funny stories.

The irony of this whole sorry affair? Dad really loathed the wind, and Mum hated the water.

Ashes to ashes. Seriously, what was I thinking?

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