Sunday night we finally took my mother’s ashes out of my dining room cabinet, amidst the fine china and stemware she loved so much, and spread them in the waters around the San Juan Islands. This was her wish. My sister and I have discussed it for months, but it became a real effort to find a time when we could all make it: 4 of Mom’s 7 grandchildren (the other 3 live in Florida), her two daughters (son is in FL too) and our spouses. Two of those grandchildren (my two oldest) are “adults” now, and finding time when they would not be out of town, working or busy, that also worked with all of our busy schedules, was like herding butterflies. But we did it, and it ended up being the perfect evening for to celebrate my mother.
While I’ve had my ambivalent moments, I’m really glad that Mom didn’t want to be buried. On the one hand, there would be a tangible place to go and grieve, on the other hand there would be a tangible place to go and grieve… and a place to feel pressured to go to. I’ve thought many times in the eight months since her death that I’m grateful that I don’t have to bring flowers to a stone, or fulfill some duty to a final resting place. I’ve passed by my dining room even more often and thought of her there, in a box, that did not really honor her memory either. I didn’t want to go out and buy an urn and then spend years moving it around, leaving it to who one day? Each of us must make these decisions in our own way and time. We lose people we love and want to do the right thing by them, by their memory, but it can all get so convoluted in the process I feel. I’ve gone round and round in my mind about this, so it was such a relief to know that we finally had a plan.
Some time ago it occurred to me that a sailing trip was just the right thing for Mom. She loved sailing. Loved it. When I was young she would tell me that she wanted to meet someone (she was widowed with three kids, at at 29) with a sailboat and sail away. She told me that she always felt so free and at peace out in a sailboat. Ironically, I never went on a sailboat with my mother. It wasn’t something our family did, or something that I knew much about. Consequently, the things she told me about sailing never totally jelled with my images of my mother and our life together. As a young person, I didn’t understand my mother’s yearning for something outside of what we had, something she found special that didn’t encompass us (three kids). So typical of kids, to not really understand their parents as people. Still, it was there in the back of my head and when, in her last few days, she told my sister and I that she wanted her ashes spread in water, I began to think back on the woman who told me these dreams.
One of my favorite pictures of my mother and sister is of them in a sailboat in Seattle, about 10 years ago, smiling and holding up drinks, just before a sunset sail. That picture was in Mom’s room at Hospice up until her death. When she died, and I began to put her things away and clear the things she’d kept near her, there was the picture, there were my memories of past conversations, and there was my mother’s dying wish. The choice became obvious to me. Finding a sailboat wasn’t as easy as I’d hoped however and as this summer passed, with trips abroad and a multitude of schedules to juggle, I began to fear we would not be able to do it this summer. I wondered if she would remain in my dining room, a comfort and a painful reminder of both her passing and my inability to give her what she wanted, in the end.
Along came Todd Shuster, the owner and Captain of Gato Verde, the beautiful catamaran we chartered. When I called him about potential dates, he was booked pretty solid; it didn’t look very good. However, as we discussed what the trip was about, he told me that he’d see if he could make a few changes and fit me in. He called back a few days later and was able to take us all this past Sunday, August 12th. Ironically, it turned out to be the last weekend possible as Middle Man will now leave for school this Friday. I wanted to make it special and immediately started thinking of things we might do. Should I do a reading? Would my sister like to do something? Should I throw flowers into the water as well, or each of us throw one, as Mom loved flowers so much? What would make it truly special for her? The answer was absolutely obvious, something I would never do on an ordinary day: cigarettes and Coke, two of Mom’s greatest vices and greatest pleasures.
Being a creature of conviction, I just couldn’t bring myself to go buy cigarettes. The idea of paying a dime to the companies that have killed so many other mothers and fathers just irked me no end. I had refused for years to buy them for Mom. My sister had the perfect idea that we could “bum” some off some guys at the pier, and that’s what I did. I ran up and told them that I’d never begged a cigarette off anyone in my life, but that my mom had been a lifelong smoker and we were going to spread her ashes at sea. We wanted to smoke one in her honor. These big, beefy guys, covered in tattoos, turned to mush and gave me two, and offered me their lighter as well. Mom would have laughed to see me bumming cigarettes in a parking lot, for her.
We set sail under dusky skys and warm temperatures. The bay was totally still, not ideal for sailing, but in perhaps the only biofuel/diesel/hybrid sailboat on the west coast, we were able to coast out to windier parts of the bay, with only the slightest engine sound. We cruised past my house and along the shore, and the sun slowly went down in the sky. We all sat on the “trampoline”net at the front of the catamaran, all of us enjoying the time together and thinking of Mom/Grammy. When we finally reached a good spot, Todd put the boat in a gentle reverse and suggested we pour the ashes off the very back of the
netting. We had brought along the ashes of both of my mother’s beloved pugs, which she had kept for many years (Dobey died 12 years ago, Mea 3 years ago). We also brought some of our dog Callie’s ashes. My mother adored Callie, and she adored Mom. Little Man thought it was the right thing to do, so we did. We have planned to spread the rest of Callie’s ashes up on Chain of Lakes trail at Mt. Baker, her favorite place of all, but the trails haven’t opened for the past two years due to record snows. We brought some to go with mom, and will finally spread the last of them later this fall when the snow melts a little more.
As the boat slowed and we lit the two cigarettes and passed them around. No minors were involved in this, but the rest of us took a drag and we all sipped cold Coke. Mom would have laughed out loud to see me cough away at my mid-life effort. When the boat was steady, and positioned properly to avoid a Big Lebowski moment(see minute 1:30), my sister and I opened the sealed bag that had held Mom’s ashes, and we slowly poured them in the wake behind the boat. As the ashes fell into the water my emotions rushed to the surface and I was completely overcome. I wept as if it was the morning of December 31, 2011 when she died. It felt so final and powerful to watch those ashes melt into the depths of the bay I look at each day from every window of my home. My sister
and I held each others’ hands, and someone held my shoulder as I crumbled in heaps of tears. When we’d both pulled ourselves together, we all sat for a few moments and just watched the sun sink below the horizon. Then Captain Todd turned the boat engine back on and we began our gentle return to the harbor. I lay on the netting and watched the mast as my kids nestled up in my arms, bringing silent comfort to me.
When I envisioned a farewell for my mother, I wanted to celebrate her and not feel tied to the those final years, when her body was broken and her dreams as well. She fought it to the end, asking us to see her as she had lived most of her life: independent and spirited, but it was hard to do sometimes. Out on that boat, with the people I love most in the world, I felt my mother as she wanted us to see her. She would have loved every single minute of the evening. She would have loved that we were all there; with no arguing and lots of laughs. She would have loved that we remembered her pups. She would have loved the cigarettes and our efforts to honor her that way. Coke was the only thing she clung to up to the end, the onlything
she consumed in her final weeks. It killed me to see, but she loved it. We loved her and she would have felt that, if she’d been there, or if she could see us all. I will miss her, and grieve for her for a long time, but for all that she lost in her final years with Huntington’s, if felt so good to bring dignity to her memory again. It was the perfect night for my mother, and I felt at peace when we moored and it was over.
Have you lost your parents, or other family member? How did you honor their memory? What rituals brought you comfort and how did you move on. Share your comments below. If you enjoyed this post, show some love and hit Like. Pass this post on with Share.
Note: A special thank you to Todd Shuster, of Gato Verde, for his truly kind and thoughtful efforts to make this meaningful for us all. He made the time and then he became part of our group, never making us feel anything but supported. In addition to a good sense of humor (we’re a dark and sarcastic crowd), he made every effort to help make our intentions come true. He has a gorgeous boat and it was an honor to spend such a special night on it. Todd and Gato Verde do multi-day cruises in the San Juan Islands, as well as single day cruises. I can think of no better way to spend a day, in this spectacular place we live. Thank you Todd.
Also thank you to my brother in law, Rich, who took some of these photos. I could not have done it, but am grateful he did… though the moments are burned in my memory forever.
Lovely tribute. The china will be a lasting memory. I have my grandparent’s pink depression glass crystal- hardly use it , but like looking at it. Nice that you were able to bring everyone together to fulfill her last wish- cigs and coke too!
I use my mother, grandmother, in-law’s and my husband’s grandparent’s china and stemware each and every holiday, and take a moment to reflect on them and say their names. I love the continuity and link to those I’ve loved and lost, through tangible things that I hold in my hand… and once held with them. Though my husband is not a fan of all that stuff on display in a china cabinet, I can’t imagine putting it away! 🙂 Thanks for checking in Lisa.
How funny, someone entirely unknown to me who is also known for cigarettes and coca-cola. My friends have joked for years that that’s my diet. I’ve cut down on the coke considerably, though in my efforts to fit into decade old clothes.
The top set of china looks outstanding. I love the raised gilding on the green 😀
Ha! Leave it to you Pink to see fine china when I post. It’s Dresden and it’s really quite special. The green is exquisite, with tiny pink flowers and delicate features, and the gold is quite spectacular. My mother had incredible taste, as did my grandmother. Some of the figurines that my g.mother left me are museum quality. I love setting the table with these things and feeling those I’ve loved and lost, so close to me.
And yes, no doubt you and my mother would have had some laughs.She was quite a character too. 😉
Absolutely beautiful post, Dawn…whatever happens to us after we pass, I’d like to think that at minimum our soul becomes further at peace as our loved ones process and commemorate our lives. I have a feeling your mom is proud (wherever she might be) of the way you and your family celebrated her — Coke, cigarettes and all.
I love that you brought the dogs, too — nice touch! 🙂
Thanks Mikalee. I like to imagine the same things and hope this brought her some peace as well. Thanks for taking the time to read and comment; as always, much appreciated. 🙂 On Aug 14, 2012,
this piece is really great and touching, second mother. i love the details like when you ‘bummed’ cigs in honor of your mom. honestly, a great piece. and you couldn’t have given her a more beautiful final place. i’ve been sailing up through the san juan islands, into canada even and i’m convinced it’s one of the most beautiful places on earth. much love, second mother, much love. sm
Thanks Mom. Yep, I am lucky enough to live in one of THE most divine places on earth, and I know my Mom would have have loved everything about the other night. The cigarettes would have been her favorite part for sure. 😉 thanks for checking in; always good to have you here.
A beautiful tribute and one that I am sure will help to provide some healing. xoxo
Thanks Soap. I think it brings a certain degree of closure, for sure. Even if the healing takes a while longer, it feels good to have done something special for Mom. Thanks for stopping in and taking the time to leave a comment.
Well done Dawn. Happy to see you could meet you Mom’s wishes.
Thanks Brian. It was definitely a meaningful night for all. So beautiful out on the water… doing it again tomorrow. Thanks for making time to read and comment.
So beautiful – the love between you is clearly an eternal celebration. What an inspiration to all.
Thanks Val. Honestly, I’m not sure there should be a whole lot of inspiration found in our relationship…but I feel good about the closure we all found, and I feel that we both did our best, most of the time. Mothers and daughters can be so complicated. Thanks for reading and sharing. 🙂
Ah, inspiration in the way you handle it, your priorities. Mothers & daughters do indeed have plenty of challenges – and you seem to always find a way back to the foundation of love, and respecting what’s important to the other person. I say bravo!
Aww, thanks Val. That is so sweet! Thanks for the support! You are a good friend. 😉
Dawn, thank you for sharing such an intimate family event. I feel almost as though I was there sharing in the moment of mourning the death of my good friend. Although Carole
and I hadn’t actually seen each other for many years, we did keep in touch until close to the end. I am sorry that we couldn’t keep up the communication at the end, but it reached the point of not being able to understand Carole on the phone and me just rotely reporting on what we were doing these days. Your Mom and I shared many good times in Davison and I will cherish those memories. I have to chuckle at the pugs and their antics, especiallty Mea. I can share that your Mom constantly bragged about you and your sister and her precious grandkids. She talked of your great cooking and enjoying time spent with her family. I know as the disease consumed her she became abrasive and argumentative and you, being the closest to her, took the brunt of her frustration. You are a very special lady and deserve accolades for all you have done. By the way, I am an avid reader and can’t wait for you to be published! Please keep your fans informed when it is published and available! God Bless you and your family. Keep writing, I so enjoy your blog. Sally
Sally, what an utter shock to find this comment this morning! I had NO idea that you were out there and remembered my name, let alone were reading my blog!! Wow! I am deeply touched, and your kind note has brought fresh tears this morning. Such a kind comment to leave.
Mom did talk about you right until the end. She became very coherent toward the end, we believe the morphine helped. I wanted to call you, but had no idea where your number was. She had shared that you guys spoke, and it meant so much to her. I know it was frustrating to sit and feel like you had to fill the air between you (I know!) but you should know that there were VERY few who did it for her, and it meant the world. Thank you, for being such a dear friend to her. Your antics in Davison together, the pies and coffee and chats, really were fond memories for her… that we all remembered.
Again, totally stunned that you’ve been following the blog, but honored. Thank you! I will indeed keep you in the loop about the novel. Now that the kids are back in school and I have some solitude and quiet, I plan to start slogging through the edits from the Chicago editor that worked on it for me. As for the publishing part: I am excited, motivated, nervous and unsure of how this will all go. That said, I’m read to shit or get off the pot!
Thanks again for this all together surprising and lovely comment Sally. Your support and kindness means the world. 🙂
Reblogged this on The Huntington's Chronicles and commented:
Saying goodbye, for real.