Ashes to Ashes

There was still snow on the ground when we scattered my father’s ashes.

One of my brothers was afraid that the ash would be too visible on the snow and passers by would know what it was. But it was a significant date – it had been both my father’s birthday and my parents’ wedding anniversary – and that’s when my mother wanted to do it.

That’s how six of us ended up traipsing off into the woods together. Well, not the woods, exactly. It was a park near where I grew up, where my father used to go jogging. Because it was a small town, and the snow was still deep, it wasn’t busy. But because it was early spring, a bright sunshiny day with a temperature above freezing, it wasn’t empty, either. So we made our way into the depths of the park, beyond the walking paths, where nobody could see us.

There are worse places to take one’s final rest, I think.

My mother chose a spot beneath a couple of evergreens. We gathered in a loose semi-circle and stood there, awkwardly silent. I think everyone was waiting for someone else to say something. Eventually, my mother made an impatient gesture and said, “Go on.” My brother took the lid off the urn and opened the vacuum-sealed bag inside.

As an aside here, I have to mention that I was surprised by how much ash there was. Up to that point, my only experience with the scattering of ashes was what I’d seen in movies – usually a little poof of dust being flung from the top of the Eiffel Tower, or some such.

My father’s remains were more than a poof.

That likely explains my brother’s technique. I think he decided that if he spread the ashes as thin as he could, they’d be less visible. He held the urn in both hands and with a huge, broad sweep of his arms, hurled the ashes into the air. They hissed as they hit the trees, shaking the evergreen boughs, and the air quickly became thick with ash dust.

After a few passes, the urn was mostly empty. Unfortunately, my brother wasn’t holding onto the plastic bag, and as he moved to start another sweep of his arms, it fell out of the urn and hit the ground with a plop. He quickly knelt in the ash-covered snow to pick the bag up, but didn’t realize it had landed upside down, and ended up dumping the remaining ashes in a pile on the ground.

Y’know the cones of birdseed from the Looney Tunes cartoons? Yeah, that’s what it looked like.

Still kneeling, my brother began to flick the ashes aside, trying to smooth out the pile. Remember when I said it was spring? Well, the warmth and sunshine meant the snow was melting. And melting snow is very sticky.

He ended up flinging little ash balls everywhere.

Eventually satisfied, my brother stood up and stepped back. My mother had brought flowers with her, to lay at the base of the tree. And due to the sheer volume of ash strewn about, the only way to do so was to walk right through them.

The snow was pretty deep. As I watched her feet sink into it as she made her way to the tree, I saw a mixture of snow and ash spill into her boot.

She complained about a stone in her boot on the way back to the car.

And a little piece of Dad got dumped out on the doorstep when we got home.

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