(Originally posted 3rd October 2019)
I wanted to write this piece for you because it’s not something you hear about a lot. We live and we die, but very few people talk about death, or life after the death.
If you’ve read my previous post, you’ll know that I’m currently on vacation to scatter my late father’s ashes. If not, then the backstory is that my father passed away in March after a short battle with a rare blood cancer and sepsis. He was cremated after a small ceremony and prior to his death he requested that his ashes be scattered at sea from a fishing boat, off of the coast of Cornwall. Everyone up to speed? Excellent.
When I got to my mother’s house prior to the trip. I was greeted by the sight of my father’s urn, wrapped beautifully in one his favourite navy & grey t-shirts. I wasn’t irked about it because it wasn’t the time to be irked. That was my father, and he should be treated with absolute respect. What I did note, however, was that the lid of the urn was just a brown plastic lid – like a sweetie jar. That thought horrified me.
I fell into what I could best describe as my funeral director self. I’d seen her before, at the funeral itself. I cared about the logistics, I cared about the arrangements, I cared about where everyone was sitting for the journey down. I didn’t speak about Dad’s ashes as “Dad’s ashes” but rather “Dad”. Just because he was no longer with us in body, doesn’t mean he isn’t with us in spirit. I had a deep reverence as to what this trip was largely about, and why we were going.
When I went to get into the car (the very same metallic blue Citroen Berlingo that he used to drive, inherited by my mother) I found Dad’s urn in my front passenger seat. At first, I was a little confused because I always sit in the front seat (somehow, it makes travel anxiety easier). I didn’t just haul Dad’s urn like I would have with any of our other luggage though. I retreated from the car and spoke to Mum.
“Where shall I put Dad?” I asked, “I don’t want to put him in the footwell but I’m also worried about dropping him if I have another of my turns.” She laughed, but fortunately, my brother offered to hold him for the journey, so I retreated to the car to lift Dad out.
The first thing I should tell you about urns is that they aren’t light. At a guess, I’d say Dad’s urn weighed 2-3kgs. The second thing, you definitely don’t react to it like you do with your luggage.
Each time any of us have held the urn, we have cradled it like you would hold a baby. When I lifted the urn out of the car, I cradled it close to my chest and even spoke to it like I was speaking to my Dad. A small, child-sized version of my Dad.
“Come on then, old man” I said affectionately. “Old man” was always our nickname for him, even if it wasn’t particularly complimentary.
“Oi, less of the ‘old’ ” he’d always say playfully.
My mother and brother have plans to take my father’s urn on outings and to places where Dad loved to go. For my mother, that was Portreath. For my brother, that would be out on a fishing trip. I decided to opt out, and even thought out to my Dad;
“Dad, I don’t need to hold you in my hands, because I hold you in my heart”
Next Tuesday, if the weather is kind to us, we will be scattering my father’s ashes at sea. Although it’s an emotional time, there is also a sense of strength and resilience. It was what he requested, and so no matter what it takes and how we do it, we will persevere and pull through. There won’t be a service, we agreed, Dad wouldn’t want all of that. I may mention floating some rose petals or something, though.
Yesterday, I sat on Portreath seafront and I looked across to the harbour. I remembered the time Dad went missing and I found him on the harbour wall, looking out to sea. When I looked back this time, he wasn’t there.
“I just wish he was still there, even if that was the only place he was, at least I could see him again” I told my mother as tears rolled down my cheeks.
“He is,” she said reassuringly, “can’t you see his wings?”