I had the honor recently of walking through a forest with the wife of a man who died way too young. Her goal is to scatter just a few of his ashes in the places they have gone together, the places he loved and the places she goes often, so that she can feel his presence always, and everywhere. She invited me to share this day with her.
One of the most obvious symbolic meanings behind scattering ashes is letting go, and while that can be a beautiful gesture, especially in places as spiritual and comforting as the forest, it can also bring up feelings you aren’t prepared for, one of which is just how hard it is to let go of someone you love.
The last place he went to, before he could no longer leave his bed, was the forest where we walked. She carried the small vial of ashes in her pocket, bringing it out once in a while, holding it safely in one hand as if she was hugging it tightly, struggling with the thought of letting him go. Again.
I watched quietly as she scouted the perfect location, searching for a fairy ring, a common name for a grouping of redwood trees that grow in a circle. Once she found it, she walked around and through the circle, she gently caressed the bark of a tree, and then she hugged it tightly, as if to say, "thank you for watching over him."
We read “when I am among the trees”, a Mary Oliver poem, as his ashes blew gently in the wind… a few words in particular stayed in my head, “around me the trees stir in their leaves and call out, “stay awhile.” I imagined him thinking, as we scattered his ashes and walked slowly back up the path, “please don’t go, stay awhile.” Although I only knew him a few short months, I have a feeling that while he might have wanted us to stay, he also knew that we, she, would be back.
On the day that we chose to scatter some of his ashes, it also happened to be his birthday. This was a special day indeed, honoring him in death and for his birth. We walked together for a few miles, we laughed, we cried, we talked a lot about him and their life together, and how she will navigate life moving forward without him. As she talked about him and the memories they shared, I thought to myself how many people in their entire lifetime, never have a love like theirs, myself included. And she knows that, which resonated within me as I watched her wipe away her tears.
At the end of our walk, she handed me the little glass vial, which held a small amount of his ashes that we hadn’t scattered. She said I could scatter them wherever I felt appropriate. I brought them home, placed them on my shelf of “special things”, keeping them there until I decided where it is that I want to take him. I looked at the vial resting on my shelf, and I smiled at the thought of him being there with me, feeling incredibly honored to have him in my home.
There is something quite lovely about being invited to share the ritual of scattering ashes. I don’t think I really knew or was prepared for how it might feel to be present for something so personal, or intimate. That moment in the forest will have a place in my heart forever...
I have decided that I am going to plant a flowering tree of some kind, in a large pot to allow room for it to grow and so that I may take it wherever I go moving forward. I will bury his ashes in the soil, knowing that his kindness and joy will be with me always. I am honored to have been given this gift.
I was listening to a Journey album as I was writing this, and the volume seemed to turn up as these lyrics were sung... I'd do anything to hold you. I'd go anywhere to touch you. I'd do anything you want me to, if you'll just stay with me awhile. How perfect.
Note: Please always be sure to ask for permission when scattering ashes, and follow all protocols and regulations.