Thursday, February 17, 2011
February 17, 2011 ~ Day 70
Did Grandpa Become A Fish?
My children asked me again today where my father has gone, now that he has passed away.
"He's a fish, right, mommy?" the little one asked.
"No he's not," his older brother interjected. "His body is in the ocean but he is not a fish. Isn't that right, mommy?"
It's tricky to give them an answer that will be honest enough to show them that I respect their intelligence yet limited enough so that they don't get TOO much information ~ e.g. more information than a 5 and 3 year old are capable of processing emotionally.
"I would like to believe," I replied, "that Grandpa is here with us right now in spirit, enjoying watching the two of you grow into wonderful little boys."
"But WHERE does he GO?"
"What do you mean, honey? Do you mean, where does his body go?"
"Well, as you know we put his body into the ocean in a spot that he really loved. But that wasn't Grandpa. It was just his body."
(I'm not sure when it will be appropriate to explain cremation or ashes to them, but I am fairly confident that it will be quite a while before we have that talk. They don't need exposure to the graphic part of death right now, they have plenty of time for that later. I believe that if my sons learned about the act of cremation today, it could be upsetting to them - this idea of their grandfather's body burning into small papery fragments.)
"...and then he turned into a FISH!!!" shouted the smallest son.
"Someday I am going to turn into a SHARK!" sang out the older one.
"I don't want to be a fish or a shark when I die," mused the little brother. "I don't want to be in the water."
"Don't worry honey," I responded, "You will have plenty of time to figure out what you want to do about that some day."
"What is Mima going to do?" the older boy asked.
"What do you mean?"
"Will your mother go into the ocean when she dies too, mommy? Like your daddy did?"
"No honey, your Mima does not want to be put in the ocean. I think she prefers being buried in the earth under a beautiful green tree somewhere."
"Oh!!!" cried the little one. "I like that! I want to be part of a tree someday!!! I want to be with my Mima under a tree!"
"That's nice, honey. I'm sure your Mima would love to be near you."
At this point their conversation trailed off and veered toward how fast a Hot Wheels car could make it from the top of the driveway to the front of the garage, and whether it would go faster or slower than an orange.
I was left to my thoughts as I weeded the side of the garage next to where they were chatting, remembering the day nearly two years ago when we scattered my father's ashes at sea. Sunny and bright with blue skies and an unbroken horizon, my family had huddled together against the searing chill of loss on my brother's boat and headed for open water.
With every cresting wave my heart lurched and I yelped, holding onto my mother and sister and burying my head in their shoulders. I have always loved the ocean but on that day it frightened me, so vast and unknown... soon to be the final resting place of the man who once awkwardly put his arm around me when I was sobbing over a broken heart and told me, "Honey I know it doesn't seem like it now but I think you've dodged a bullet. He wasn't good enough for you."
Once we'd approximated the spot where my father had requested to have his ashes scattered, far off the coast from an area where he'd once loved to jog and watch the sunset, my brother stopped the boat and we rocked with the waves. All told there were 10 of us out there in the midst of that vast pale blue, hearts brimming in unison yet each interpreting the day according to our own unique memories with and of him.
We sang hymns and held hands and wept. We prayed.
Then, when we could no longer postpone the inevitable someone opened the cannister that contained his ashes. One thing that surprised me, was that the ashes were actually held together within a plastic bag. The same way one might store cornmeal scooped liberally from a bulk foods bin. Someone, I don't remember who, opened the top of the bag and asked who wanted to go first.
The weird thing is, I *think* I went first but I can't remember! Perhaps my mother went first, and then me. We each scattered a small portion of his ashes off the side of the boat and watched them spiral in angelic loops toward the ocean floor. The water was so clear, we could actually see them descend quite a long way.
What I do recall is that I was the first person on the boat to thrust my hand actually inside of the plastic bag to grasp my father's ashes in my own hand before I scattered them so that ~ just one more time ~ I could actually make physical contact with him. That silent man of warm bear hugs who held my hand as I crossed the street a million times throughout my childhood. I wanted to touch the reality of his death, by touching the last evidence of his physical life.
The ashes felt soft but also grainy. A bit like my dad, I suppose.
I will never forget the way his ashes lifted off the palm of my hand and rippled to the bottom of the sea. They looked so calm and peaceful, so angelic, like a swarm of tiny sparkling fish heading to an magical underwater kingdom. It was enough to convince me right then and there that this was the way that I too would choose to be buried one day. Under the hot sun on a beautiful summer day, off the coast of the land I love so well.
Later that evening I showed my husband photos from the burial at sea, which he missed in order to care for our three small children who were much too squirmy to come on the boat. As I showed him the photos of the ashes spiraling through the waves, our oldest son (just turned four) popped his head up in front of the computer screen and asked, "Is that my grandpa?"
"Yes, honey," we replied.
"He looks like a fish! Is he a fish?"
"In a way," my husband replied. "Grandpa is in the ocean with the fish now, and he is at peace. He is part of the cycle of life."