A year later

The snow crunched under my feet as we hiked in towards the harbor.

I looked down at my boots, picking my way around tree roots and patches of ice as we make our way towards the water. 

I remember, in that odd way that particular details stick like velcro in our minds, hiking this trail with you almost 10 years ago, wearing white nike sneakers and you laughed when I tried not to get them dirty. 

“We’re hiking,” you said. 

“Then I should have brought different shoes,” I grumbled. 

My mother n’ law and wife hike ahead of me, Mary carrying your ashes in a canvas bag, the two of them sharing memories of trips to Maine with you thirty years ago, and I lag behind, in disbelief that you’ve already been gone almost a year. 

You didn’t want a funeral, so we didn’t have one. You wanted a party, which no one has been able to throw just yet, and you wanted some of your ashes spread in Ship’s Harbor, so we’ve come to do that today. 

Grief is a weird animal, and one that I don’t fully understand. I miss you in different moments, at different and often unexpected times. I didn’t know you as long as the rest of your family, and it sometimes means that I feel less of a right to have much grief. As though grief is measured in moments spent together and not in the power of the connection felt.

As though a love for another person is predicated on marrying into a family, and not on the way your heart swells with affection around someone you love.

When we get to the harbor, I stand back, letting Mary and Sheila have their moment together - trying to respect their reminiscing about coming here when Sheila was a kid and you still had 30 years of your life ahead of you. They each take a turn spreading your ashes, when Mary turns to me.

“Do you want to spread some?” She asks.

I nod, and she fills a cracked red solo cup with some ashes. 

I’m a bit startled by the red solo cup, it seems less than ceremonious, but then again, you were a frugal yankee and would probably appreciate the simplicity of using what was available to do the job. 

I scramble down the rocks to get closer to the water, determined to get you to the water that you loved so well and not accidentally spread you on the seaweed. I crouch to my knees as the waves lap the rocks in front of me. I’m not sure what to say as I hesitate to throw you in the water. Just that I miss you. That life is different without you. That I hope you know how much I loved you, because I can’t remember if I said it. 

And with that, I let you go, back to the water. 

I stand up and look over the harbor one last time. It’s my nature to try and put words to moments and experiences; to try to get thoughts and feelings down on paper in a way that is both cathartic, and maybe of value to another person. This past year has held its share of grief for me personally, but the world in general feels divisive and angry.

Sometimes I think we need more reflection; more time to pause and let ourselves feel instead of rushing off to the next moment; instead of picking up our phone when we want to be distracted by what feels hard or sad or lonely. Buddhists call this the sacred pause, but I often get too swept up in the day to take that pause.

Until a moment like Saturday, when I took your ashes to the water. When I felt you, almost walking beside me as we climbed down the rocks. Despite the sadness of the moment, I was grateful, in this week where we try to pause and give thanks, for the time I had with you - while you were living - and on Saturday, when I watched the waves take you back out to sea.