I stood in the kitchen, unpacking a box of miscellaneous belongings that had long been stored in the bottom of a cedar chest in the guest room of my parent’s house. Years ago I started to collect some of my most treasured memory items there, my grandfather’s hat, old photographs, poetry books, a few stuffed animals from my childhood that remain so very special. I reached into the box and pulled out a jar lined with tiny little rocks, it was of course, my grandfather’s. I smiled at his memory in the fraction of a second before the bottom let loose and tiny little polished rocks flew from one end of my new dining room to the other.
With an exasperated sigh I dropped to the floor and began collecting the precious little pieces. Overwhelmed, tired and now frustrated I crawled around, reclaiming each tiny memory and then stood to empty the box into which the remaining pieces had fallen. The next item I pulled out however, stopped me in my tracks.
I stood there with a small, pink, heart shaped jar, it was my grandmother’s ashes. It sounds horrible, that her ashes were left at the bottom of a trunk for so many years, but my grandmother said long ago when she donated her body to science, “it’s just a body, when they can use it, I won’t need it anymore”. Her ashes are, of course, special to me, but I’ll be honest, in the shuffle of day-to-day life and my vagabond lifestyle that makes traveling with extra items difficult, I had all but forgotten that I had such a remembrance of her. I felt gutted at that moment, as if I was the worst person in the world for having forgotten. I realized however, one vital difference, I had never forgotten about her, she’s in my every day, ashes or no ashes. Still, I stood there with tears streaming down my face, then set her ashes carefully on the counter as I resumed my quest to reclaim tiny rocks, sniffling all the way.
I finished my task and poured my pile of tiny treasures back into the jar from which they’d come. I screwed the bottom back in place and flipped it over to inspect my work. I watched in some odd slow-motion horror as the bottom immediately popped back off and the tiny rocks once again flew from one end to the other of my dining room and kitchen.
I looked at my grandmother’s ashes sitting amongst the scattered rocks and I laughed and cried. I could see them both, somewhere far away from here, laughing. They both had magical laughter, the kind where their eyes light up and you can see joy. I breathed them in and lingered in the memories of these two amazing people who taught me so much about how to live and how to die. I thanked them for their peculiar and yet touching, welcome home.
Last night I went to my parents to retrieve my grandfather’s rock and mineral collection. I had set up the hutch for it in my office, it seemed only appropriate to surround myself with him there, feel him around me as I worked. Each piece was lovingly packed from the cabinet that had been their home for so many years. I spent hours last night placing them and rearranging them in their new cabinet here. I swam in a sea of his memories as I did. In the middle of the collection now sits a small pink, heart shaped jar. This room, it exists to a large degree because of what they taught me. Here, as I work, I get to be surrounded by them and all their inspiration, all their love.
Grief never goes away completely, but it changes. There will forever be a part of me that aches over them being gone, but occasionally they remind me…….they aren’t that far away.