I am a procrastinator. Specifically, I procrastinate things that I know will be difficult for me emotionally. Things like spreading Pete’s ashes. I knew years before he died exactly where I would put them.
Pete and I talked about it, loosely. You know how couples do, on long drives when you start to get deep and philosophical. “Do you want to be buried or cremated?” “Where would you want your ashes spread?” A kind of wistful conversation as if you’re planning a vacation to a distant location–a very distant location.
Pete told me that he wanted his ashes spread in a beautiful fly fishing river out west. I told him that I go where he goes (or vice versa depending on fate.) We knew the odds were in his favor that he would make his way to the river first.
So after he died, I knew where this event would be taking place, and I was in no hurry to take him there.
Let’s talk about ashes for a minute. As a disclaimer I want to say ahead of time that I mean no disrespect and offer no judgement on this topic. Pete and I never discussed at length burial versus cremation as far as the philosophical and religious implications that go along with those choices. We just opted for cremation–and knowing how fiscally responsible Pete was, I would imagine that had something to do with it.
When Pete died, I knew the immediate next steps that I had to deal with, and I knew who could help. My close friend Terri worked in that business. She gently guided me through the steps. One day she called and she said, “I have Pete. When would you like to meet?” Ugh. My stomach dropped. “Can’t get out of this one,” I told my procrastinating self. The normalness of it all was overwhelming. I met Terri at a McDonald’s half way between her office and my home. I was sick to my stomach and felt dizzy–and I had to write a check for this sickness and dizziness. Terri was beautiful and loving and made it as painless as possible. Regardless, all that I could see was a black box in a black bag–heavy with ashes.
I took the ashes home and set them, unceremoniously, in my bedroom. I stared at the box and thought how unglamorous it was to have the box sitting on the floor in my bedroom. Then I made a very conscious decision. Ashes do not equal Pete. This box of ashes is not my husband. I’m not going to put them out on display because I cannot deal with the thought that this is Pete. Technically it was, but emotionally and philosophically the ashes were not. And most importantly if I had to acknowledge that box of ashes as “Pete” I would have lost my mind.
So, up until four weeks ago, those ashes have been in a box, within a bag, within my closet–and I avert my eyes whenever I walk into that closet. This is not Pete. Pete was alive and funny and loving and gifted.
Eventually the time came to deal with the ashes–time to put them where Pete wanted them put. I procrastinated for a year and a half. Then, a trip to Aspen was on the travel docket for work. It made sense. It’s where we met, where we fell in love, and where we fly fished together. I knew just the spot. I’d actually known it for years.
Even though those ashes weren’t Pete, it nearly killed me to let them go. The kids and I picked a perfect and remote spot on the river. I suited up in my fishing waders and sloshed out into the river. I was so unsteady and afraid. I had never once waded into a river without Pete by my side to steady me, to pick the spot and to advise me. But he was there, just not as ashes. He was in my heart and in the hearts of Sean and James, and the family that gathered with us.
I let the ashes go, and I felt like it was Pete. And it hurt.