Around this time about a year ago, Sean, James, and many family members joined me outside of Aspen, Colorado to spread Pete’s ashes in a beautiful river. It was nearly a year and a half after his death. It took me that long to work up the strength to do it, but there was never any doubt that that is what I would do. Pete and I didn’t have intricate funeral plans in writing, but we had many conversations about it, and he had always said, “If I go first just put me in a great fly fishing river.” He said that fully aware that odds were high that he would go first. Fortunately, he left it to me which river, so I picked the one where I would want to be, and where I will be some day.
I curled up in my favorite chair watching a movie the other night and there was a scene where a woman visited the grave of her husband. She placed a bunch of wildflowers on the headstone then sat on the ground for a while talking to him. We’ve all probably heard stories of people who visit cemeteries every day or on certain anniversaries to be with their loved ones. I myself often visited Keith Whitley’s grave for several years after he passed away. I had worked with him and cared about him deeply. Anytime I’m in southern Ohio, I visit the grave of my brother, Christopher, who died when he was only two years old and I was five. I don’t stay long, I just spend some time and reflect.
A headstone is a focal point. Something to lock into visually, something to talk to, something to decorate. Pete doesn’t have a headstone. There isn’t anywhere to visit.
As sentimental as I am, I was wondering why it doesn’t bother me that I don’t have a specific place to go to be with Pete. Then it hit me—I’m surrounded by headstones here in my home. I don’t have to get in the car and drive anywhere. It’s all around me.
I have Pete’s recording studio and office. It’s decorated with awards and framed photos of him performing. I can sit in his chair and be surrounded by him. I have instruments scattered about the house in cases and on stands. I think of him every time I trip over a guitar case or look at one of his guitars or mandolins or banjos. I can pick them up and hold them or play a few chords, and I can visualize him smiling. He loved it on the rare occasions I would play. I have photos of us that sit on my desk or table tops in the living room. Always with that broad smile of his looking back at me. There’s the stack of his favorite books with is wire-rimmed reading glasses resting on top.
These are my headstones. These are the places that I visit Pete. And not just on occasion. Every day.