I glanced at the book Small Victories by Anne Lamont today and as I was getting ready to place it on a cart to be re-shelved a small voice inside said, ‘read this.’ I’m trying hard to listen to that voice and so I curiously opened it directly to a page where author Anne Lamont is recalling spreading her friend’s ashes.
This caught my attention fast. I still have most of John’s ashes except a few cups I released into Lake Michigan last year. I often think of releasing what is left of them and then back down from the idea – not ready - too permanent an action for me, as if his death isn’t permanent. Still, even though I know he never thought that three plus years after his death I would still have his ashes, I do. There is a level of pain that accompanies their disappearance completely that I can’t quite explain and I suppose because these years have been so incredibly painful I have avoided adding to it.
In the book Lamont says that ashes are both “so heavy and so light. That they are impossible to let go of entirely. They stick to things, to your fingers, your sweater.” This was my experience as well. I waded into Lake Michigan and crouched down low near the water so John’s ashes wouldn’t be blown about so much. I even waited until the tide was in and just getting ready to recede before I poured them in but as often is Nature had other plans, small wave after wave came in then and they swirled around my feet, my pant legs and legs. John’s ashes were as difficult to release physically as they were emotionally, even after they were submerged and merged with the great lakes’ water they were still in my heart, still heavy. I sometimes find that even though I know it was good to have relinquished them back to the One, which is as it should be, that I wish I hadn’t.
Later, in the book Lamont talks about how the ashes stuck to her fingers and how she licked them off, “ I licked my friend's ashes off my hand, to taste them, to taste her, to taste what was left after all that was clean and alive had ben consumed, burned away. They tasted metallic.”
I’ve actually read on blogs that others have done this as well and their admissions often bring horrified comments or judgment. I have not tasted John’s ashes but often wondered how different could it be really from tasting him when he was alive? I don’t mean that in an inappropriate or sexual way but in a daily living together sort of way. The salty taste of his kiss after a workout, the taste of his skin when I would taste something off of his finger he had cooked or the vague taste of his mouth when I would occasionally need to borrow his toothbrush. These tastes are as individual and intimate as your mate's smell and after he died I found I missed them too. So I would just as often be likely to be found sniffing his shirts as I would be holding his toothbrush in my mouth, to taste him, to be as close to what was left of his DNA as I could. Grief is not logical after all.
Ashes don’t go quietly leaving no trace behind. Releasing them for me has given no more of that mythical closure I've read about than any other ritual I’ve engaged in. What they do according to Lamont is “they cling, they haunt” and even though I’m not actually haunted by John’s ashes, I am haunted by his death.
His ashes have become a normal part of the tapestry of things that make up my home. Those who know me well know the beautiful pottery piece that contains them and those that know me very well will sometime ask to visit them alone, to visit John.
I have lots of back and forth feelings of guilt for having them still and then I have similar feelings over having released them back into the cycle, which I know he would have preferred, which I know I am often judged about by grief outsiders, and I’m working on it, it just appears I’m working at it very slowly. I'm working on it at widow's speed.