Monday, April 2, 2012

The Beach

Cannon Beach from Ecola State Park (from here)

The sun rose in a blue sky and all I could do was sob. The beautiful day was mocking me and my thoughts began the spiral down. “I am so lost”, I thought. “I don’t belong here. Where is he? Where is my life? When will I feel safe again? Will I?”

I cried until I felt sick, until tears dropped from my chin and onto the floor, my shirt, my feet. I cried and cried and cried.

Eventually, the promise of feeling sun on my skin began to make the weight lessen until I could formulate a vague plan. I’d go to the beach. Look out at the blue Pacific. Lie in the sand and let the earth hold onto me. I’d let the ocean provide the peace I couldn’t find within myself.

And suddenly, the thought “I’ll throw his ashes in the ocean today” just appeared in my mind. I had never considered it before and decided to act on the impulse. I could easily see myself holding the plastic bag of ashes into the wind at the edge of the water, letting the wind carry his remains out to sea.

So much of this terrible journey has been about following my instincts. I don’t have a clue when I’ll be ready to do something as impossible as open that box and witness the gray ashes that constitute my best friend’s remains, but when I am, I’d better just do it. If I have the strength today, I might not again for a while. Get it over with. Push through it. Maybe I tend to rush too much, but I do know that my impulses regarding Dave’s death have never steered me wrong so far.

I slid the large oak box off the closet shelf and carefully turned it upside down to inspect the workings. Four screws held the bottom on. Once I unscrewed them, I’d see his remains for the first time. I suppressed the urge to throw up as I dug a screwdriver out of storage and carefully unscrewed one, two, three, four times, all the while wondering how it was possible that I was holding Dave’s ashes in my lap. That Dave is ashes.

After removing the bottom, I saw the gray ashes inside the plastic bag. I carefully poked the surface. Dense. Thick. Heavy. Dark gray. Describes the way grief feels perfectly.

I reattached the bottom plate and packed the box, the screwdriver and a pair of scissors to cut the bag open. I added a blanket, water and a snack and began the 2 hour drive to the ocean.

As the miles disappeared behind me, I cried some more. I grasped onto a few moments of clarity and less pain. I lapsed into a few moments of utter numbness and detachment.

Then, on the horizon, as I approached Cannon Beach, I caught a glimpse of the blue blue Pacific and haystack rock. The waves appeared to be still from this far away, frozen in perfect frothiness. The blue was dense and almost unnatural in the spring sunshine. I felt a tiny flicker of peace inside me.

The closer I got to the trail I wanted to take to take to the shore, the more the clouds rolled in. Finally, I pulled into the parking lot, used the state park bathroom, and gathered the bag and blanket and realized… I’d forgotten my wallet and that here at the shore, the weather was cold and gray, not warm and golden as I’d envisioned. I felt cold, lost and weak.

 Thankfully, the gas tank was full enough to get me home, but my desire to be at the ocean had evaporated. All I could think of was getting home.

I realized how incredibly vulnerable my grief had made me that day. I’d been unable to think through the simplest plan. I’d even maybe been a bit of a danger on the roads. The condition I was in and road travel just weren’t a good combination.
Defeated, I drove home without ever making it down to the beach. I left the box of Dave in the car for the time being. I didn't have the energy to bring it back up to my apartment.

Maybe the day will come when I feel ready to try again. I have given over the reigns to grief. It carries on at its own rate, no matter what I do.

I still envision a beautiful sunny day on the coast, me retracing our own footsteps from years ago. Gulls crying, waves crashing, wet sand cool beneath my toes and Dave's ashes being carried away on the wind, into the Pacific.


  1. I still have andrew's ashes too cassie, and someday when the time is right and I can find the strength I will do something with them. But until that day arrives, surviving the other days is enough. You will be will be two years for me on 5/4 and I can't believe I made it but I have. You will be ok.

  2. so perfectly descriptive of this life.

  3. Cassie, it's just amazing. We have never met, but I guess that in our similar circumstances (age, no children, amount of time since loss) I feel incredibly in tune with your ups and downs.

    As the 1 year mark for Greg approaches in just a couple weeks, I have had my share of ups and downs. Seemingly much more poigniant than the past year. Or perhaps it's because I now feel them more, with the haze of numbness havning mostly worn off.

    Greg requested to be shot out of a cannon (yes, no joke) after he was gone. Shot out of a cannon?! So, after some technical difficulties earlier this year, we are trying again on the 14th of this month. 1 year and 2 days after he died. But I will have remains left.. and have worked to figure out what to do with them. Scattering them in different places all around the NW is what I have come up with, starting with Crater Lake and St. Helens this summer. But I also understand the drive/impulse to make that happen... then the realization later that your heart is not in it. (or maybe, that's the challenge... your heart is with Dave...).

    Though it doesn't feel like it, all things will be figured out in due time. I know this is true but so hard to allow that to play out. If only we had a button to go back in time....

    Thoughts of strength and peace for you today, Cassie. Thank you for sharing.

  4. Hi Cassie.
    I feel for you.

    I have to be honest though. As I read through your post, I was cringing as I thought this story was going to turn out entirely differently.

    As sad as I am that you weren't able to finish your plan that day, I'm happy that it didn't turn out as I was fearing it might.

    My Dave was not cremated, however the father of a friend of mine died and was cremated a few months after Dave died. My friend told the story of how her mother went out in a canoe onto the very still lake at their cabin to spread the ashes, and it was very anti-climactic. There was no breeze or wind whatsoever and the ashes just plunked out of the bag directly into the water. It was not romantic she said - it was almost comedic.

    This is still not what I was fearing would happen to you.
    I don't know the area that you intended on spreading your Dave's ashes, but if you're standing on shore at the ocean, with the waves crashing in at your feet, I'm pretty sure that the wind isn't going to blow the ashes out to sea, but quite the opposite.

    So, my point is to pay attention to the wind on the day that you decide to spread his ashes.

    Good luck to you and I hope you get your perfect sunny day soon!

    1. Good point! I had to grin at your warning about the direction of the wind. Great example of how real life almost never looks like what you imagined!
      I will keep that in mind and formulate a plan.

  5. Cassie, your honesty is so admirable! You are very brave and smart enough to yield to the grief instead of forcing yourself to do something you are just not ready to do. Do not consider yourself "defeated". I am just over 2 years and still not ready for some things.

    I pray that special day will come for you and I suspect it will be emotional, tearful, painful but most importantly peaceful.

  6. When the day comes you will know.
    The sun will out.
    The breeze will be blowing in the right direction.
    When you free his remains to be carried away by wind and sea.
    It will feel as it is meant to feel.
    On that day.
    And it will be an ending and a beginning and a coming full circle.
    Grief may defeat us in moments but only for moments.
    We rise again and again.
    Peace to you.

    1. I remember reading that you are still early on? If I may offer advice...I know they say not to do anything within the first year. I decided instinctively to give it three years, not to have any expectations of myself, and just try to get through the days. And I am now at 29 months, and it is so true that time makes a difference. I still have a long way to go, but I can see now that I have come a long way. Give yourself a break. It really is best not to do much of anything right now, because you don't want to regret things in a year that you did now on impulse. I know I always play it safe, but I still have all of my husbands' belongings, clothing in the closet and drawers, ashes on his night table, and when the time is right will be the time when it won't hurt me to clear things out. And the time isn't there yet, although I can envision it now. There is no rush. There is enough of a void left from their passing, no need to make it bigger by moving faster than you want to on impulse. My husband gave me a refrigerator magnet once, it says "Never go faster than your Guardian Angel can fly." Take it one hour, day or minute at a time, but don't rush. It won't take away your grief, or make it go away any faster. Just breathe, and have faith that everything happens in its' own time, and go with your gut. This post of yours is very, very touching, and I think we have all had our moments of not even knowing what/where to do with ourselves. Just give it time, and take good care of yourself.

    2. I do not have the perspective that many years as a widow/er gives a person, so thank you for sharing what you've learned along the way.
      I think it's so interesting how we do things at such different rates. And what I've found is that when it feels right to do something, it IS right. Each choice I make is a fork. If I had gone left, I might regret not going to the right and if I'd gone to the right, I might regret not going to the left. It just doesn't matter, as long as it felt right at the time and that it was taking care of me. It's not too soon or too late, right or wrong, it just IS and what I make of it is what matters. UNLESS, I do something I'm not ready to do (although even then, I can still make the best of it and LEARN from it). For example, I felt, in the pit of my stomach, that I wasn't ready for a little dedication ceremony to Dave the other day and once I made the decision not to go (at the last minute), I felt infinitely better. I knew I wasn't ready, I didn't push myself, and my body and heart instantly told me I'd made the choice I needed to make for me.
      Taking care of me is something I'm learning as I go. But I'm learning!

  7. Cassie,
    As others have said, that day will come for you, you will know when it is time. I have scattered my husbands ashes in several of our favorite spots, mostly lakes and oceans where we sailed and swam. And I still have some remaining in a ceramic pot I made on his dresser. They have sat there for 2+ years, that someday will come for them, too. If I may make a suggestion, when the day comes for you, don't do it alone, give yourself some support. You know others will be there for you, it's nothing you have to do alone. Wait for that day you envision.

    1. Interestingly, every time I think of doing it with someone, it feels wrong. It feels like it should just be Dave and me. That could very well change, though.

  8. Trust your intuition, it will grow stronger and more clear as time goes on. The fact that you listened and then were able to turn away when it didn't work out as planned shows your strength even though you felt defeated and exhausted.
    Like Cathy, I have scattered Tim's ashes all over the world in our favorite places and have most of him left in a beautiful ceramic pot in our bedroom. I have a small "travel urn" I got from the funeral home; I take it with me on my travels. I also have a lovely heart locket with some of his ashes inside. When went to the jewelry store with the idea of finding a locket for his ashes, I was surprised to be told that they make special "ash lockets". I love wearing Tim around my brings much comfort. My plan is to have our ashes intermingled when I die and scattered in the ocean together. Your heart and intuition will tell you when it is time for you Cassie. In the mean time, I wish you peace and light.