Monday, March 30, 2015

Ashes To Ashes

Stan's Ashes, in our bedroom, before we scattered them

Saturday, I carried the remnants of my husband's body from our bedroom to the summit of Monks Road, in Glossop, the spot he had chosen as his final resting place. It was one of the hardest things I have had to do, in this 10 month journey since his death.

His family and I scheduled this date months ago. Even then, I was reluctant to consider it. It was a comfort to me, to have his scatter tube here, in our room, underneath the photo of us, taken at our wedding. I loved the little shrine I had made for him. I would touch and pat the tube as I talked to him. I would say hello to him in the morning and tell him good night when I came upstairs for bed. 

To those who have not yet faced the loss of a spouse, (or, perhaps, even, to some who have), this might seem a bit creepy. But it felt no different than visiting a beloved's grave. I knew where he was, and I felt grounded by his presence.

This act of cremation, so popular in recent years, feels unsettling to me. I understand the need for it, and perhaps it is more ecologically sound, but, had it been my choice, I think I would have preferred our traditional custom of burial. It feels so much more concrete. We place our loved ones in the ground, and shovel dirt on top. We memorialise them with a stone. We etch their names into it, and their dates of birth and death. We go to their graves and place flowers, and trinkets, touch the ground where their body rests. Their lives are made permanent, somehow, through these rituals. 

In cremation, we reduce their bodies to a bucket of ash. We scatter them to the winds. They are lost to us, forever. 

It feels so final. 

I know that he was so much more than his body. His spirit was bigger than that. I know that he lives on in our memories and in our hearts. I hope that my written words will serve as a concrete reminder of who he was and what he meant to all of us. Still, it was hard to say goodbye to what little I had left. 

Saturday came, and the date had arrived, and it was time to carry out his wishes. His children, especially, felt the need to have a place to visit, too. It was selfish of me to keep him hidden away, inside a room, when he had always made clear his desire to become a part of that sloping hill at the top of our world, where, on a clear day, the view stretches more than 20 miles, to the cities below. 
Stan's resting place, on a clear day, earlier this year.
I brought his ashes down the stairs and placed them in a carrier bag. I wrapped them in a blanket so they wouldn't be cold, and I seat belted him into the car to bring them to his son's house. The morning was damp and grey, and predictions ranged from drizzle to hard rain, typical weather for northern England, in the spring. 

I asked him to clear the way for us to do what we needed to do for him. I could hear him saying "it's the weather! Just deal with it!" Or, his famous line--"the leaves are dancing in the rain! You should be dancing, too!" 

The family and I gathered at his son's house, where we have gathered many times, for celebrations and holidays, where we had gathered, on the 9th of June, to form a caravan behind the hearse that carried another son's casket--the same place we gathered, two weeks later, to follow his casket. This would be our final gathering, to say goodbye. 

Thirty minutes before we made our pilgrimage to the hill, the weather cleared, and the rains paused. We drove a mile to the summit, where his good friends and sisters waited. We brought his scatter tube to a flat place, and I read parts from a poem he had written, in 2010, shortly before we met. His granddaughter read a beautiful tribute to him, that she had written, at Christmas.

reading his poem

from "The Buddleia and Two Butterflies"
by Stan Kukalowicz, September 2010

Oh the sheer beauty of the Buddleia, emerging from barren ground,
With pinnacles of vivid navy blue, cheekily inviting you to come and view.
Butterflies descend, performing a rhythmic dance amongst the hues,
Each splendid in their beauty and vibrancies, inviting you to taste,
Previous experiences now pupated into a delicate and colourful creation.

We passed his tube, from me, to daughters, to sons, to sisters, each of us scattering a piece of him to the ground. We threw flowers amongst the ashes as offerings. We hugged each other and wiped our tears. We piled back into cars and made our way down the hill. And the rains resumed.

Later, his friends drank a toast to him at one of his favourite pubs, and the family shared a curry at his favourite restaurant, Shere Khan, on what is known as The Curry Mile, in Manchester. They knew him well, there, and remembered him. He had brought each of us to this place, at one time or another, for celebrations, or just to have a bite to eat. It was one of the first places he took me, when we were new.

The food was grand, as was the service. We ate heartily, as he would have, had he been with us, and we raised our glasses to him. 

I had dreaded this day for months. I had tried to ignore its looming closeness. I had not wanted to let him go. But the next morning, I awakened with a sense of calm, and relief. We had honoured his wishes. We had placed the remnants of the body we loved into the earth, where the winds would carry them, and the rains would wet them, and the mud would welcome them. It was hard for all of us, but we did it. He would have been proud.

I have taken the day off from work today, and I am going to go for a little hike, up the hill, to his spot. I'll take a flower, and say hello. 

Later in the spring, we'll plant a bush--a buddleia--a hearty plant, wild, and beautiful, where butterflies like to rest.


  1. That's so beautiful it made me cry , I lost my hubby who was 46 7 weeks ago we have been together 30 years , his ashes will stay with me until my time comes xx

  2. I'm warmed by all the places where you can go and feel close to him.

  3. dear Tricia,

    i am glad you and your family are at peace with carrying out your dear Stan's wishes with such a beautiful and meaningful ceremony. sending you waves and waves of warm hugs...


  4. What to do with the ashes...has been an issue for us here. It is a hard, long question we haven't made peace with yet. For became very difficult to have them so close...I shared the larger portion with his daughters. But I have some, and have scattered them here and there around our favorite places on the island. Now whenever I visit these special places, I know a bit of him is there. We have the big scatter yet to plan, at the place he considered is most favorite - a very special, sacred place here. We just haven't been ready yet. And I, I think, I shall always keep a small bit of him with me. Now, I can't let him all go, and never want to.

  5. my mother asked me this week to contact a family friend in Mexico She is like a daughter to my mom. Her name is Evalia and she was born and raised in Zihautenejo-- where she still lives and owns a Papelaria.. My mom wanted me to ask Evailia if she would send home a Talavera Vase with my sister who is there now. mom wants us use to use the vase for her ashes. My mom says she is ready to die-- but still afraid to go.

    I was so moved by your once again, clear and honest story telling style, a story about not wanting to let go.-- yet some how you did it. What humans can does, especially emotionally with their lives and days and moments-- such a lot of practice -- a life time, working with attachment. You are a good teacher.

  6. I went to Glossop Adult Education Centre (Access course) with Stan in 1995, and we were friends for a number of years afterwards.
    I remember his wall of reggae CDs very well. I've lived in Birmingham for a long time, now, and this morning I woke up thinking of the summer days when I used to go and visit him at his computer repair shop.
    I just looked him up online and saw the sad news. He was a very soulful, intelligent and lovely man.
    I am just happy to learn that he was surrounded by so many good people, was so loved and respected by so many and that his ashes were placed in such a beautiful place.
    I'm sure he's in the happiest of spiritual places as I write. What a good man!