I am still surprised by details of living, by things that never cross your mind to question until you find yourself facing it. The things I want to call administrative, though that isn’t really the right term for it. How, in a goodbye, there is never the swelling moment of music, the fade to black. How you can find yourself sitting on the floor with your sister, shocked at the amount of ashes your father became. The weight of them. The ridiculous polka-dot box you have in front of you to send him home to your house across the country because, while it’s legal to fly with someone, it’s illegal to fly with their remains.
Let me backtrack. Life is full of moments that are ridiculous. After my dad’s memorial my sister and I had a box and had to do something with the substance that used to be my dad. I’m not trying to be cold in this—the body laid out that memorial wasn’t my father—it was just what was left behind. No smile, no gesture, no laughter. But you still have to do something with it, and so he was cremated. I remember when we scattered my grandmother’s ashes, so it shouldn’t have surprised me just how much substance there was. My dad was a large man, and even through sickness he was still tall, even if he’d lost a lot of weight. We opened the box; the funeral home had put ash in bags for us, but even so, there was more than we knew what to do with. We thought, ok, we don’t want urns, but maybe we can find nice wooden boxes, like something my dad would have made. Maybe there’s something nice at a place to buy tea—a nice wooden box that’s not meant for a body but feels more true to our father.
We found ourselves at the Short Hills mall, walking into Tevanna, looking at the shelves in despair. Everything nice was so small, and everything large was made of china and, well, looked like an urn. A guy came up to us to see if he could help, and stutteringly we explained that we were looking for something like a tea container, but larger. “Well, how much tea are you keeping?” And, instead of doing the kind thing, where we kept to our story, we spilled out that, in fact, we were looking for something to put ashes into, because our dad had just died, and we thought maybe…
The guy blinked, and then rolled with it. He laughed to join in with our awkward stumbling laughter and looked down at the box in his hand. “Yeah, this is pretty small.” He looked around the store and pointed at a shelf with elaborate white china with blue willow type patterns dancing across their shape. “I’m sure you saw those but… too urn-like, right?” We nodded. He checked a few more places, but kept returning with things too small or made of too much delicate china. “Maybe try Williams Sonoma? Kitchen N Things?”
We walked out and stood for a moment. My dad liked cooking—Williams Sonoma was a frequent stop on our holiday shopping lists. Perhaps it’s fitting that we walked from kitchen store to kitchen store, looking for one last present for him, settling on double walled stainless steel container from Crate & Barrel and a story that involved less detail to the hapless staff trying to assist two grieving and laughing sisters.
Would my dad have been upset? I don’t think so. I think he would have laughed and retold the story in his quiet way, sitting a little back from the crowd at a family party. There are lately so many things I would have liked to ask him, there are so many stories I want to share. I still find myself wanting those cinematic stops—his body lifting lightly in the wind off of Rainier when we scatter him. In all actuality I suspect that when I eventually reach the summit the wind will tear him from me. I know that I won’t be able to bring the whole container of ashes—each ounce matters and I think he’d rather I take water than a coffee container. I’ll get back to my apartment after all is said and done and there most of him will be, still waiting on my book shelf. I’ll be tired and sore. It might be my first attempt, it might be a later attempt—weather cares little for what your plans are, what ceremony is intended.
There are no nice bows to wrap things up, there are no good endings. He died years ago now, and still I am angry that I can’t tell him about the first 5.12 I climbed in the gym, about the multi-pitches I did in Mexico. I can’t call him from Oregon this Thanksgiving or send him pictures of my friends, our hands chalky, our skin sunburnt. I’m angry I can’t talk to him about when he met my mom, I can’t tell him shyly about a man I like or tell him, after it’s all gone to hell, about how I’m still trying to figure my life out. I don’t know if my friends know what the silver container on my shelf is, but it’s my dad. Because bodies suck and his betrayed him and now, because his gave out, I have to be stronger than I was then. And I am, I’m getting there.