From the Ashes

Hello again, dear readers of A Very Small Nest. I have not entered a blog post in five months! But I am rising from the ashes, so to speak. In the months after the presidential election, we entered a self-imposed cocoon. Now, I am ready to write again. It is time to continue in a different way. Different because, if things go according to our plan, we will not be nomads much longer. The search for a “real” home has commenced!

Over two years ago we sold our house, culled our belongings and put what we wanted to keep in storage, then set out to be wanderers for a spell. Exactly two years ago plus one day, we departed from our old driveway for the last time (Facebook reminded me of this yesterday, so it must be so.)

We have developed a special relationship with our storage unit. Its address is in the memory of my phone’s GPS, and the key to the unit is always in our glove compartment. We visit it when we need clothes for the change of seasons, when we are given, or acquire, something that we can’t use right away, and just to switch things up. Even Casa Blanca is now parked at the storage facility, until our next trip or until we have a driveway again, whichever comes first.

Our interactions with the storage unit, though, are limited to the very front part, though the unit is thirty feet deep. Rear of the first several feet, everything is blocked in and out of reach. We haven’t interacted with any of that for two years! Who knows what lurks there? We only recall snatches of what we kept. When we look at potential houses, sometimes we say to each other, “Honey, did we keep that sideboard from the dining room?” Or, “Did we get rid of that blonde desk?” or “How about that blue lamp?”

Yes, the storage unit will be full of surprises when we finally empty it. I expect to be surprised not only by what we have, but by what we thought we had but have no longer. And then there is the question of how two long years of benign neglect have impacted our things. Will everything be as we remember it? Probably not.

Guilty confession: my brother’s ashes are in there somewhere.

They sat on a shelf in our house for 9 years after his death, waiting for his survivors to be inspired with a proper final resting place. When we moved out of the house, there was little to do other than store the ashes with everything else. (I’m reverent enough that I didn’t consider selling them in our big yard sale or donating them to the charity thrift store.)

Lest you think us heartless, we did have a gathering in his memory shortly after his death, during which participants each scattered a handful of his ashes into San Francisco Bay at his favorite fishing pier. But that left us with a huge box of um….. remaining remains…. that neither my sister or myself had a clue where to keep, or scatter, or put.

The existence of Richie’s ashes probably would not have crossed my mind again until we uncovered them – if it were not for two recent events: Charlie’s mother’s decision to send her husband’s ashes into space, and a recent stay at an Airbnb in Cambridge, Massachusetts for Theo’s graduation.

More about space travel for the deceased later. First, the Airbnb: An apartment on an unassuming and quiet street in Cambridge. The owners lived in the attached unit, and our rental unit was a clean if somewhat quirkily outfitted apartment. I was amused to see some Christmas decorations still on display in May, and a couple of framed but starkly unfinished amateur paintings hung on the wall. Who frames an unfinished painting?

Then, when I spent some time in the front sitting room, my eye was drawn to a bookcase shelf  that seemed to display…..was that an urn of ashes? Yes, it was. Similar to my brother’s final container in size and shape, but draped with a colorful scarf and a pendant sporting the initial “C”.  Beside it was a tiny photo in a frame that stated, simply, “Dad.”

This was all quite sweet, but it jarred me to think it was on display in a home that was now inhabited by a stream of strangers. Why hadn’t the owners removed it to a more personal and suitable location? And wasn’t it more than a little bit morbid to display such an item in guest lodgings?

Perhaps it is not my place to judge, I who have stored my brother in an impersonal and somewhat harsh environment. But I have to admit (and I am not a particularly squeamish person): the ashes on a shelf at the Airbnb kind of creeped me out. It just wasn’t right. Either put “Dad” somewhere where his loved ones will smile at his memory or somewhere he wanted to be. I’ve been trying for years to figure out where that would be for my brother.

Which brings me to Charlie’s Dad. The only instructions he left were, “Don’t put me in the ocean,” which was interesting because he spent his career on the water. And, when their only instructions are what NOT to do, those left behind have to figure out what TO do.

But this we knew: he was a lifelong fan of the space program. And of flight in general. To quote his family, the only two vessels he never actually flew were a hot air balloon and a spaceship. And so his dear wife decided to honor those two unmet dreams for him, even if posthumously. There’s a company that arranges to send a capsule of a loved one’s remains out into orbit on a satellite. It’s complicated and costly, involving an arrangement between the private company and NASA. The families of the “passengers” (may they rest in peace) are welcome at the launching.  I may very well be blogging about this event in the future. Stay tuned.

Only a small bit of one’s ashes are able to be accommodated, so the rest are disposed of at Cape Kennedy,  as a part of the package, with some additional fanfare. Understand, this is a group funeral of sorts, which has some macabre connotations in my twisted mind.

All of this makes me think. It is only fair that we leave clear instructions for our loved ones about how we would like our earthly remains to be dispensed. Lest we end up on a shelf in an Airbnb or, worse, a storage unit in Blackwood, NJ.

I’m not sure I deeply care what happens to my body after the breath of life has left it. But it you do, please don’t leave it in the hands of somebody like me. Make your wishes known while you have the chance!

Also: There may be a balloon ride in my future if my mother-in-law decides to go on a last outing with her husband before he is shipped to the launch pad. This terrifies me. So, If anything happens, make note: I have no interest in space flight. And, I agree with my father-in-law: the ocean sounds cold and harsh to me as a final resting place.

Beyond that, I still need to think on it. Let me first find a place to live out my days on this side of mortality.©

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