I walked into the crematorium office yesterday to claim his remains. It was a surreal moment. His once vibrant, intact body was now reduced to compacted ash inside the brown, plastic box that rested on the bare wooden desk in front of me. I felt a throbbing in my temples. I reminded myself to breathe, as I scribbled my name on the paper in front of me so he could be released to my custody.
I picked up the container; he was heavier than I thought. I placed him carefully on the passenger’s seat, resisting the urge to buckle him in and drove home slowly, my right hand instinctually resting on top of the box, like one does with a child, thinking that you can somehow protect them from harm that way.
I carried him into the house, locked my front door, and pulled the curtains open as a light rain began to fall. Sitting in the chair I gripped tightly to what was left of him, staring in disbelief at his picture on the wall. Then I reluctantly placed the box on top of the bed where he once slept. A rogue wave struck and knocked me to the ground. I was swept away by the brutal tsunami of despair. I began to sob. He had trusted me to care for him, and I felt I had failed, feeling if I had done my job properly, he wouldn’t be in this box.
He had prepared in the Buddhist tradition for the eventuality of death, and I had been assured by many wisdom teachers that he had “passed well.” For that, I truly rejoice. But comfort eludes me right now because I am contracted around my own sorrow; I miss him. This is called grief. It comes with the territory when you love people and then they leave you.
Two dear friends came over this afternoon, and we hiked together in our Community Redwood Forest. We took a glass container that held a portion of his ashes, placing some of them inside dead stumps that still miraculously bore life, some under moist green ferns at the base of towering old-growth trees, and the rest around moss-covered rocks. It was Earth Day, a perfect time to carry out his final wishes: to scatter his ashes in the forest.
Walking under the canopy of these majestic trees with the sun filtering through their lacy boughs, inhaling the musty odor of the fertile earth, I could feel the weight on my chest release. Here, as one of my friends said, was the forest… “foresting.” An endless, ongoing dance of death and coming back into life—over and over again. I closed my eyes as we held hands and whispered our prayers of God Speed. I felt my mind relax and open. I smiled as we made our way back down the trail, imagining he might be thinking… This is good.