Dear A, R, and D,
I know there are many hard conversations ahead of us. Some, I can never imagine. Others, I know will happen one day… and I always think “that day is not today.”
Maybe its true that I have already had the hardest conversation… but that doesn’t make the future ones easier.
D, I often wonder how the understanding will have played out for you. When you are grown, and look back, you will surely never remember a time when your father was alive. But, how will you remember your understanding of death to have taken shape? To be honest, I can’t say how I want that to happen for you. When we were at the beach this summer, there was a day when you and I and A, walked back from town together, hand in hand. R was ahead of us on her scooter. We were talking about where in the beach house you left your daddy doll (I try always to know since you will not sleep without it – thank goodness we have 3!), when A said something about Daddy the person and you said, “where IS Daddy?… Big daddy?” and I realized it was the first time you’ve ever asked that. I said, “well, Daddy is in Heaven…” Annabelle piped up and added to it, and we both talked about how great he was, how much we miss him, how much he wishes he could be with us. But I really don’t know what of that you understood. I don’t understand what Heaven is, so how can I really even try to explain it to you? Recently, you looked at the picture in your room and said “I am wearing blue, and Daddy is holding me.” I stopped what I was doing and looked at the picture and said, “that’s right, D, you are!” There was no more, but it pierced me. I wanted that photo right there where you could always see it, and see his face, and how happy he was to be with you! And here it was having that desired effect. I think. I don’t know. I never know how to do this.
Recently in the kitchen alone, R, you looked at me so earnestly and said you don’t know where daddy’s body is. You said “I don’t understand what happens to us when we die,” and I answered honestly. “I don’t understand either. But here’s what I believe…”
The other night, we were at the pool with friends. The big kids did a play, and there were zombies. Later it came up about a smell… “couldn’t be the zombies! … What? … Zombies are dead! Have you ever smelled a dead body?… No!? … Gross.” My whole body went rigid, wondering whether any of the 3 of you heard… what you might say… what questions you might ask me.
Because here’s the thing. It’s been two years and none of you knows what happened to Daddy’s body. I’ve explained that he died. That he’s gone from this earth. That he’s in our hearts. That he’s in “heaven.” I know you understand that you will never see him again. When I was young, as long as I can remember I went to funerals. I grew up Catholic, where funerals are part of the social experience. Where open casket viewings are common, traditional. I grew up going to Mass on Sundays, and more often than not going to the cemeteries after for my parents to visit their parents, for me to visit with them – my grandparents. I remember going to funerals. The Mass, the viewing, the open casket, the procession line, the cemetery, the lowering into the ground. Unfortunately, your dad and I never spoke very clearly with each other about our exact wishes upon death because it was the furthest thing from our minds. Before our youngest child even finished nursing, or his first year of life, before our oldest child finished Kindergarten, the idea of one of us dying and the other needing to deal with death was unthinkable. And yet, your father was a passionate, opinionated man and I did know exactly what he would NOT want.
You all know that we had a celebration of life because Daddy hated funerals. We have a tree and bench (two actually in two different states) because Daddy didn’t like cemeteries. But you do not know WHERE his body is. And one day you will want to know.
So, here is the answer. He was cremated. This means his body was turned to ash, instead of being put into a box and lowered into the ground. Does this sound harsh? Both options sound harsh I think. But in one you can keep the ashes with you at all times – or you can spread the ashes out in the world in a place he would love to be. We are going to do both. And I can tell you for sure Daddy would not have wanted to be in a box in the ground. And here’s another thing. I made sure he could be in so many places. I used to tease him about his desire to go everywhere. He was a homebody who was also restless. He was no good at travel, and yet he dreamed of moving so much more than I did. He’d throw out options all the time. Let’s move to California! Buffalo, NY. Minnesota! Wisconsin. Boston – definitely Boston. Austin, TX. Ireland. London. Australia. New Zealand. It never ended. But the plans to move were never well formed. Just dreams he liked to mention. I wanted to visit these places, because I love to travel. Your father simply wanted to move there. I often wonder if somehow, he didn’t feel deep down in a place that never caught his conscious mind that he wasn’t here on Earth for a long time. So how did I make sure he could be in many places? When they asked me about an urn.. they mentioned they could do several keepsake boxes of ashes, and I asked how many. They didn’t know. I said as many as you can. So I have no big fancy urn on the mantle. I don’t need it to have him with us. We have so many other reminders of him visible in our home. I have all keepsake boxes. I’ve already given away the ones to Daddy’s family. To the other people who were blood and family and so special to him. Allow them to chose where their part of him should go. Stay close with them at all times – or spread in a place he loved of their choosing. But the others are still home with us. Home with us where he would most love to be while you are young. When you are old enough to read this, to get this information and understand it, all of you, then we will talk more about spreading his ashes out in the world in places he would most love to be. I have a small keepsake box for each of you. I will give it to you when you are ready. You can keep it with you, or you can spread it out in the world as you choose. Then I have 3 more. There is so much that can be done: keep, spread, and more… I’ve seen some add the ashes to an hour glass. Still others have had the ash made into jewelry of all types. I have a big trip planed for us when you are older to spread one keepsake box in a place far from here that Daddy and I loved, that we loved together, and I want to show you. I think I’d like to spread another at his tree with you all, if you agree, when you are ready to do so. And the last, I will save. And my wish is that you will share it with my ashes someday. I absolutely hope that you will have me cremated. If nothing else, to save you the money of a traditional burial! Mix some or all of my ashes with your dad’s. Either keep the commingled ashes with you, or spread them in a beautiful place where we’d love.
At the end of the day, it’s ash, it’s dust. Our bodies will be gone. But I hope that we will live on in you. Always.
So that, my dears, is where daddy’s body is. Some day we will let go of his ashes together. For now, they are with us. His spirit lives on in our hearts forever. The personality traits, quirks, mannerisms, and love that you have of Daddy’s – you have forever. Daddy is in our hearts. Always.
All my love, Always,