by Avis Kaeselau
It was a half hour before sunset on Sunday along the wind swept dunes of Provincetown where my husband and I were both born and raised. Only our children and grandchildren were there. The weather was cold, sunny and windy. Perfect! It was the day we chose to scatter granddad's cremated remains to the blustery breeze that would carry them on to forever more, somewhere into peaceful serenity.
The ceremony was really for the little ones since our four children had already said "goodbye" to their father at home the day he died. When it was over we spent the next five hours loving and holding him, crying and talking to him before we’d let them take his body away. We even made an inked handprint of his right hand for each of us to have which told the story of his life: hard work, honesty, kindness and love. All this, while Treg, our son, was softly playing his guitar as he always does at family functions. It was a time of closure for us, a time to say goodbye. And now, in order for the grandchildren to try and understand the mystery of death, we would help them to participate in the last part of granddad's departure from this earthly plain.
I was out of breath, and my heart was pounding as we trudged up a steep, soft, sand dune, carrying granddad's remains. I had to rest a few times, and so did my daughter, Grethe, who’s just had two hips replaced, even though she had taken her crutches to help her along. Another daughter, Odin, who has five little boys, was carrying her newborn son on her chest and her one year old on her hip. Another daughter, Breten, grabbed little hands and helped them climb along in the right, upward, direction. The oldest grandchild was only ten. Each one was carrying his well thought out treasure for granddad in a pail, in a bag, in his pockets.
Soon we found our special spot and sent the kids off in search of "things" to form a circle with such as twigs, feathers, stones, etc. They raced and rolled down the hills, full of life and laughter. It struck me how free they were, not worrying about the road and the cars, or drowning in water too deep. They were free to go. It was so peaceful there high in the clouds. I had forgotten what bliss one feels in this wondrous place where we had once spent many happy hours together with our four children.
The circle was soon formed mostly from pieces of driftwood and stones. Then the children lay down on the sand flat on their backs around the circle. They moved their arms and legs, back and forth, back and forth, to make "sand angels"-- imprints of winged angels embedded in the crystalline earth (their own creative idea). The youngest ones did not really understand, but eagerly followed the older ones, playing the game. We all sat around this crude circle that symbolized "everlasting life" (because a circle has no end).
It was time now to place their objects in the center of the structure. Each one, with great pride, tenderly lay his priceless treasure in its own little space, just for granddad. There were shells from the bay; pictures of sail boats and sunshine (all painted by tiny fingers); a tall, fluffy, plume of wild grass; a pine cone; some colorful wildflowers; a piece of newspaper that said FREE in large bold print; a stone that the Indians used to start their fires; a bolt and nut; a working pencil; pieces of wood (he was a carpenter); beautiful leaves; smooth, sand-worn, rocks; two ears of corn; etc. It was truly eclectic and appeared quite "odd" against the stark simplicity of the dunes.
Then one of the children handed each of us a wild "milk pod" she had gathered the day before in her pail. And together we all opened our pods, scooped out the perfectly placed seeds, and released them into the breeze. Everyone participated! The sun was going down & it became dreary and darker.
I read several beautiful passages, poems and thoughts that were meaningful and appropriate for the occasion and that certainly made us reflect and think. One of my daughters spoke about the precious "gift" their dad had given all of them by his example: Integrity! Then she read the dictionary meaning: "Honesty. Sincerity. Uprightness. Soundness." This brought tears to our eyes, all of us, because it was so true of him; and we felt a lump of humility in our throats.
The moment had finally come to disperse the ashes. Using a large white shell from the bay as a scoop, one by one, even the littlest child, scattered granddads remains into the wind until there was no more left; and he was set free, finishing his life here on this earth as the sun was sinking deep into the hills. The ending of another day, another life. We assured the children that he would live again, somewhere else, like the morning sunrise; but he would not be sick anymore and he would be happy and full of love and joy.
I thanked our children for their loving contributions during their dad's illness. Some gave time, energy, many rides to the hospital in Boston, making the foods he once loved to eat, doing the things around the house he could no longer do himself, taking care of his medications and meals, visiting him, worrying about him, messaging his feet and hands. Each one came through with so much help, and love, and more. They were told how grateful and proud their father was of each of them.
Then, I read these words as a message from their dad to them: "Take care my sweet, sweet ones. Go and do good for others, make me proud and make yourself happy. Lead by example, so others will know how to behave and think and feel when their "time" comes. And in the process, you will learn what courage is all about."
The sun had finally set behind the hovering hills. The sky, on one side, was a brilliant, blazing orange. On the other side, a delicate, pastel pink! It was absolutely awesome, though quite dark, in the wooded path below. So the children, who had already anticipated this, had brought their flashlights to guide them and they tromped, hurriedly down the damp, somber, dunes; this time with only their spotlights in their tiny cold hands, bobbing and glowing like strange errant fireflies in the black of night.
A mysterious and unusual adventure, indeed. A day of freedom and celebration. A day for the release of a body that could no longer serve his precious soul, and only through death was he finally healed!