Sunday, August 11, 2013

Facing into that last journey . . .

A friend's husband has an incurable disease, and he's a little less strong every day. A photo she posted on her blog shows him resting into himself, still able to talk, but his voice is softer every day. She said she didn't know what to do. She knows his death approaches, but she doesn't know how to prepare for that last breath, that last goodbye.

The simple truth is that we are not prepared to let go of those we love, and we each must find our own way. Some are cradled with religious belief. Some have strong families. Some face the death of a loved one alone.

I can only share what I learned when my sister's husband died two years ago.

First, he was cared for at home until that was impossible.

At hospice, my sister moved into his room. She was with him every day and every night. She held his hand, and she comforted him. Family and friends came to say their farewells. On the very last day, two cousins he had been close to came with their guitars. His last twenty-four hours, he was surrounded by all the songs he loved all his life, my sister by his side.

A large, public memorial service comforted us all.

At his wish, he was cremated. His 'cremains' rested in my sister's night stand for over a year until she was ready to let go. They had talked of scattering his ashes in the mountains or at sea; either would have been acceptable.

About a year later, my sister and I drove into the mountains one morning, past the nature trails and picnic areas, high into the mountains where the sweep of the valley could be seen far below. She carried his cremains in a backpack, and we walked up a narrow mountain road.

She wasn't sure where she would stop or what she would do next. Suddenly, his container fell from the backpack with a thud.

"He's telling me this is the place," said my sister.

We walked off road and found a flat open space encircled by pine trees, with a vista of the mountains and the valley below. A quiet ceremony with burial and prayers followed. My sister and I stayed in that place until it seemed right to leave.

I like to think of him in that special place. He was well loved and that's the memory I hold dear.

When I shared my experiences with friends, I was surprised by how many people I knew had quietly done the same -- simply scattering the ashes as their loved ones wished. State laws are inconsistent, so research is needed. Permission is also needed if you plan to bury on private land. According to the National Cremation Society, about half of all people in the United States now prefer cremation. Some families elect to bury the ashes; some keep them. And about one-third scatter the ashes of their loved one. As we did.

Trail near Anthropological Museum,
University of British Columbia, Vancouver (Camp)
I haven't feared death for a long time, perhaps since that day, some 40 years ago, when I hit a patch of ice, the car twirled around, and I slammed into a bank, half ejected, with the car on top of me. What saved me that day was that bank of mud I landed on. But I remember that moment of twirling, the vista of the mountains serene, the blue sky above. I remember thinking my life had been beautiful, each day, and it was enough.

Now retired, grateful each day for husband, family, and grandchild, I cherish each day.


Cremation Solutions. "Scattering Ashes -- Laws & Regulations." 2009.

Lovejoy, Bess. "Cremation is On the Rise But Where to Put the Ashes?" Time. June 13, 2013. Online:


Unknown said...

We have long ago planned cremation for us. My husband wishes to be scattered at a fishing lake he enjoys. I'd like my ashes to fertilize a blue spruce.

Beth Camp said...

Thanks for commenting. If it hadn't been for sharing my sister's experience, I'm not sure how I would have felt about cremation. My husband wants to donate his body to science. His ashes would come back to me. I'm not sure I could part with them, like 1/3 of those I read about.