It’s been almost four years, and the cardboard box in the purple bag still sits on the top shelf of my closet, on his side. And I don’t know what to do, even now. I blamed my delays on Covid, but that excuse is ever weaker.
He and I had talked about it in those last sad days. What will I do with his ashes?
He knew his future, of course. He had chosen hospice over chemo that would have given him only a few extra painful months. Instead he planned his final weeks and the what-after. Our financial advisor came to talk to us, to assure him that I would be ok. He talked to friends and family to say he loved them. Love came easily to him in the last years of his life, the years he shared with me.
He decided something of a person’s spirit must remain after death. I was surprised but happy for a thought that must comfort him a little. Was he afraid? Maybe. He had never talked such things before. I knew his final moments would be his alone. I’d seen death before.
At our request two men in black suits and crisp white shirts came to talk about the arrangements, after. He asked us to play “Ode to Joy.” No service No religious music. Just friends talking. And cremation.
But what about that cardboard box? When his first wife died, he and his daughters went to Zion National Park and scattered her ashes in a river there.
We talked about the ashes while the men in the black suits waited. He had decided he wanted the ashes in the back yard, near the white fence of the neighbor. And we should plant a tree over it. “How about a blue spruce?” he said. “Not a spruce,” I said. They get to be enormous. It’ll get too big. We talked about other trees, rejecting them all, one after another. Too big, too messy, too short lived, not beautiful enough. We spent altogether too much time on the discussion of a suitable tree.
“How about a purple plum?” he said. We talked about it, and he decided that would do. A purple plum in the corner of the back yard, near the neighbor’s white fence.
The men in the black suits said goodbye.
“We learned a lot about trees today,” said one, most solemnly. (The memory of that remark still makes me smile.)
These days I worry about a purple plum. When I leave our house, will someone chop it down? Perhaps a tree in a park in the city or the state park would be better? Maybe a park where children play. Or some other place. I don’t know.
And the box still sits on the shelf. Dust and bone. My Jay.