I broke two laws laying my grandmother to rest.
It all started while she was still alive. She is my dad’s mother and I was pretty close to her. One day, I don’t remember where, she starting talking to me.
“I can’t talk to your father about these things, they make him uncomfortable.”
That alone made me pay attention. A secret with grandma, I’m in!
“When I’m gone, I want you to spread my ashes at Beavertail.”
Over time, my grandmother had made many visits to Rhode Island and to the lighthouse on the tip of Jamestown. She would often come and babysit for my parents when they went away on a trip. To my memory, she was a part of our family, involved in a way that my other grandparents weren’t. In their defense, my mother’s parents had nine children of their own and a brood of grandchildren so it was hard to have individual time.
I didn’t know what to say to my grandmother at the time, so I just said ok. I accepted it as a duty, I knew she was asking me for something important. I didn’t completely understand but I got it intuitively.
When I was about 20-21, she was diagnosed with stomach cancer. I only have my mother’s and sibling’s memories of that time. They told me that she looked like a shadow of her former self, small and sickly. She had always been short and kind of stout. One of my favorite things that she did when I was a child was the teapot song.
“I’m a little teapot, short and stout, this is my handle, this is my spout.”
I can’t imagine what she looked like or sounded like when she was sick.
Not showing up for her while she was in the hospital or at her funeral will always be one of the biggest regrets of my life. Life gets busy and there are so many things that occupy our time and attention. I was working as the manager of a restaurant and didn’t think I could take the time or spend the money.
I know I was wrong on both counts.
But my promise stayed with me…for almost ten years.
When I got older and was able to face my shame and remorse about her death, I remembered the vow I had made. It seemed the only way for me to be able to make amends to her after the fact. I called my father to see if he still had her ashes. He did. I planned a trip to RI from Atlanta to make my pilgrimage.
My father worked for the airlines and had one of my sisters pick up the ashes when he flew them from Denver to Providence.
This is where I first broke the law.
Human remains can’t be transported this way. You are supposed to arrange transportation through the airline for specific handling.
We got them where they needed to be, in any case.
Since my family knew what I was doing, several of them asked to come along on the trip. We woke up early, about 5am so we could get there for sunrise.
When my sister arrived, she had a nondescript shoe box that contained a plastic bag with my grandmother’s ashes. At first it felt strange, such a simple vessel for such a huge personality. How did she fit inside these cardboard walls? But the more I thought about it, the more it made sense. She lived a simple life, focused more on people than things. Pepsi was her wine. Her grandchildren were her passion.
We started out driving, groggy but focused.
When we got there, we all got out and looked at one another.
Finally, I started looking for the right place. I made my way down the rocks toward the water, where there was a small inlet. I found a place where I could stand on the rocks and scatter the ashes. My family was close by.
I opened the box and took out the thick plastic bag. I said a little something to myself; a simple goodbye. Then I poured her ashes into the salty water. This was the seocnd time I broke the law. Ashes have to be scattered at least 3 nautical miles from shore.
“Scattering” sounds so romantic but the reality is more like pouring sand. It was also mundane. I stood up and said goodbye.
My family all took time to say goodbye in their way as we watched the sun rise over the ocean. That moment had the magic in it, a thin string of communication between us and the heavens.
Leaving her there changed Beavertail for me. I go there now, mostly alone to sit and hear the waves crash and watch the sun come over the horizon.
If you ever decide to go to the lighthouse and see a man speaking out loud, don’t disturb him.
He’s not crazy.
He’s talking to his grandmother.
…and she is listening.