It was Oct. 16, 2021 and only a few weeks after my Great-Grandmother’s 95th birthday, full of laughter, presents and celebration for such elegant aging.
But on that particular day, I was gathered together with four other family members to scatter her ashes in a nearby stream where she lived.
She had always been the matriarch of our family. In my mind, I often compared her to Queen Elizabeth, not just because of their shared fair hair and complexion, but for the way she embodied the essence of royalty.
No wonder I thought she looked especially radiant when dressed in purple. She dressed so timelessly, too. Long and flowy, printed skirts, usually paired with a solid-colored button-up blouse and loafer shoes. She seldom spoke when sitting at the table for shared holiday dinners, but when she did, everyone dropped silent.
What she had to say was important, and we could use her words right about now.
The walk from her house to the stream wasn’t a pleasant one. Besides the uncomfortable silence and forced small talk to break the ice, we had to make our way down a slippery, woodland trail, stooping to the ground and gripping nearby birches for stability.
The rain from the previous day didn’t help much either, making the ground even less bearable. My mom and I made sure not to stray too far away from each other in case one of us lost our balance.
Finally, we reached our destination and crammed ourselves along the bleeding edge of the water.
Everywhere I stood felt awkward.
I looked at my mud-covered, non-waterproof shoes and wished I wore something more suitable. My attention was redirected to my grandma (her daughter), holding the bag of ashes and an old coffee cup I thought I recognized.
It was time for each of us to say goodbye.
One by one, she handed us a cup filled with her ashes to deposit into the water, followed by one or two red carnations from the bouquet she brought.
All silence, slumped shoulders, and blank faces.
My uncle broke the ice.
“Why are we all standing here acting like this is her. If she were here, she’d be yelling at us saying ‘this isn’t me,’” he said passionately, laughing through tears.
We all agreed.
This wasn’t her.
She was smiles, witty remarks, words of wisdom and references to Scripture. She was life – not this. Whatever this is.
He carried on.
“This right here was just her body, just the physical vessel to her soul. Her soul is still with us, and with the Lord.”
I think we all felt a bit better after acknowledging that. Of course, we would miss her, but we knew that if anyone had lived a long, meaningful life, it was her. And if there was really a Heaven, she’d be at the front of the line.
We watched as the rest of her ashes married with the water and admired the last red carnations as they floated away, so peacefully.