Take me to the River

We are going back to our home town to scatter Dad’s ashes this week. It is over a year since we had the bizarre conversations with the funeral parlour about what to do with our father’s body. Cremation or burial? If cremation, did we want to go to the crematorium? Did we want to keep the ashes or leave them behind? If we were keeping them, did we want a cardboard ‘scatter tube’ or an urn? What design?

We answered the questions, feeling dazed. We knew Dad wanted to be cremated, but all these other choices? There was something obscene about it all: we were not picking out accessories for a new car. There was a horrible detachment to discussing the finer details, knowing that what we were doing was agreeing how best to dispose of our dear dad’s body.

But now, a year on, we can focus on exactly what we want to do. We are clear-headed, no longer befuddled by his sudden disappearance from our lives. We have planned what we will say, where we will go and have put a lot of thought into making it as peaceful, personal and respectful as we can. And with those thoughts have come wave after wave of sadness as we realise: this is it.

The funeral was a wonderful public celebration of Dad’s life. It was as joyful as a day like that can be. It was full of warmth and love and laughter and tears.

This scattering will be quieter, private, we hope just as beautiful, but definitely sadder than the public goodbye.

Today I have sat and cradled the tube of Dad’s ashes and I have wept. I have talked to him. I have read aloud poems. I have felt the weight of what remains of him – 2.5 kilos – and remembered what the funeral director told us: that the weight of a person’s ashes comes close to what they weighed at birth. I have thought about him as the ‘bonny boy’, the fit young man, the brother, lover, husband, uncle, friend; the young dad, the older dad, the dad I said goodbye to last summer.

And after that, I took a walk down to the river near where I live now, and I sat in the warm September sun, and I watched the water flowing slowly, and I thought about how Dad’s ashes would mingle with the water. I tried to imagine them becoming part of the flow of the river, possibly becoming fish food, and how those fish might then be caught by a–

And before I could think the word or visualise the image, I heard the high ‘peep peep’ of a kingfisher and saw it buzz the riverbank – so close, I could have reached out and touched it.

I walked home, thinking how right this feels, this trip back to the river of my childhood, my sister by my side, our father’s remains in a bag on my back. We will make it good for you, Dad. We will do you proud. And then we will try to move on, keeping you forever close in our hearts. And in the joyful ‘peep peep!’ of merry little Martin, the kingfisher.

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