Ash Wednesday

I carried your ashes, Dad, all the way from Wiltshire back to Kent. On the way I wondered why I had not left you there in the first place. Why had I made things so difficult? But then I remembered that you would have been kept at the funeral parlour. Not you, of course: your remains. But still, a part of you would have sat on a shelf for all this time. So perhaps it wasn’t so crazy, bringing your ashes on a round trip.

I met my sister, your younger daughter, at Charing Cross station. The station from which we always came in and out of London when we too lived in Kent. The station where we sometimes met you and Mum for trips to the theatre or the Tower of London or the Natural History Museum.

We talked all the way to Tonbridge. (We are good friends, my sister and I. You gave us each other and for that we are eternally grateful.) We looked out of the window at old, familiar and new, less familiar, sights. We reminisced. We ate stupidly inappropriate food – pink and white macarons, slices of pineapple – and laughed at ourselves. And we planned what we would do and say once we had found the perfect spot to say our last goodbye.

We dropped our bags at a hotel which, in our childhood, was thought of as rather grand, but is decidedly less so now. Then we walked to the river.

It was a Wednesday in September, and yet the day was as hot and cloudless as though it were July. No holiday hordes of children playing on The Rec, however, no groups of teens swilling beer under the trees. It was easy to find a quiet spot, on the stretch of river where you spent your Sunday mornings.

We sat down by a dip in the bank where dogs would no doubt choose to slip into the water. The river was so low, and we were so hot and dusty, we decided to wade in. We paddled, drinking small plastic cups of Cava – your celebratory drink of choice. We watched the tiny water boatmen, which you loved so much, collect around us; their little legs and feet sticking out like the oars of a double scull. We remembered canoeing with you, singing with you, laughing with you, watching birds and other creatures with you.

We lit some tiny floating candles and scattered a few rose petals on the water, then we launched a white origami boat which your eldest grandson had made. You loved origami. You loved boats. We felt it was right to do this, to send you on your way.

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Finally, when we could put it off no longer, we poured out your ashes. They were beautiful: like the coarse grey sand on the beach at Santorini. We let them flow through our fingers and marvelled at them. They billowed out into the water like smoke. We read ‘Crossing the Bar’ by Tennyson, for the sea-faring imagery. We read a few lines from the end of The Lord of the Rings where Frodo crosses through the grey rain-curtain and from The Little Prince, too – both favourite bedtime stories of yours. It made me wish again that I had read to you, that last night that we both spent in my childhood home.

And then we left. Just as an exceptionally friendly, over-enthusiastic dog came to claim his spot in the water, almost knocking us flying! You would have loved that. Some might have felt it ruined the afternoon, but we could not stop laughing, knowing you would have seen the humour in that moment.

We felt so peaceful as we walked away, under a hot, blue sky. You are now home and truly at rest. And we will always remember the spot, so we will come back sometimes and sit and think of you.

Goodbye, dear Dad.

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