I was only 29 when my Mom died. Mom was 58. Ovarian cancer had finally taken her after a 2 year fight. She died suddenly (at least to me she did) – from not feeling well, to being hospitalized, to a first mention of hospice, to her letting go, all within hours. Being a mother of a 5 year and a 2 year old at the time, I was in shock. Having little ones, I depended on my Mom occasionally, for simply a trip alone to Target or a night away from the kids. This, in turn, allowed her to spend more time with her granddaughters. Now she was gone and my young girls would never really know her.
Three years after she died, my husband and I planned an anniversary trip to Hawaii. Since I knew we were going to the Big Island, I thought to bring some of Mom’s ashes with. My Mom never really traveled much. She liked being at home, in her own surroundings, where she was comfortable. Because of this and my parents’ financial situation, we never traveled much while I was growing up. I had never seen a National Park and had only flown twice, only visiting Denver and Disney World, among driving to other local midwest destinations. I figured it was about time Mom got to see the world. She was finally going to travel and I would scatter her ashes in special places for me. I was going to leave her at the top of Mauna Kea.
Originally, we were going to hike up to the top of the dormant volcano. But after spending a relaxing morning at the beach, my senses kicked in and we just drove to the top. We were the only tourists on the top at the time, walking around and admiring the view. We were above the clouds and very cold!
Since this was the first time I was scattering any of her ashes, I was a bit uncertain about the whole thing. I was afraid I would regret tossing a part of her away, afraid of making it a public moment when it should have been private, and I was afraid of what my Mom would have thought about me scattering her atop this volcano, in a cold place. With my husband watching, yet allowing me to have my ‘moment,’ I scattered her into the moon-like landscape of Mauna Kea. Sprinkling her whitish-gray ashes on the brownish-gray terrain was very obvious and that bothered me slightly. However, I brushed it off, threw my orchid lei next to the ashes, said goodbye to my Mom, and walked away. I felt a little off just walking away and leaving her there, but I left her atop a special place for me and that’s all that mattered.
The next year, we traveled to the Canadian Rockies. I wasn’t exactly sure where I wanted to scatter my Mom, so I just carried her wherever we went. I knew for sure I wanted it to be done in a private place, so I could say a few words and let her go. When we arrived at Lake O’Hara in Yoho National Park, I knew this was the place. We had walked around the lake and there was a shoot off from the trail that went to the water’s edge. I took a deep breath, said goodbye, and sprinkled her into the water. Once again, my husband teased me that my Mom would not be entertained by the idea of being left in a cold mountain lake in Canada. He was right. 🙂 But it was still a special place for me.
Unfortunately, not all of the places I’ve left my Mom have been the most ideal. There’s one place in South Dakota where I left her that I slightly regret…At least, it was an important place at the time because it was a place my Dad loved. However, unforseen circumstances changed my dad’s view of the place. Nevertheless, I had my moment at the bank of the Missouri River and said goodbye.
In 2011, we visited one of my favorite National Parks – Yosemite. At the base of Half Dome is Mirror Lake. During a hike with my kids, I chose Mirror Lake as my “spot.” Scattering her ashes was getting easier by this time. I didn’t necessarily need privacy anymore, but the place I left her had to be special. Yosemite, to me, is about as special as it gets. I watched as Mom’s ashes settled to the bottom of the lake and said goodbye.
By this point, bringing Mom on vacations to new places became standard. I decided to bring her up with me to the top of Mt. Elbert outside Leadville, Colorado. As it was very windy on the top, I made a big mistake by not checking the wind direction. Trying to take advantage of a moment when I thought no other hikers were looking (I tried to find a quiet spot), I quickly scattered her ashes into the wind, only to have some of them blow back into my husband’s face. Now I’ve seen The Big Lebowski, and I cringed when I saw Jeff Bridge’s character get covered in ashes. However, I made the same mistake and covered my husband in his mother-in-law’s ashes. Thankfully, he truly loved my Mom and brushed it off as a rookie mistake on my part.
Of course, there have been recent places where I’ve scattered her ashes, like Boat Beach at the bottom of the Grand Canyon (above left) and into the Pacific Ocean a few times (above right).
To be honest, I’ve never even checked any rules on scattering ashes in waterways or National Parks. It’s organic matter that will eventually decompose, so I hardly see the harm in a small scattering.
In terms of letting go emotionally, I guess there is really no rule as to how to part with a love one. Some people hang on to the ashes, others bury them. In fact, I only have a third of her ashes – my Dad put his third in the ground and gave my brother his third. However, I wasn’t just going to hold onto her. I wanted to create an experience and a memory with my part of her and make it unique – sharing my love of traveling with my Mother in the only way I can.
My kids participate now, especially now that they understand what the ashes actually are (I used to say their grandma became “fairy dust” after she died so as not to scare them with the reality of cremation). It becomes a bonding moment for me with my husband and my girls – a time of remembrance and joy for knowing her.
Now we can come back to these locations, knowing that a part of her is there with us – making these special locations into everlasting memorials for me and my family.