Three days, two nights, approximately two hundred miles away, eleven of us met at a motel in Intercourse, Pennsylvania to help my husband's sister scatter her husband's ashes. Two of her three adopted adult children came with spouses and one son each. The schedule seemed to be a re-creation of former visits, beginning with the motel that had a view of cornfields to the north, south, east, and west, amidst Amish and Mennonite farmland.
The first night we ended up eating pizza, recommended by Joe, the new maintenance guy (coincidentally same name as the deceased) and a few of us drinking Budweiser. I hadn't seen the supplier of the Bud since he was fifteen years old, so I figured the polite thing to do was accept one or two when offered. Earlier, he had produced a football, which didn't take any arm twisting for most of the guys to immediately start tossing around as the sun set glorious, lighting up grain silos and edges of everything.
Budweiser, Pepsi, and plain old water proved to be perhaps thicker than blood, as an ease descended and night fell. Plans were made for a 10 am All-You-Can-Eat buffet, followed by the ashes scattering ceremony at a small river nearby.
There was predominately laughter at breakfast as we compared notes on who got hot showers, who didn't, who had a microwave and/or small fridge in the room, who had a Bible in a drawer, who didn't, and the advertised free Wi-Fi and cable TV, neither exactly reliable. I was overwhelmed by the buffet, but determined to try some new foods: baked oatmeal (questionable), mush sticks (eh...) and an egg casserole that even the server had no idea what was in it (double eh...). Felt like I had consumed more calories in one meal than necessary for the entire day, but...
Shall we gather at the river,
Where bright angel feet have trod?
We gather today to honor the love and life that Lynn and Joe shared, to be with Lynn as she releases, not the memories nor the love that will forever be in all of our hearts and minds, but the earthly remains into this special river.
This was my first time scattering anyone's ashes. There were some tensions between other spouses at breakfast and on the way there, which dissipated briefly as I read what I had written. Then the focus of our group, the widow, spoke. She started with one sentence of hope that her Joe would now rest in peace, then launched into a rambling commentary on being opposed to war, but in support of the military, something about family rifts, then back to her husband using heroin and alcohol to beat the draft during the Vietnam War. I put my arm around her waist when she faltered, and unexpectedly she started making circles with her hand on my back, as if I were a fidgety small girl she wanted to comfort.
Her eldest son, who was at the river's edge, slowly pouring what seemed like an endless supply of ashes, looked up at me, his eyes silently imploring me to stop her. I waited until she paused to take a long, ragged breath, then loudly said, "Do I hear an amen?" Everyone dutifully said, " Amen," and we made our ways back to our separate cars.