|Watching Him Go|
This is Day 35 of my #6MonthsOfGrief Project. To learn more about this practice, feel free to visit Day One, where I explain this project in more detail.
Seven months ago today, my husband was cremated. Navigating the how/when/why of the funeral industry was quite a harrowing journey and I'm so thankful I had lots of help and guidance in deciding how to let go of my husband's body. I knew that he wanted to die like a Viking, with a Norse funeral - his body put into a boat and lit on fire by a flaming arrow, but it turns out that's far from legal!
So I was faced with a decision, and a decision I had to make quickly. I knew that my husband did not want to be buried in the ground. He often spoke of how sick that made him feel, to be stuck in one place forever. He was very much a man of action, always trying something new or exploring a new place. He told me he would never want to be stuck in one place forever. So my only other viable option was cremation.
My husband was a welder, glass blower, iron worker, and industrial sculptor, so I knew he loved fire. On our first date, he showed me a video of him making a huge fire using a leaf blower and an oil drum - not to mention, he loved Burning Man. But it wasn't until I actually attended his cremation and they offered to let me push the button that starts the fire to burn his body, that I realized I had truly made the right choice. There literally was a button I had to push that said "BURN." I could feel him delighting in this as I pressed that Burn Button and witnessed his body be engulfed in flames. Such a final act of goodbye.
The Norse God Odin was his favorite deity, and I was so grateful to find this quote, after making the decision to cremate his body:
"Thus he (Odin) established by law that all dead men should be burned, and their belongings laid with them upon the pile, and the ashes be cast into the sea or buried in the earth. Thus, said he, every one will come to Valhalla with the riches he had with him upon the pile..."
|The inside of the Mourning Packet I made for my husband's cremation.|
The "riches" that were burned with him were more symbolic (but no less powerful). I made a small mourning packet, to be burned with his body. It included a love note of goodbye and release, written on handmade paper, rose petals that lay on his side of the bed after he passed away, sage, sweetgrass, clippings from our garden (including lemongrass, mint, lavender and echinacea), and a lump of charred wood from our bonfire. It felt so powerful and so important to slip that packet in between the straps that held his cardboard coffin together, before his body was rolled into the furnace.
Once the fire was going strong, I went outside and sat down on the grass with my friend Bill and we quietly watched the smokestacks release the smoke and ashes of my beloved husband. Once again, I felt a deep confirmation of making the right choice around how to release his body, as I watched him swirl and fly into the air. He is the wind. He is free.
Because my husband was a Giant Bear, I now have close to 25 lbs of ashes (the most ashes from one person that this particular crematory had ever seen)! And while some may go into the ocean and some may even find their way into the ground, I'm hoping that some of it will go into some handmade pottery. I have some friends working on this project, and I think my husband would love that art was being made with his ashes.
What do you want to happen to your body when you pass away? Do your loved ones know? Make sure they do. It's a difficult conversation but it is so important to have.
I am very aware that this project can bring up a lot around yours or other's grief and loss, I will always follow every post with some online grief support resources that have helped me. Please feel free to let me know of online support that you have found healing in your grief, as well:
Instagram, Twitter, & Facebook feeds, as well as my Pinterest page on Grief. I use the hashtag #6MonthsOfGrief, so it can easily be found on any platform. Please share this project with anyone you think might need it.
Thank you, and see you tomorrow.
Art with Grief:
- Photographer [Sarah Treanor] Takes Moving Self-Portraits to Cope with Her Fiance's Death by Jillian Wong
- When the Fall Comes, a film about Grief by Adriana Marchione
- Self-Portraits: Expressing Emotion Through Art on What's Your Grief?
- The Hard Romance of Grief by Mark Liebenow
- The poetry of John O’Donohue
Living with Grief Resources:
- Teresa “TL” Bruce's What to Say When Someone Dies
- They Brought Cookies: For A New Widow, Empathy Eases Death's Pain by Ann Finkbeiner on NPR
- A Field Guide to Getting Lost by Rebecca Solnit
- The Geography of Sorrow: Francis Weller on Navigating Our Loses, interviewed by Tim McKee in Sun Magazine
- 12 Things to Know About the First Year of Grieving Someone You Can’t Live Without by Laurie Costanza in Elephant Magazine
Thank you, and see you tomorrow.