It was overcast and a little muggy this past Saturday in Kona as I roused myself early to get ready. I went about my morning routine with a heavy heart, not looking forward to what the day held in store. Funerals and weddings are tough for widowed people, right up there with holidays and anniversaries. But I remembered what it was like that morning over three years ago now for me; that day of remembering we planned with our friends and family, and knew it was important.
We gathered at an open air pavilion at our little local harbor; a beautiful spot. The last time I had been there was for my friend Cheryl's husband's memorial, over five years ago. I remembered walking up to the building that day with my beloved husband in tow. But this day, I was walking in alone. This time I was a widow myself, about to share sympathies with another new widow.
I greeted my friend whom I had not seen in many years. She lives on the mainland now, but her husband was a fifth generation kama'aina (local). So there were a lot of people there with fond memories, and she had wanted to come back here to memorialize her husband in the place that was so dear to him, and scatter his ashes in the sea he loved so much.
It took my friend a moment to recognize me. It had been many years, indeed, and she was, understandably, in that shell-shocked state we are all familiar with. But after a beat her eyes widened...oh Stephanie...she knew Mike was gone too, and it was a sad hug full of all that terrible knowing.
After awhile it was announced that there were three boats going out for the ashes ceremony and we were welcome to join along if we wished. I accompanied my other friends onto a beautiful, large catamaran. The weather was clearer down here by the ocean, and I looked up at the blue sky, and farther up to our mountain where we live, thoughts of Mike keeping my heart heavy, in this beautiful place he had brought me to, and left me in.
Slowly, we made our way out of the harbor, and our three crafts rode a short bit out into the ocean and stopped close enough together so we could all see my friend in the center boat as they began the ceremony. I could see someone reading from a text, his hand on her back, comforting her, as she did this most terrible task of showering her husband into the sea, one handful at a time. We all threw hundreds of flowers into the sea with him.
Pretty soon there was a discernible grey cloud floating in the water surrounded by flowers. The three boats did three big circles around it and sounded their horns. And never did my thoughts stray from my own husband, who had also been reduced to ashes.
We have yet to do any formal scattering ceremony for Mike. We've just never felt ready to do it. His daughters and I have each taken some of his ashes and scattered small amounts in places dear to him, but the bulk of him remains. I wished I'd thought to take some of his ashes with me that day, and quietly release some into the ocean with my friend's husband. I thought maybe I should just always be carrying a little satchel of his ashes with me, just in case. I thought maybe that was kind of creepy. Do people carry their loved one's ashes around with them all the time? I thought perhaps some people do. And that maybe I should, even if it was creepy.
Afterwards we gathered again at the pavilion where friends and family members took turns sharing memories of this special man. And then, like at any good Hawaiian funeral, we ate. And during this whole time I watched my friend. I saw the deer-in-the-headlight expression. I saw the face in the hands and shoulders quaking. I saw the hostess I remembered well, asking if we were enjoying the food; if the cake was good, she had ordered it special, the kind he had liked.
And then we left. Everyone went back to their lives, back to their homes, back in their cars, ran errands, picked up children, planned dinner...but my friend is not finished with this. She was now on the other side of that terrible day, but I knew so much more terribleness was ahead of her. The empty days; the figuring out legalities, the sorting through things, the loneliness. I told her, when I left, that I was here for her, if she ever wanted to reach out. She stuttered something about having already done grief counseling at the life center or something...but I said, no, that's not what I mean. I mean, when you go back to your life and find it different and horrible, you are not alone, and I've been where you are. I'm still where you are. We always will be. So...I'm just here.
Yeah. I'm just here.