A couple of weekends ago, we took the family across the state to be a part of a ceremony to scatter the ashes of my wife’s grandmother on a mountain top.
My mother-in-law had arranged the ceremonial activities at the park on the summit of the mountain, and while doing so discovered that the park officials look upon this as an un-sanctioned activity. It’s sort of a “don’t ask, don’t tell” kind of thing; as long as we’re not advertising it or making a big deal of it, they’ll just sort of look the other way.
Her idea, as a loving tribute to be shared by all, was for each family member, from the closest to the more distant relatives to be given a chance to scatter some of grandma’s ashes to the wind.
And there was a breeze, light as it was. And it whimsically changed direction several times while we gathered around.
One extra little touch my mother-in-law added to the celebration of life was to have the funeral company mix grandma’s ashes with some ground mica: a non-toxic and biodegradable glitter that makes the ash-tossing experience a sparkly, spiritual, very memorable affair.
When the ceremony began, my mother-in-law gave a brief discourse about memories of her mother. Then, she reached in with the scoop and gave the first toss into the wind. It was wonderful: the ashes flew out over the mountainside away from us to the south, and the sparkles remained suspended in the air like tiny diamonds, floating away in a gentle cloud.
The ash tosses from the next few relatives were just as majestic. We were all entranced by the glimmering cloud that floated gracefully away.
It wasn’t too much later that we ran short of close relatives. Cousins and next-generation relatives were called upon, and shortly thereafter the grandkids were ushered forward to try their hands and hefting grandma into the breeze. These last contenders apparently weren’t so much concerned with distance as they were determined to make a robust elevation, which had the unexpected consequence of giving us all a slight dusting.
And then, as if to underscore the solemnity of the observance, the wind changed direction again, and we really started getting fallout.
At this point one granddaughter stepped up and gave a very healthy lob straight up, and our dear grandmother’s remains ended up coming straight down in an enthusiastic flump! on the rock wall where we were perched, a dense plume of glittering debris spreading throughout the crowd. Cousins, aunts, uncles, grandkids alike coughed, sputtered and scrambled backwards as quickly as they could.
We were all coated lightly in sparkles, spitting dust out of our mouths. Grandma was still very much with us.
Unfortunately there were still several cups left to toss, despite the number of family members that had already given their respects. And as the tossing continued, the accuracy diminished. The area was starting to look like the floor of a glitter factory after a controlled building implosion.
Then my MIL decided on one last toss, with the entire remaining quantity.
This mass did not scatter, nor did it loft.
It went straight up a short distance, then straight down in a final, grand poof of glitter right on our feet.
Most of us closed our eyes and bowed our heads, but not so much out of respect and reverence for the moment but out of disbelief and denial over what just happened.
It was over. The remaining airborne dust settled, the last vestiges of shimmering cloud drifted off, and we all whistled and nonchalantly walked on up the hill. I felt this keen need to at least try to kick some unsullied dirt over the remnants of our deed, in some feeble effort to hide some of the evidence, but felt pressured to keep moving.
The group headed upward along the trail to a higher vantage point to switch our attention to simple enjoyment of the mountain scenery, in some hopes of erasing from our minds the grisly scene.
Meanwhile… other unsuspecting hikers walked along the trail and happened upon a remarkable and unexpected sight: piles of glitter!
Now, who would dump glitter right here? A curious hiker reached down and pinched some between his thumb and forefinger, and rubbed it around quizzically to test consistency. Hmmm. Slippery as well as shiny.
And here was a mother, scooping up a couple of handfuls: Hey, kids! It’s face make-up! She patted it on her kids’ cheeks, turning her children into sparkly-faced mimes, unknowingly initiating them into some ancient rite of wearing the dust of another family’s ancestors.
From my higher vantage point, I looked down upon the scattering and realized that the debris field covered a much wider area than I’d previously thought. It was probably forty or fifty square feet, a wide circle of silver shine that entirely coated the rocks on the mountainside.
Like Rip Taylor had a sneezing jag.
After a good half hour, we hiked down the back trail and made our way back to the tram area, saying nothing and doing our best to look nonchalant.
We had sent Grandma off as she’d wished, scattered across the mountainside. And in so many ways, she remains with us, and still touched lives of folks she never knew.
And I’m praying for a good strong rain.