About a week before we were set to leave for Utah and family-reunion-ing, Jeffrey and I were in the car alone. Out of the blue, he said, “Mom? Where’s dad? I mean, where is…his body?” I don’t know why I was surprised. David died two years ago this month, but when he died, I was not his widow, and I rightly had no say in what happened. His mother and surviving sister made the decisions and I was grateful they kept us informed.
I looked gently at Jeffrey sitting next to me in the car, the top of his copper head already touching the headliner, his shoulders broadening visibly in the last few months. Fifteen. He’s still only fifteen, but he’s shouldered so many grown-up things in his fifteen years.
“He was cremated, and I believe your Aunt Emily has his ashes in California.”
He looked out the window for a minute before turning towards me. “No, mom. That’s not right… he belongs with us.”
I was quiet. “Well,” I ventured cautiously, “I don’t have any rights, but you do. Would you like me to talk to your Aunt Emily for you?”
“Yeah.” In his mind, it was settled. In some ways, he’s very much a teenager.
When we got home, I emailed Emily with Jeffrey’s questions—she responded immediately and kindly, and wrote that she agreed the kids should have a say in the resting place for their father. She offered to ship David’s ashes to Jeffrey.
When Jeffrey went to Jon with the news, Jon said the right thing for us to do was to fly out and retrieve him, and carry him home with us. We had no idea how to make that happen, but we realized that since we were going to be in Utah, maybe we could move things around to get Jeffrey and me to California.
Over the next three hours, with family and loved ones working on it from four different states, we managed to change our airline reservations, move around vacation schedules, and coordinate the lives of half a dozen people, so that the pieces all miraculously fell into place. After the family reunion, Jon and three of the kids would fly back to Virginia, and Jeffrey and I would fly to San Francisco where my parents would pick us up and drive us to Ukiah. We would meet Emily at the retirement home where Nana lives now, and she would give Jeffrey David’s ashes, which he would then carry home.
And that’s exactly what happened.
We spent a quick four days in California, before we had to fly back. Football practice apparently waits on no one, even a boy doing the emotional work of a grown man. It was his choice, and I was there to support and help lift where I could.
After visiting Charlotte and Emily, we spent the remainder of the week with my parents and siblings, and I was able to take Jeffrey to some of the important places his dad loved. We visited some of David’s favorite restaurants, and Jeffrey found the stool in Jake’s Pizza where I first met his dad 27 years ago.
We went for walks with my mom, had dinner with the extended family, and enjoyed the San Francisco summer—which meant 30 degrees cooler than Virginia and Utah. He didn’t believe me when I told him he’d need a sweatshirt in July, but once that fog rolled across the bridge he marveled at the amazing cold. Usually my time is so divided with the kids, it was really a treat being able to just enjoy the needs of one. Making one-on-one time a priority just moved up my life list.
This may be my favorite picture of the summer:
When we got on the plane to come home, Jeffrey carried his dad in his arms.
The three kids together have talked about what to do and have decided they want a permanent resting place for their dad, with a headstone and a place for flowers. In another example of the generous healing provided by expansive hearts, it was suggested that we might have David buried near our family spot in Logan. We were all in Logan that summer morning two years ago when we got the call that he was gone. Logan was the last place I talked to him. The pieces just keep falling into place. In this world with so much sorrow and grace and beauty, it may be that our children’s unconventional modern family can be together forever.