In a previous post, when I mentioned my dilemma about what to do with Jeff’s ashes, I said I considered taking them back to Colorado, because that’s where he resides in my head. I know he’s not there, and I know his ashes aren’t him in any way — they are just the inorganic parts of his body. The organic parts went up in flames. (Actually, there are no flames when a body is cremated, just high heat that reduces the body to gases and bone fragments, but “going up in flames” is much more poetic than the reality.) But part of me seems to think his ashes should be where he “is.” Totally illogical, but then, grief is illogical.
Although we who are left behind seldom realize it, the placement of our loved ones is ones is one of the things we need to work through during the grief process. By placement, I don’t mean the physical placement of the body, though that is a current concern of mine, but the psychological placement.
Death is traumatic, and especially traumatic is the death of a soul mate. After years of being closely connected, suddenly the person is gone. It is incomprehensible, this goneness. We feel the void with every breath we take, with every beat of our hearts. And deep within our souls, we shriek, “Where are you?” (This is not always a silent shriek. I used to walk out in the desert calling for him. “Where are you? Can you hear me?” He never answered, of course.)
Even deeply religious people hear the silent call of their souls for their mates. “Heaven” and “God” are every bit as incomprehensible as death, so they offer no concrete answers to the question of where are our dead. Gradually, though, we do come to an accommodation. One woman, whose husband often stayed in a different town because of work, visualizes him in that town, and won’t go there because she doesn’t want to confront the reality. Another woman’s husband often traveled, and she pictures him away on a business trip. In my case, I often came to my parents’s house when my mother was dying, and so when I came here after Jeff died, it seemed as if once again, I’d left him at home while I succored a parent.
None of us believe in any way that our mates are still where we picture them. We feel the goneness too much to even pretend they are still alive, and yet we capture the feeling of how it was when we were separated temporarily so that we can deal with the permanent separation.
One of the oddnesses of my life is that when I remove any consideration of him from my days, I am content, even happy. It’s when I remember that his death is what is allowing me to grow beyond our shared life, giving me the freedom to plan solo adventures without worrying about his well-being, to indulge my perhaps foolhardy whims, that grief strikes me. Even after all this time, I cannot bear his being dead. And so, in my head, he is back in Colorado, waiting for me to come home.
Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.