March 31st always felt like a national holiday in our family. On this day in 1951, Mom and Dad said their “I do’s” and thus began the story of a partnership and a family. As a kid, I was always aware that this was a special day because my parents were very good about celebrating their relationship and acknowledging their love for each other. I recall the sappy, often corny, cards Dad would give Mom…and the tender notes she would write to him. The flowers, dinners out, or weekends away…the love expressed, not just on their anniversary, but throughout their 50-year love affair. It set the bar pretty high for what I hoped for in my life.
Mom was not ready to say good-bye to her best friend and life partner when Dad died at just 70 years old. The plan was to gather the family together on Memorial Day weekend that year to spread his ashes near the lake at our beloved family summer cottage my grandfather and dad built. For a variety of reasons…it became clear that it wasn’t the right time, so I spoke up and asked Mom if we could wait. There are no do overs for something like that. She jumped at the suggestion and that was it. It never came up again. We had celebrated Dad’s life at the time he passed. But this was the last detail to be taken care of, the last marker of his physical presence here…and Mom wasn’t ready to completely let go. So, for several years “Dad” traveled back and forth from home to the cottage for the summer. Twelve years later, when Mom finally moved out of the only home they had owned for 54 years – I suggested that I take Dad’s box to the cottage for safekeeping, so it didn’t get lost in the move. I tucked it in a wooden storage chest where we kept toys and treasures when we were kids.
A few years later, as Mom lay dying, she wrote notes to me about final details and wishes…and one of them said, “Dad and me, at the lake?” I assured her I would make sure it would happen. After she passed, her box joined Dad’s in the toy chest at the cottage waiting until we were ready for that last step. I was always the “responsible child” in the family, though nine+ years younger than my only sibling. At the time of Mom’s death, my brother was struggling with some serious health issues and life challenges, so it was up to me to take care of all the details involved in settling Mom’s affairs – as well as shift gears into helping him more and more.
After a year or so, with my brother’s health declining, it had been on my mind for a while that we needed to take care of Mom and Dad’s final wishes. It was important to me that it not be just another task to be taken care of, but rather a way to honor and celebrate each of them that my brother and I needed to do together. It came to me that we should spread their ashes on that special family holiday, Mom and Dad’s wedding anniversary, March 31. It would be the perfect day to honor each of them and their relationship. So, three years ago, my brother and I went to the cottage on a clear, cool, early spring, bright blue-sky day, with the lake still very much frozen, but the ground exposed. We retrieved their boxes from the beloved toy chest and went down to the shoreline together. For a few holy moments, it was just the four of us again, and for one last time. My brother stood and watched as I scattered first Dad’s, then Mom’s ashes along the shoreline of a lake they both dearly loved on a day that represented their love and partnership and our start as a family. I am so grateful to have acted on that intuitive lead because 18 months later I was delivering my brother’s ashes to that same toy chest. I miss each of them…and all of them on this special day…but am so grateful for the love of this family that goes on forever.