Sunday, August 8, 2010

Your gift

Ron died at home in bed on a Monday, just before midnight. I held him until morning. The funeral home took him away Tuesday. I have no memory of Wednesday. Thursday morning, we escorted Ron from the funeral home to the crematorium.

Against the advice of trusted friends and family, I decided to take the kids. I hardly felt sane those first few days, but I felt strongly that including Mai and Tal was the right thing for us. Plus, I gave them the choice, and they wanted to go.

Ron and I had matching Life is Good shirts with “Honey” printed on the front. Never a suit-and-tie man, I dressed him in his Honey shirt so everyone who handled him at the funeral home would know he was beloved. Mai tucked a little bear with hearts under his chin “so he [had] something to cuddle” on the next leg of his journey. The three of us pushed his coffin from the parlor to the hearse.

For years, Ron and I had a running joke about how I would one day wheel him around in his old age, pureeing all his favorite meals so he could enjoy them through a straw. But we simply weren’t imaginative enough to take the sketch any further, and never had I anticipated pushing the coffin that would eventually replace the wheelchair.

Our minivan followed the hearse for nearly an hour. I think we played “I’m thinking of an animal...” in the car. 

At the Linwood Crematorium, the kids and I helped move their father from the hearse to the retort. Mai and Tal pushed the button to start the flames. They understood that the process would take the water out of their father’s body and leave us with ashes and bone fragments called “cremains.” I knew there would be questions about how Daddy could fit into a smallish box, so I used the analogy of a grape becoming a raisin. 

In life, it was always an event when Dada came home. Ron would call as he was leaving his office, and during the warm summer months just before the cancer returned, the three of us would wait in front of the house, riding bikes, climbing trees, or doodling on the bluestone. When Ron’s car pulled into the driveway, the kids would jump up and down cheering, waving ferociously and throwing kisses. It was a rock star’s welcome. 

So when we returned to Linwood that afternoon to pick up Ron’s cremains, the kids were happy. We were excited to bring him home one final time. We instinctively hugged the box, and said that it felt warm, just like Daddy. Before we buckled back up in the car, Mai and Tal eagerly asked to open the box. My stomach hollowed, but I didn't want my hesitation to dampen their fearlessness, so I smiled and enthused, “Let’s do it!” There in the backseat, we pulled away all the layers and fingered the still-warm ash and bone fragments through the clear plastic bag. Daddy.

Mai insisted on holding him on her lap, and as much as I wanted to cradle him myself, I relented. After nearly 14 years together and 18 months of illness, bringing Ron home to rest was the last physical thing I could do for him. It was a great privilege.

A few days later, Mai told me she showed Ron's cremains to a friend. Alone in the bedroom, those fearless little girls removed the outer box--much heavier than one might expect--shook out the interior box, and opened it to reveal the clear plastic bag. Mai explained the cremation process, beginning with the removal of the water and ending with the raisin.

Tal is equally at ease with the cremains and the story line. He's never asked if Daddy is coming back, and if you ask him where his father is, he'll tell you in his halting toddler voice, "He is in our heart."

One of the challenges of parenting alone is trusting an inner voice. Ron and I had a history of choosing less popular paths, and together we always offered the nod of agreement and reassurance to whatever kooky idea the other proposed. Now, I have to listen for that voice on my own, and have faith in what I know to be our shared instinct.

Mai and Tal survived. I felt triumphant.

I couldn’t articulate why at the time, but I felt absolutely that the kids needed to be present and involved in all parts of their father's life and death. Then I found this, which said it beautifully:

"What you resist persists, but what you befriend, you transcend."

Tomorrow is Ron’s birthday. 

Sweetie, my gift to you is to raise our children fearlessly; to imbue them with enough love, resilience, and strength to embrace life’s highs and lows and feel equal to anything. Also, a baked stuffed lobster—but I’ll have to enjoy it for you.

Happy birthday, Love.


  1. Happy birthday old friend.

  2. Shama lama, a happy birthday to you. Our hearts and our thoughts are with you today and every day. The weight of your memories is like helium, they lift us and help us take the steps we take each day. Life is not the same and it never will be, but having your memories is a treasure that I am lucky to have and I do cherish them. And to Ha, whose strength and courage leaves me in awe, I will tell you Ron that Mai and Tal are in the best hands possible, hands that are so big and strong, warm and comforting... but you already know this. Just reminding you, Ron, that your kids are beautiful because of the love that surrounds them and your love and memories that permeate them. And Ha is the love, light and stength that guides them each day now. She has big hands to fill as your hands were the biggest due to your love and devotion to your family. We love you Ron...


  3. Beautiful post, truly beautiful. You shouldn't be surprised by your strength

    Its been in you the whole time....

  4. Oh, my gosh. Thank you. I was widowed 2 years ago and have felt so alone in my strength and perception that I sometimes feel I'm going absolutely mad. It is so nice to hear you. Thank you.