We are Dust

IMG_9145–I didn’t know that bones don’t burn. It makes sense. I guess, subconsciously I knew it, but had never really stopped to think about it. Death makes you think about things you’ve never pondered before. Learning about the process of cremation with my sisters turned my stomach and led me to believe that it’s not what I choose for myself any longer. The details are as follows: they place the body in the coffin and burn everything. After about 4 hours, they sort through the ashes, pick out the bones and then grind them up. The mixture of ashes and bones is what they give you in an urn. I’d rather decompose naturally, in the ground, and be whole. But then again, why do we really care about our physical body if we no longer will “be in it”? Just doesn’t seem natural to grind up bones. And I don’t want my loved ones to have to watch me burn. Regardless, my dad chose to be cremated, and for his ashes be scattered in three places.

1. In the ocean, on the beach in San Sebastian, where he grew up.

2. The beach, on the spot where he sat with his family every summer.

3. Sprinkled over his father and grandfather’s tomb, in the Madrid cemetery.

With only one week to have the funeral, scatter the ashes, sort through my dad’s things, decide what to do with accounts, his house and belongings, time seemed to drag out and it felt like I was in Spain for 7 weeks rather than 7 days. We had so much to do each day. But nothing could be done until we scattered the ashes.

The doorbell rang at my sister’s house at about midnight. A gentleman dropped off the urn in a case that looked like something you could take as a lunch bag to work or school. It was blue, and marked with the name of the cremation place. My dad was in there. His remains. His whole body, his brain, his BONES were in there. But that tiny bag couldn’t hold my dad’s spirit. His mind. His love. I hugged it and felt the warmth. Literally, it was still warm. But I was so exhausted from the whole day of traveling, the funeral, and the emotional rollercoaster, that rather than crying, I smiled, and placed him next to the flowers we’d brought in from the funeral home. I had to sleep. We’d be getting up in 6 hours to go to the train station.

The train ride to San Sebastian took 5 hours. We all rode together and spent half of the time in the bar, drinking beer by 9:30am, because Houston-time was 4:30pm, so why not? The bartender DID look at us surprised when we switched from beer to gin-tonics by 11am. But we remained civilized and semi-proper while reminiscing and chatting about life and our dad. We passed fields of sunflowers, and windmills, and mountains, and acres of blue skies. There was beauty and grief in the air. We were traveling to scatter our dad in the ocean.

I had only been to San Sebastian one time, and I didn’t spend more than a few hours there. I wanted to take it all in. I video-taped and took pictures, imagining my dad walking those streets, smelling the ocean, feeling the breeze and golden sun. I felt my papi.

We got to our hotel, had time for some tapas and sight-seeing in the old part of the city, and then we took taxis to the boat that would take us out to sea. The skies were mostly cloudy. We shipped out at 7:30pm, and would stay in the boat for about 2 hours, just in time to see the sun set (which sets much later in Spain). Carrying flowers, light sweaters, flowers and a few bottles of wine, we made it on the boat. I felt excited to finally be on the boat, yet so deeply sad to think about what we were doing. Leaving the port, and setting out to the open sea was the best part. After that, between the rocking of the boat and the weight of my emotions, I began to feel sick. I’ve been on boats many times and have never gotten sick, so I know that more than the rocking, it was the internal feelings that were producing my nausea.

IMG_9211Once we were out far enough, with no other boats around, and the town where my dad lived in the distance, we knew it was time. We hadn’t really thought about how we would do it. Would we say something? Would one person throw the ashes in? Would the flowers go first? Should we say a prayer? We had no plan. My older brother simply got the urn, opened it, and began to silently offer us the chance to get some ashes in our hands to throw out to sea. I couldn’t do it. I didn’t grab any. My other siblings took a handful, as the wind sprinkled some bits around us, and then they lovingly threw it in the ocean. I looked at the curtain of ashes falling from my sister’s hands and I wanted to jump overboard. Papiiiiii! Don’t leave us! Papiiiiiiii! Mi papiiiiii! Oh God, my heart was in pieces. I only had strength to let some flowers fall from my hands. The roses floated smoothly below us. Where was my dad??

We were all together for him, with him. Celebrating, mourning, searching, reaching out to him. Begging God to help us through this. My sister had a rosary she had been using to pray all while he was in the hospital. She desperately looked at me and asked me if she should throw it in the ocean to be with dad? YES! In slow motion, I saw that rosary fall to the water. I felt a sliver of peace.

I couldn’t eat or drink anything on the boat. Just wanted to get off. That was one of the hardest things to do, and I thought it was going to be so much more cathartic, more special, more fluid. But it wasn’t.

Next, we knew that we had to do the second part of the ashes. By the time we got to the beach, after dinner and making sure no one was around, it was close to 2am. We all went down to the sand. We looked at the spot where our aunt told us that they would normally sit when they were younger. I started video-taping and somehow gathered strength behind the camera. We dug a small hole, and this time, my sister sang, and we put some ashes into the hole. This time, I wanted to feel them. Hug them. Caress them gently. The white mixture swirled around with the sand. Bye papi. Bye. You were so loved, and will always be in our hearts. We wrote his name in the sand. We walked on the moon-lit beach, my aunt jumped in the ocean, my brother and I cried, and talked about how our lives would never be the same.IMG_9243

The next day we were able to just “relax”. Spend time together. Go to our dad’s favorite restaurants. Drink, remember, cry, laugh, and SING. We walked into a piano bar, and the second song they played was our dad’s favorite: “Y Nos Dieron las Diez” by Joaquin Sabina. No one could hold back tears. All five of us put our arms around each other and swayed, and sang with our papi who undoubtedly was with us, letting us know he was ok.

We took the train back to Madrid and we had to go to the cemetery to scatter the remaining ashes over our grandfather and great-grandfather’s tombs. We had never been to their graves. We had no idea where they were. We asked at the office, drove around, and finally found it. We were out of tears, exhausted emotionally, just wanting to put our dad to rest. We didn’t say anything. I silently prayed an Our Father, which meant more than ever as I said: “OUR FATHER WHO ART IN HEAVEN”. My brother took the urn, and walked around the tomb, pouring out the rest of our dad. We did what he wanted. May he rest in peace dear Lord.

“By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.”-Genesis 3:19




1 thought on “We are Dust

  1. Dearest Maria, my heart goes out to you and your siblings at this time. I am so very touched by all your words and the generous spirit with which you write and share your humanity. I was in San Sebastien in late July, I believe it was shortly before you were there. I feel very connected with your memories having been there and experiencing its beauty. You are very blessed to have such a peaceful place to bring this chapter of your father’s life to a close. May his memories and spirit continue bring you and all your family much peace and happiness. With my warmest regards, Sarah

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *