Tiny Handful of Ashes

January 23, 2014

handfull of ashesfilmmode

What you don’t see in the photo is the tiny urn I am carrying in my left hand. It is covered with a frilly baby t-shirt that has a monkey riding on an elephant. We bought that t-shirt before we were ever pregnant. Two boys later, it was still waiting for its owner. But she never did wear it, because Luna, our girl, was born dead at 26 weeks and 5 days. Her oldest brother, Lucas, said that it was definitely her shirt and it should cover the urn. And that the urn really shouldn’t be tittering on the bookshelf, like I’d left it, never having really thought of the ideal place for my daughter’s body’s ashes. I’m sure Lucas hadn’t pondered it either, but common sense told him to put it, “Somewhere more private, mom”. And cover it with Lunita’s monkey and elephant little t-shirt.

Exactly one month after Luna’s birth we were at the beach. Wonderful friends of ours had invited us down so they could cook for us and watch the kids and take us to the beach and give us privacy so that we could scatter Luna’s body’s ashes. Not Luna’s ashes, but her body’s ashes. That distinction seems important. I don’t want to let go of anything that is actually her. But her body – the body she no longer needs, the body she only needed to grow inside me and become our baby and then let go – that body I need to also let go.

There never seemed to be a right time to scatter her body’s ashes. It was always too late, or the beach was packed, or the boys were too sleepy, or it was a different beach that didn’t feel right.

But then the trip was coming to an end. And really who takes a tiny urn with ashes on vacation? I guess people whose daughter died.

And they can do whatever brings them love and closeness.

They? I mean we.

We parked a few blocks away from the beach, I got Gaspar into the Ergo carrier strapped on my back and Lucas by the hand. Wynn walked in front us, behind us, all around. Taking pictures, watching our step that we wouldn’t fall. Exactly like he had five years ago, as we walked out of the clinic with our freshly newborn and alive first baby. At the time, though, it hadn’t occurred to me to clarify the “alive” part. These days, 3 year old Gaspar, when hearing of a birth, asks, all sweet and wondering, if the baby is going to live or if it died. It really can always be one or the other.

Scattering Luna’s body’s ashes was so much harder than I imagined. And so much simpler. And so much more freeing. And so so much sadder.

First we had to find a spot that didn’t have cigarette butts or dirty tissues or faded soda cans strewn about. Here’s another reason for not littering, you never know who might need to scatter the ashes of their baby’s body. It seems considerate not to litter.

I thought opening the small blue urn would be scary. But, actually, Lucas did it, matter of factly. I untied the crinkly plastic bag. Indignant that my baby’s body’s ashes were fit for a common plastic bag. And then I had to reach in and touch the ashes. I was scared they’d feel harsh. I did it tentatively. All the while knowing I had to do it, I was her mom. Like blown up poopy diapers, bloody scraped knees and loose teeth, ashes seemed part of the motherhood realm of responsibilities that can’t be passed on to someone else without looking like you love your child less than your manicure.

Her body’s ashes were soft. And there were such few of them. I scattered a tiny handful gently on some bushes, so the ocean breeze would blow them around later that night. My hand was stained with grey ash, and I blew on it, and I said te quiero, Lunita, and I put my hands together and blew kisses.

We sang her little song and we walked back with the rest of the ashes. I wanted to stop at every beach-side vendor to buy things: a box, a towel, a stupid plastic leather bracelet. Anything. The beach was keeping part of her body’s ashes and I had a very strong urge to pull things off and carry them with me, to hold them and squeeze them, as if they could give me something back.

But they couldn’t. Rationally, I don’t think anything can give me that feeling- that I have some of her, the she actually is with me, that there’s part of her I can hold and cuddle and give to. I believe I will always, always keep trying.

  • Cheli does her mothering and doulaing in Madrid, Spain. Her boys are wild and lovely and always, apparently, at that stage. Her daughter Luna is cradled in her heart as they learn how to be mother and daughter without ever holding hands.


    • Vickie

      May 27, 2017 at 9:15 pm

      I love how you say “her bodies ashes”. I’ve never thought of it in that way. But you are right. Your daughter is not her body and never was. She lives on forever. God bless you.

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