This afternoon, I went to the funeral home and picked up my step-father's ashes. A small, compact container wrapped tightly in cardboard and sealed with official notification of its contents weighed heavily in my arms as I carried it down the steps.
Once in my car, I sat in the driver's seat and hugged that box to my chest, breathing quietly, feeling its weight in my lap. When I was ready, I placed the box gingerly on the passenger seat, and began to drive back towards my mother's house, where I would deliver her beloved husband's remains into her trembling hands. During that ride, I rested my right hand on top of the little box, just as I might rest my hand on my son's shoulder.
About half-way home, I realized that I was carefully avoiding bumps and pot-holes, gingerly taking turns, as if a fragile and easily damaged cargo sat beside me. Perhaps that fragile cargo was actually my own heart, heavy with grief, relieved that his suffering was over, and worried for my mother's future and well-being. Carrying those ashes was like being a solitary pall-bearer, shouldering a container whose contents were undeniably heavy, but whose ultimate goal was lightness and the shedding of the physical body's weight.
Resting that box on the piano in the living room after everyone had a chance to feel its weight, it was so very apparent that he is not actually in that box. What is in that box is simply the remains of a body, a vessel, a vehicle that propelled that soul through this life for eighty years. That soul, that spirit, is now free, roaming a world of which we can only dream. Blessings on that soul, even as the ashes and dust and bone fragments which remain with us are scattered to the winds of the earth.
Tomorrow, we celebrate that soul's accomplishments and that body's life on earth. And then we move on without him at our side, but with him always in our hearts.