A crisp June morning. We—his mother and grandmother—stood at a quiet spot along the T-bar at the end of the concrete pier, facing back to the shore, the receding tide.
She—his mother, my daughter—opened the plastic bag.
“Do we want to let it go all at once?” she asked.
“No, no,” I said, as I reached in and sifted my fingers through the ash and bone. It was dry and gritty, warm to the touch. The last of him.
I clutched a handful, held my arm over the rough wooden rail, looked around to be sure no one was watching, and let go. We watched it drift and fall. Then we took turns, a handful at a time, until the bag was empty. A cloud of white dust hovered over the water. I imagined it remaining there indefinitely to mark the spot.
My grandson had died three weeks earlier, suddenly and tragically, at twenty-seven. His mother and I talked about a memorial, a so-called celebration of life. A large gathering or small and intimate? Right away or should we wait a while? Did we have to do anything at all, answer to anyone? We dodged questions, grappled with our ambivalence.
When the coroner said that scattering remains off the pier is illegal, my daughter and I made immediate eye contact. We would do exactly that. My defiant grandson would have applauded our petty crime. That morning at the pier resolved our impasse. It felt right. It was enough. This was it, we realized, our private memorial.
His resting place was known only to us, but after a few months we wanted to share it, create a permanent marker, a place others could visit.
I ordered bronze plaques, three of them, small and discreet, engraved with his name and dates. On the six-month anniversary of his death, a windy Tuesday two days before Thanksgiving, we returned to the pier. We smoothed a space on the railing with sandpaper, cleaned it with solvent. We peeled off the backing and affixed the band-aid-sized strip to the buffed and burnished rail. Would it remain undisturbed? The two extras are in case it’s damaged or desecrated.
Our tribute is inconspicuous, blending into the worn railing, but to us it’s a shimmering display of our love. And it’s still there. One morning last week, after a run by the beach, I strolled out the pier. The stretch at the end—the top of the T—was lined with young men in hoodies holding fishing poles, talking, smoking, waiting for tugs on their lines. I pictured my grandson among them.
A gull sat on the railing directly over the plaque. It didn’t fly off at my approach, but skittered a few feet down the rail, watching—companionably, it seemed—as I rubbed my thumb over the plaque and gazed down into the water where, at least in my memory, the white cloud still lingered.
Alice Lowe reads and writes about life and literature, food and family. Recent essays have appeared in Ascent, Bloom, Concho River Review, Hobart, Superstition Review, and Waccamaw Review. Her work has been cited in the Best American Essays and nominated for Pushcart Prizes and Best of the Net. Alice is the author of numerous essays and reviews on Virginia Woolf’s life and work, including two monographs published by Cecil Woolf Publishers in London. Alice lives in San Diego, California; read her work at www.aliceloweblogs.wordpress.com.
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