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When We Gathered at the Ocean

January 7, 2022

Another Way for week of December 31, 2021 When We Gathered at the Ocean

Three sisters sprinkling ashes into the sand and ocean.

Is anyone else’s head muddled like mine? I have trouble sorting out what things happened or didn’t happen in 2021 and 2020—mainly because of the whirlwind the loathsome pandemic has sent us through. I’m glad I keep a journal on my laptop as sort of a calendar of the things we did or were thinking or worrying about—it helps keep me straight.

We all can likely name a variety of disappointments, shock, and dismay at all those we’ve lost—some from Covid and complications, some from cancer or heart attacks or accidents. For me the biggest loss was the death of my mother. I’ve written much about her (too much?), including having to miss her memorial service in mid-November due to my positive Covid test. It turned out to be an asymptomatic situation. But the timing was terrible and my husband and I had to stay home from her service.

I also turned 70 soon thereafter and my husband and daughters wanted to surprise me for this “big” birthday. So it was that Stuart and I ended up on a beloved stretch of South Carolina coastline in mid-December, near where my middle sister lives. Then my oldest sister totally surprised me. I had not known she was also joining us at my sister’s. We cried and hugged as we gathered.

Yours truly, Pert, and Nancy, clutching our bags of mother’s ashes at Ocean Isle SC, which we visited earlier with Mom and other family members a few years ago.

On a lovely afternoon we sent small handfuls of Mom’s ashes into the sand and waves, watching the fine dust slowly ebb away. The sister who lives near the beach had suggested this, and while I wasn’t sure it was for me (I’d never been one to kiss or even touch a loved one in a casket—sorry to say), shaking a small bag of Mom’s ashes into the ocean seemed perfect for her love of the water and beaches. I could sense a presence with us that helped my heart take another step on the journey you go through after the death of a parent or a dearly loved person in your life. We also missed our brother at the ocean, who couldn’t join us but his heart was with us.

Genesis 3:19 reminds us that we—at least our bodies—are only dust. Our spirits live on in God’s presence somewhere in the vast cosmos.

A gull lingered nearby as we wrote our love for Mom and all she meant to us. I finally felt like I had participated in putting Mom’s earthly body to rest.

At 70 you really start to ponder the span of your life, and feel the inevitability of one day being the one who is mourned (at least one can hope!) by loved ones. Even in the act of passing on memorabilia to the next generation (which I’ve done a lot of lately), and going through photos and letters—you start to realize the importance of writing down information on the small mug or souvenir your mom bought, or special desk your mother and father used, or the rocking chair you can visualize your grandfather in—what these things meant.

The “congregation” for the spreading of Mom’s ashes in mid-December.

If the past two years have taught us anything, it is coming to closer grips with the turns life can take, the surprises and pivots we’ve all faced. I think of the massively destructive killer tornadoes right before Christmas in too many states, and the disappointments and futility we’ve all felt.

But we would be poor indeed if we stopped there: the past two years have taught us how precious our families and dear friends are, the treasure of hard working medical and rescue personnel in our communities and world, the dearness of safe homes, the wealth that is in many of our refrigerators and freezers and closets. At least I hope you have some of these gifts: the non-returnable blessings that God and family and our vast earth have bequeathed. I am so grateful for all my family, friends, and church community.

I pray that you will have a safe, healthy, and blessed New Year.

One of my favorite pictures of Mother from about 6 years ago.


What blessings do you name: from God, family, the earth?

Have you seen or kept ashes of a loved one? How does it make you feel?

What have the last two pandemic years taught you?

Or send comments, memories, or stories to or Another Way Media, P.O. Box 363, Singers Glen, VA 22834.

Another Way is a column by Melodie Davis, in syndication since 1987. She is the author of nine books. Another Way columns are posted at a week after newspaper publication.  

  1. You sisters all favor your mother, but judging from the trio picture, I think Nancy favors her most of all.

    It’s appropriate to gather in nature to scatter the dust of our mortal bodies with the knowledge from I Thessalonians 4 that “the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord.” All my relatives of this generation were buried in caskets with granite markers at Bossler Mennonite Church. My brother wanted to be cremated, but we still buried his ashes in a box alongside his father and mother in the cemetery.

    Memories of Mother surround me–in dishes, a little rocker from her childhood, and photos. Sometimes I say “Thank you” when I walk by her photo in the family room.

    I don’t think you should worry about overdoing it with posts about her. I found that writing is healing, it gives tribute to a life well lived, and it produces a detailed record. Precious memories! Thank you, Melodie.

  2. Thanks for all your reflections comments! Helpful! I can see the resemblance too, for all of us, especially in our liplines..

    (I should add that most of Mom’s ashes are in an urn that was buried beside Dad in the church cemetery where she went growing up.)

    Blessings to you on this snowy Friday (don’t you wish you lived up here?)!

  3. I’d like to see snow for a day or two, but I wouldn’t want to drive in it!

  4. Melodie,

    After living in the Chicago area for 50 years, my brother came back home “to die,” he joked. Several years later he passed on unexpectedly. He wanted cremation but left no instructions in his will for disposal of ashes. A relative, who wept when hearing that he was cremated because it violated her religion, recommended a military cemetery burial. He qualified as a Navy veteran, but I didn’t like the idea of a strange location. Because he loved Chicago and talked about it frequently, I mailed the cremains back to his longtime Jewish neighbors. They had a ceremonial spreading of the ashes in the “ravine,” as he called the depression behind his former house, and sent me pictures. My brother was back home.

    I lost all my possessions in the third major Johnstown flood, 45 years ago. I was living in trailer park located in a floodplain 10 miles downstream the day a dam failed. I floated on top of a mobile home in the raging water until one end caromed a small tree and I fell off. Fortunately, l was able to climb the tree, which barely withstood the assault. After six hours in the tree, I was rescued by a small helicopter. When I moved from a temporary location to an apartment a few days later, everything I owned fit on the back seat of a car. I felt so light, unencumbered by earthly possessions. Maybe that’s what leaving this world feels like.

    Best wishes for a much better new year.
    Nick Russian

    • Nick, thanks for sharing these stories, both of them very moving. Six hours in a tree, not knowing what would happen next–how very scary. We were just talking about flooding along the Susquehanna with a friend who lived in Pa. probably 45 years ago also. I need to look up the river names up there. I’m glad you were rescued, thanks for often sharing your wisdom here and yes, let’s all wish and pray for a better year ahead.

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