Love forms bonds, like strands of yarn.
Like yarn, those bonds can be fragile, or get all tangled.
But when they’re kept and cared for, they can bridge any distance.
-from the game ‘Unravel’
I did a very hard thing this week. I knew that I didn’t have to go through with it, and I nearly didn’t. But the time, setting, and circumstances came together in a beautiful and sublime way.
Earlier in the week, I found myself driving all day to Arizona, the boys sitting in the back seat. I wept on the way while they slept, recalling the last time I had to make this drive. Alicia was still with us then. She was suffering, but very much alive. She made this present trip under different circumstances. It wasn’t in a desperate search for a cure at the Mayo Clinic.
Once in Arizona, I felt the need to drive to the places that once meant something to us. I showed my boys the dingy apartment in south Scottsdale, where a blue lantern once hung over a stuccoed archway. I showed them the ever more massive apartment complex where she hid eggs at Easter for Ben. I showed them the old building where I did my graduate research, and where we all spent much time together on lunch breaks. I took them to the Phoenix Zoo, situated within Papago Park, home to a collection of bizarre, yet unforgettable sandstone buttes. Alicia and I both played in the shadows of those rocks on different occasions as children, eating our PB&J sandwiches and sipping our sodas from cans wrapped in foil to celebrate the end of a field trip.
The next day, we found ourselves in Sedona. Words can hardly do this landscape justice, so I’ll not try.
It was the place of our honeymoon, where we stayed in a simple bed and breakfast for just two days. Economics didn’t allow us to stay away any longer, but we consoled ourselves with the notion that we would one day return for a much longer stay. Perhaps, just perhaps, at our 20th anniversary. As we drove through town, that wound was prodded repeatedly with each memory that drifted back into my mind. We made our way slowly, windingly, up Oak Creek Canyon, my eyes searching for the spot that would meet my heart’s expectations. There musn’t be any people around. Not close to any cabins or retreats. Safe enough for those in my party to climb down to the stream. Eventually, I found it – a stretch of creek that passed through a living arbor of cottonwoods and sycamores, water gently bubbling over smooth, dark stones.
This was where I was to lay her ashes to rest. The loving sadness that had been building this entire trip finally came out. I had bid goodbye to her body once before, on the night she passed. Though her body was now much changed, I was to bid goodbye yet again. I did so with a message of love – that it was the privilege of a lifetime to have known and loved her – that I hoped I did enough in caring for her – and that I hoped this act would be a continuation of that loving care. Her body flowed into the creek with no difficulty, as smoothly as water running over stones. Her ashes looked less like ashes, and more like golden sand in the midst of those mossy stones – standing out as a testament to the beautiful light she gave to so many. Caleb remarked to me, “Dad, you can still see where she is.”
Should you ever find yourself in Arizona, and have a chance to restore your spirit in the cool, green shadows of Oak Creek Canyon, just know, and remember, that those waters have kissed the body of a bright, beautiful, tender human being named Alicia.