The trail was harder than I remembered, but then, I was 25 the last time I attempted it. A woodsy path at the base became a rocky incline, and then, an almost vertical wall. I was winded as I rested at the halfway point, then pulled myself up the rocky face with the help of small trees.
Will I ever reach the top?
I had a picnic lunch in a pack on my back, and, in one of its compartments, what was left of my mother’s ashes. For three years this last little packet has sat under my desk as we carried out her wishes. It took a while, but I completed the final leg of this strange journey last week.
My mother was a beautiful, unique woman who knew what she wanted in life, and in death. Some remains went to the family plot, of course. That came first. Then, to the graves of her parents and siblings in Virginia. Check, thanks to my sister.
Harder to accomplish was this ardent musician’s request to leave some of herself at Symphony Hall, but my brother and I got that done one cold winter night to the sweet strains of Beethoven.
The beach in Rhode Island where we vacationed was easy, but heartbreaking, as my husband and I bade her farewell under a full moon, up to our knees in the warm, roiling surf. Next came the Cape Cod beach we walked in the last years of my dad’s life.
It was my idea to finish the job at the top of this small mountain range where we spent many a weekend afternoon climbing the big hill and then running, or rolling, down its steep ski slope. I had targeted a huge rocky outcropping at the top where we enjoyed wine and cheese parties with friends, or just stood in silent reverence of the panoramic view, holding hands.
I had clung to my mother desperately in the months before she died, as if I could somehow prevent the inevitable. I couldn’t save her from death, but I could do this. And when I found the rocks, I was thrilled.
We stepped into a small piney glade just to the side, and hidden from view, I shook the bag’s grainy contents into the air. They swirled under a hot Indian summer sun, the wind picked up, and then they were gone.
“You are free now,’’ I whispered, as unexpected sobs choked me in that final goodbye.
It is torture to let go of the people you love. But there is also grace in fulfilling their wishes. I see how very wise my mother was, and that helps when memories drown me and days are long.
Now, when I go to Boston for a concert, ride the waves at my favorite beaches, or just look wistfully to the soaring hills as I drive past my old hometown, I know part of her will always be there with me, and in that is an abiding peace.