The Scattering of Ashes

I doubt scattering of ashes is practiced much in Japan, which is where Janet died. It seems inconsistent with the Japanese funereal practice of Kotsuage, a practice which lends itself more towards the keeping of an urn in a dedicated family crypt. Having had the misfortune to experience Kotsuage first hand, I have portrayed it in one of my earlier blogs as a bizarre in-your-face ritual inimical to Western sensibilities.

Japan aside, the scattering of ashes is certainly widely practiced in Australia.

The idea behind ashes scattering, I imagine, is that the beloved person who has died shall have their ashes returned to the natural environment, preferably to a particular part of that environment they loved. That happened with Janet’s ashes on 14 March of this year (2024) in a ceremony attended by some of the Keppel Sands locals, some people from Rockhampton, and some from New South Wales and Victoria. It was a small, but representative group of people Janet loved, or at least chose to associate with.

The invitation in the photo above was designed by one of our neighbours with an artistic bent. She made one slight mistake, for which I shall forgive her. Janet was my beloved partner for thirty-three years and eighteen days. We met on 10 October 1990, a Wednesday. A magical day for me and, I believe, for her too. Words cannot express how much I miss her now.

So, on 14 March 2024, those who would participate in the ashes scattering, numbering around thirty, gathered on my front verandah. The weather was perfect for the occasion: fine and mild with a gentle breeze. We had expected rain.

My mind was in a strange place, which was to be expected given this was in some respects the culmination of all the trauma I’d been through over the past months. Moreover, I’d never participated, let alone been the principal, in an event such as this. Sausage rolls and other items of finger food were served by a wonderful young local woman called Amy, who had tattoos over most of her body and a heart of gold. I just went with the flow. After stories had been told, we set off, me leading and carrying the urn, to a place overlooking a small but beautiful beach with gently lapping waves. Balm for the eyes and music for the ears.

Janet had asked that, in the event of her death, her ashes should be scattered from the top of the headland (Musa Head) overlooking this beach. We compromised. Many of the people assembled would not have been capable of ascending the headland. B’Jesus, one was dragging an oxygen cylinder behind him to assist his breathing. So the scattering took place at the bottom of the headland.

Janet had also asked that Kol Nidrei be played during the scattering, this being one of her favourite pieces of music. I had some sort of amplifying device attached to my mobile phone, and it worked a treat. Music filled the air as I spread the deathly white ashes over green foliage. Janet would have been impressed.

Stop there.

She was impressed. I swear she was present at that moment, a moment hanging in suspension according to some fortuitous dispensation from the laws of physics. I could feel her fingers gently caressing the palm of my hand and could smell her warm breath in the air we co-inhabited with such mutual delight, as we had in life.

Sorry, she said.

What for? I asked.

Leaving you alone so abruptly, she said.

But you did keep me enthralled for thirty-three odd years, I said.

Thirty-three years and eighteen days, she said.

This was, indeed, a strange, almost mystical moment for me and in more ways than one. What struck me, as I took in the scene before me, was how those assembled formed an almost perfect circle with me at one far point on the perimeter. To me, it felt like we were participating in some pagan (Celtic?) ritual, wondering when the human sacrifices would perhaps be called for. Why did they adopt this regular formation so spontaneously? Why did they not just mill around me like a scraggly flock of goats waiting to be fed?

From that point on, only anti-climax could follow. The ashes had been scattered. The job was done. Some people went on their way, while others gathered back at my verandah to talk whatever shop took their fancy: the marketplace, the office, the factory floor, the racecourse, the tennis court.

When a loved one dies, in the process leaving us bereft and laying us low, a ghastly and oh so sad mysticism hijacks the core of our being. But mundane life lurks assiduously in the background, a bully-boy insisting we re-engage with its everyday concerns.

This is the way of the world, and is perhaps a necessary evil.