Hard-earned wisdom

As the imaginary old-timer who lives in my head is now fond of saying, “Bruce, my boy, you’ve hit the stage in your life where you gonna go to a lot more funerals than weddings.” I can make him sound more down-home and colorful—“You’re gonna toss a lot more dirt than rice.” Of course, these days it seems more people get cremated than buried, so really he should say, “You’re gonna toss more ash than the janitor at a Marlboro Man convention.”

No matter what I have Gabby the phantasmic coot say, the point is, I’ve been tossing lots of ash in the last three years. Enough to where I can now give some guidance to those who don’t have much experience in this unique little realm of life.

1) You’ll never do anything much weirder than walk out of an office with a box filled with the ashes that used to be your friend or loved one. It might be a real choke-up moment for you, or it might be one of rich, dark humor. But don’t expect it to feel like you’re picking up a lamp or a pair of shoes. It will be surrealistically odd.

2) When you’re where you’re going to actually take the ashes out of the box and put them wherever you’re going to put them, have one person hold the box the whole time. That way, others can reach in, grab a handful and do their thing. If you pass the box itself around, you’re asking for disaster. Most folks are slightly startled when they feel how heavy that little box really is, and some might drop it. You don’t want a dropped box. Trust me. A dropped box is so wrong.

3) A breeze or wind is a good thing. You can work with it. Just grab a healthy fistful of ash, then fling it high into the air with a nice, simple underhand motion. Take advantage of the wind. That ash will be swept away beautifully, some might say poetically. Many of those in attendance will immediately think of a certain hit song by the band Kansas. There ain’t nothin’ you can do about that. After a successful fling, your friend/loved one has indeed just become dust in the wind.

4) If there’s a natural water feature at the location specified by the deceased, make use of it. Moving water can be so good for those “there he/she goes, back to the source” moments that are so desirable at ashings. Pour the ashes into the stream, then watch as they flow away, leaving a visible and slowly dissipating milky tan trail as they do. It looks good, and it shuts everybody up as they all feel suddenly harmonious and respectful.

5) You’re not Hunter Thompson. You’re not going to blow someone’s ashes out of a cannon. However, if you know someone experienced with potato guns, you might get some good, rousing dispersal done that way.