Yesterday was Peter’s birthday. It was also the day chosen to scatter his ashes. So, on a sunny, pleasant winter morning, a morning Peter would have probably gotten up and taken a long hike – a solitary event he did almost every birthday – his ashes were peppered upon the earth.
My kids, our kids, and I took a walk on a path Peter often traveled. We talked and on the final lap, we silenced ourselves in remembrance of a man we all loved, deeply. Then, as we stood on an overlook, we scattered his ashes among the reeds, the grass, the winter greenery, and the frozen lake. Once released, the memories flooded us.
The kids told story after story of Peter. They spoke of the times when they took long walks, just the two of them, or the three of them, exploring nature for endless hours with Peter. They spoke sledding down hills or ice staking on top of frozen water in the winter, and camping or climbing trees in the summer with him. My son talked about their adventures in cross country skiing, and my daughter about the hikes with her dog as they both grew older. Peter loved being part of nature and fatherhood and being with them completely.
I didn’t speak of my times with Peter, except maybe our time together walking after dinner when the kids were away at college or moved out. I kept my memories to myself as so many of them were personal, ones shared between a man and a woman, a husband and a wife. Besides, this city mouse didn’t embrace nature like my country mouse. It didn’t prevent me from relishing my children’s memories of their father. When I listened, I said a prayer, an actual prayer, of thanksgiving for spending thirty plus years with a man who left his beautiful mark on the people we created. I was thankful that even during all our fights, all our difficult times, all our one-step-aways from giving up, I held on, knowing Peter was the greatest, most giving, dedicated father and the loyalist, gentlest, devoted of husbands. Because those were his sexiest parts. Because those were what always pulled me back. Because those were what made me stay.
The kids and I stood and watched while the wind took some of his ashes and threw them further onto the earth. They continued to tell their stories, while we laughed, had moments of pause, and shed a few tears. There was love among us so strong – around us and in us – Peter had to be with us. It was love Peter planted there and love he nourished with his tender, patient ways.
Peter’s two best friends reached out to me, each remembering his birthday. One struggled with the day. The other may have struggled as well, but all I knew was he just wanted to let me know he was thinking of us. Peter’s family contacted me. His brother sent two pictures of Peter. One of them broke me down in sobs. The one I posted today… in my blog. The one Peter would be embarrassed that I posted today…in my blog. But to me, it captured Peter – his smile, his kindness, his quiet charm- and he seemed alive to me at first glance. Some friends extended “thinking of you” texts, knowing this was going to be a difficult day. And it was…yet, we made it through because we made it through together.
Peter and I spoke often about death. An odd conversation perhaps, or a necessary one as it turns out. I have always been open about death. Maybe being a product of a very sick father, I realized early on death is a reality. And Peter knew he lived a life without fear and with the fullest of enjoyment. So, we did talk about death. And I think, no I know, from his memorial service to his burial, this is how Peter wanted to be remembered – without fanfare. And I think, no I know, he would have been deeply humbled by the impact still felt by so many, most importantly his children, in his quiet, unassuming way.
We all live our lives trying to find purpose. Some think it has to be a grandiose purpose like a cure for cancer or become a great world leader. And while those are important, most of us achieve our own quiet purpose. Peter taught me that. He taught me to be happy in what I have, and to look right in front of me instead of too far ahead of me. I have really grasped this lesson since his death. Peter taught our kids this too. On their long hikes, he told his kids, our kids, to keep their heads up and not to look at their feet. He wanted them to take in all the beauty around them. He wanted all of us to find the beauty in nature he always held – the beauty right in front of us. It is fitting that yesterday he became part of what he loved the most.
As we were about to leave, the three of us hugged in a circle only a family with strength and closeness can create. And as we embraced, I lifted my head to the sky and said in a quiet whisper, “Peter, this is what we created together. Thank you for choosing me.” There was peace in my words. Maybe a peace I haven’t felt since he died. See yesterday, as we released Peter’s dust from what he once came, I felt a deep, all-encompassing love for the man who held my purpose, and for whom I was part of his….and without grief to ruin it.
Happy Birthday, Peter. I know you will give back to the earth all that you took from it. Peace on your journey, my eternal love. And may you float along the reeds, the grass, the winter greenery, and the frozen lake, like the angel I know you are now.