Behind the main house there’s an old wooden bench. It’s just past a row of tall Spruce trees and faces out over the fields and rolling hills that mark the edge of our property on the south east side. My wife is sitting in her usual spot. I join her, in much the same way I have countless times before. We don’t speak, but enjoy the last of the suns warmth as it begins to fade over the horizon.
A cool breeze is blowing gently from the north. We listen as it weaves through the trees and the open fields. A yellow-headed blackbird flies past in a silent arc towards the west.
Footsteps along the narrow pathway behind us announce the arrival of our guests. Many of our family and friends are here. Some brought campers or have driven in from one of the motels in town, but many have been staying in the cabins off of the north road. It’s nice to see them in use again. I haven’t paid much attention to them since we shut down the retreat a few years ago.
I see my children, grandchildren, even great grandchildren. Some are too young to fully understand what is happening I’m sure. I make special note of those that couldn’t be here, whether by their own choosing or not. Regardless, I’m grateful to all those who could make it. It’s not often that you can get four generations of family together. But then this is sort of a special occasion.
Groups of people gather on either side of the wooden bench. There is much holding of hands and thin lipped smiles that hold no joy. No words are spoken above a whisper. It’s hard to know what to say I guess. I’ve certainly been through this type of situation enough to know.
People come forward to say a few nice words. Some share a funny story or two. Memories from a time long ago. It’s nice to hear laughter, to see everyone experience a moment of joy, fleeting though it may be.
After the last person has come forward, our youngest granddaughter moves in front of the crowd, off to our left. In one hand she has a small stool, in the other one of my old guitars. She sits without speaking and begins to play.
The first chords ring out and I feel great warmth in my heart. Our granddaughter is playing her own composition. I’m so proud of her. She’s so young but already following her dreams. We’ve been lucky that many of our family have had the courage to do the same.
I turn to my wife. She continues to look forward, watching the fields sway and the sun set. I see the sadness in her eyes. It hurts me so much to see her like this. I look down towards her hands, folded on her lap. I want to reach out but I don’t.
“Well dear, I didn’t quite make it to a hundred and three like I had hoped.”
I smile a little at my own inside joke, even though it does little to lighten the mood.
“It’s been a tough couple of weeks to say the least. For all of you of course, but for me too. Watching the people I love so much suffer like this. I especially never wanted you to hurt this way. Leaving you is going to be the hardest thing I’ve ever done.”
My emotions are getting the best of me. I stop to look out over the fields again and listen for a while.
“The actual passing wasn’t so bad. Nothing like I expected. Not that I had any expectations really. When it’s time, don’t be afraid.”
The music ends with a few gentle notes. Among the shuffling feet and sniffling noses, everyone turns their attention to the old wooden bench. My wife, framed by the gently shifting Spruce trees turns to her right and reaches for the simple urn beside her. The boys come forward and help her to stand.
Her body is frail, her skin sagging. Still, I see the strong, beautiful woman I married so many years ago. Together they walk forward to the edge of the field. I follow a few short paces behind.
There is a short pause for a silent prayer as the last rays of the fading sun radiate over the seemingly unending prairie. My wife removes the lid from the urn and hands it to our first born. In a serious of strained motions she tosses my ashes to be carried on the breeze over our fields of gold. The release I feel, is more than symbolic. I reach out in a vain attempt to brush the tears streaking her cheek, hoping in some way that she knows I am close.
“It was perfect.” I say. “Thank you.” I close my eyes, fighting back tears myself. “I love you.” I say. And then it all fades away.