My dad died two years ago, but last week I got to bring him home—not due to a miraculous resurrection but by taking his ashes to the place of my childhood. When I was a mere infant, my parents bought a lake resort, previously owned by my mother’s Aunt Etta, on a beautiful lake in northeastern Washington. The resort, which still bears our family name, was the perfect place for my dad, a rugged outdoorsman and gregarious host. There was nothing he didn’t love about this place, but after eleven hard seasons, my mother had had enough of the life—the isolation, the long days, the unending work, and the inability to ever take a vacation in the summer—so they sold the resort and moved on.
This wasn’t my first trip back, but my return was different this time. Part of the difference was the fact that my father had died in the interim, making each vista filled with bittersweet memories, and on this trip, my husband and I had brought along our nine-year-old grandson. I was intensely aware of the passage of time as I took in my surroundings on the day of our arrival. Much had changed, but it was still the old familiar stomping grounds—the same black walnut tree which my siblings and I had climbed a thousand times was still a massive and sturdy presence in the yard of our former home; the little store still held shelves of food, Band-aids, fishing lures, and candy. I remembered the anticipation with which we would greet the weekly candy delivery when we would be allowed to enter the truck and choose a sweet treat from the vast array displayed on its shelves. Necco Wafers or Sugar Babies? A Black Cow or Pixie Sticks? The walls of the office and store were still papered with photos of fisher-folk and their big catch or hunters posed with their kill. Back in a corner hung a framed photo of my family standing on the front porch when I was only four or five.
That first evening, I wandered down to the swimming hole and sat at the end of the dock, dangling my feet in the cool waters of the lake. The water and surrounding hills formed a cradle, and the skies overhead a starry dome. I felt held in this sacred sphere, not separate from creation, but a part of it. The sense of recognition was overwhelming, and tears came easily. Simply, I felt at home. I think we all have a sense of place, an attachment to somewhere we feel at home, where our spirit wants to linger. There are places that have worked themselves into the fiber of our being, that are so embedded in who we are that we can barely define ourselves without them. These places aren’t necessarily where we were born or grew up, but they are always places that speak to something deep inside us, that fulfill some spiritual longing that we may not even be aware of. For my husband, it was his grandparents’ ranch where he spent his summers; for my mom, it was an ocean beach—any ocean beach; and for my dad, it was this place that offered him a fullness of life that no other place before or since had.
As I sat on the dock that night, I understood many things for the first time. I understood why he loved the resort so much and why he was so bitter toward my mother for making him give it up. I understood the loss of the place and the pride of ownership that would ultimately never be replaced by any of his future endeavors. But I had come to bring him home, to mingle his ashes with the earth and the waters, to make him one with the lake and the land that he loved. Over the next few days, I would be swirling his remains in deep green waters and scattering them on sandy beaches and under soaring pine trees. As the water and trees had been a part of his marrow, now his marrow would become a part of theirs and of the God who created them all. This thought gave me a sense of completeness, and I pondered the day when my time on earth would be done, when I would find my way home to the Ground of Being and my eternal resting place. At that moment, I will truly be complete. Until then, I am satisfied to sit and swirl my feet in the waters that birthed me.