My Father’s Ashes – A Journey

This day six years ago was the day of my father’s funeral. He was an untraditional and playful man, with a Peter Pan mentality and child’s approach to life until the very end. I think one of the best things he taught me was to constantly challenge and walk outside the beaten path, be curious & open, and stay true to integrity and beliefs even when it’s difficult and your thoughts and ideas differ from what’s accepted and embraced by “everyone else”.

All through the years of our childhood and upbringing, our family was a bit different from my friends’ families. Dad wasn’t afraid to be seen as weird, and when stuck-up polished people raised their brows or became visibly awkward from things he said or did, he even enjoyed it quite a lot.. So it was only natural that his final journey reflected this. My childhood was full of his imagination and adventures. Here’s my story about our final adventure.. Our last journey.

February 2012: As we realized that dad’s cancer was terminal and his remaining time with us would be much shorter than we’d hoped, we talked about his thoughts and wishes for the funeral, and planned how everything would be structured. Dad wanted a celebration of life, bright colors, some favorite songs (like Art Garfunkel’s version of Bright Side of Life), and he wanted people to remember and enjoy the good memories, yet completely honesty and openness – not pretending that he was perfect. Those wishes were easy to fix.

But he also wished to be cremated, having his ashes spread some specific places close to our family cabin, which is part of the mountain farm that’s been in our family for centuries.

That gave me a bit of a headache.. Because according to Norwegian law, you have to file an application – which took more time than we had – and on top of that you can’t have an ordinary funeral ceremony beforehand. And while Denmark allow a mix of both spreading a part of the ashes plus burying part of it, here you’ll have to chose either or.. My mom is Christian, and for her it was important to have a “real” funeral, and a grave to visit.

So I planned a solution with a twist together with my father, to make everyone happy, and to end his life just as mischievous as he lived it. Our plan was simple; to get hold of the box of ashes before it was buried, remove some of the ashes, put it in another box, and drive up to Hallingdal.

Apparently, that plan wasn’t too realistic. We weren’t allowed to be alone with the box, and it was sealed. As we sat in the room of the crematorium, waiting for the graveyard guy to join us, we tried every trick to get it opened, but nothing worked.

Eventually we had to follow him down to the grave, with all of dad still inside that box.. Then we came up with another plan; we claimed that our older sister was on our way, and we didn’t want to bury dad without her being present.

Finally the guy had to attend to other commitments, and we were allowed to bury the box ourselves. But the graveyard was full of people, so still we couldn’t do anything out of the norm. Twisting my brain, I came up with another plan; which was a bit more complicated and totally illegal than dad and I had ever foreseen.

We buried the box, and came back the same evening, with new flowers to be planted. Then we dug out the box – emptied half of it into a new urn, and placed the box & ashes back. So that half of dad would be with our grandparents – and with mom. The most awkward moment, which totally triggered the dark humor our family is full of, was when we poured the ashes into the new urn, and some of it spilled on my sandal and foot(!!)

Then we drove for 3 hours up to our cabin, and were joined by my aunt and her family. We walked up to the nearest hill, and spread 1/3 there. We then went to the mountain pond where we swim in the summer, and us siblings swam out with another third, releasing it into the water, watching the gentle movements of the water cradling and embracing the ashes until it was dissolved.

And finally, we went back to our cabin, and let the wind spread the last third across the land where my dad spent over 100 days each year during his final years.

We had brought champagne, and toasted for a meaningful, warm and playful life. And for the best dad in the world… I really felt that he was there with us, and still is. It was amazing to be able to fulfill his last wish, and the not-so-straight-forward way perfectly represented him; facing a number of challenges, and having to adjust, change course, but always coming up with creative and untraditional ways to reach the goal.

“Life’s not for amateurs. Sometimes I feel like a bloody amateur.” (Quote, dad)

A paradox: This story is an example of stupid and useless practice and “rules” in our societies, where outdated thinking blocks change. It’s also an example of how being a bit stubborn and creative enables you to find solutions when you’re stuck. Not that I’d encourage anyone to committing crimes, but isn’t it slightly fascinating that you can throw waste in nature that damages it for many years, without being punished. You can get away with a lot when it comes to messing with nature. But under the current Norwegian law, the number of crimes I committed in the process of honoring dad’s last wish could potentially have been punished with up to 4 years in prison. More than most predators and rapists… Even though this is in fact a harmless and ecological way of ensuring that my father returned into the ecosystem – without the crappy plastic bag they wrap corpses in and which never dissolves. Ashes to ashes… What a paradox!

Our society is also filled with thousands of other outdated structures, laws and rules. I obey rules if they’re based on logic and ethics, but rules that go against logic, ethic and environment – let’s change those!

Everyday philosophy

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