Inhaling David’s ashes

One week from yesterday, November 21, will be the first anniversary of David’s death. I will take his ashes to Inverness and bury them next to Donna, his wife of 30 years.  He and I made that decision even before he got ill, in one of those casual conversations where you talk about what to do when your spouse dies, knowing the inevitable will one day  happen but not considering it as part of present reality. We’d joke we’d put him in the green bin,  feet sticking out, but  decided the City of Berkeley compost collectors would reject him. Too old and sinewy perhaps. After that we discussed taking him to Portland and burying him on top of Stew. I figured neither Stew nor he would go for that option. Neither comfortable nor appropriate. Just as I will end up with Stew one day, (whole body in the traditional Jewish way, since I have a whole gravesite next to Stew in Jones Pioneer Cemetery) David being with Donna’s feels like the appropriate way to go.

Still, I keep some of David’s ashes with me.  No longer in a black box next to my bed, I have decided to put a few in one of David’s multitude of baskets, the one in the living room that is already shaped like a vase with a butterfly woven on its side. It has a top. I do not want ashes in a container without a top. At first I thought I’d make the transfer from the black box with the name David Dobkin on it outside, in the fresh air. Then given I consider myself a Californian, I hoped for  rain. Then came the wind issue.  Ocean breezes can make their way in an instant through the Golden Gate Bridge heading straight for cohousing.  My sister Miriam, my mother Harriet, Stew and Jessica and I had scattered my father Leo’s ashes or, more precisely he scattered us.  We had gone out to sea in the Canadian Gulf Islands in Miriam’s boat, the Meanderin Orange, a tiny tugboat looking vessel painted as its name implies. In an incidence of true blowback, my mother opened up my father’s ashes only to have ocean breezes carry them back toward her, in an act of possible karmic revenge for five decades of her Leo enabled alcoholism, fights, love and buried secrets. Leo’s ashes landed on my mother’s clothes and  face then made their way gently onto  all of us.  Out of such a single incident does avoidance grow. Not for me an outdoor opening of David’s box of ashes.

My prep involves a series of small decisions: I’ll do it before I shower. I’ll wear David’s apron from Elk where his late sister and his nephews live; I’ll place the black box close by my sink, on top of sheets of newsprint from the Business section of the Chronicle (for David, since he always read that section). After that was done, I retrieved an ancient spoon from the bottom of Donna’s gardening case, after which I realized I wanted to wear surgical gloves, since having my beloveds’ yet still human remains directly on my hands made me a little queasy. I tromp back upstairs to my closet with its “wound care for the big one” box, supplies (including morphine) I’ve hoarded thanks to the generosity of Kaiser hospice nurses, but I can locate only a single glove. Better than nothing, I tell myself, but I also know my bandages and morphine for the big one won’t be worth a hill of beans unless I can also prevent infection by wearing gloves. I better get some.

Of course I tear up, I feel vulnerable, all the old familiar grief emotions resurface. I move on by focussing on details: What size zip lock bag to use? Sandwich or quart? With confidence as well as trepidation, I open the black David Dobkin box. No ashes fly, no ghosts emerge. Inside I find a  neat plastic bag, wrapped with a tie, not too large a quantity but not too little. One spoonful, two, three, occasionally my hand brushes against the plastic bag and a flurry of David’s ashes spill out on the newsprint, a little on the cabinet, the floor, my apron. I breath in to clam myself then keep going.  Among the feathery grey a metal clip emerges, u-shaped, looking like a safety pin without the safety. I put it in my bag of keeper ashes.  It was, after all part of David. I figure the clip was  holding him together somehow after his hernia surgery. Then paranoia sets in: should it have been there at all? Is it a leftover, a witness to medical error? Should I sue? I expect extreme emotions to be with me this week. It’s too late anyhow, I  have no way to prove malpractice, and no wish to live with a David medical lawsuit for the next upmpteen years. I put the pin back into my David keeper ashes then breath in deep again.

Clean up is easy. I fold the newsprint, all the spilled ashes go back into the bigger David box that will go to Inverness on Saturday. Time to shower. I open the shower curtain to find large black bee (or perhaps a wasp, having watched Mr. Holmes with Ian McKellan last night I understand but cannot tell the difference.) A-hah, I exclaim, surprised, then continue with “David, David, David, ok honey, I know you’re here! ” I do my practiced insect rescue manoeuver: take a glass, a piece of paper, put the glass over the insect, slip the copy paper he glass and deposit the insect, free and unharmed in the great outside. Who knows, it might be some form of David.

I sense within  my mouth as slight, not strong but distinctly metallic taste. I brush my teeth. The taste remains. Despite my shower, my drinking coffee, one hour later I have a tinny titch of David in my mouth. David didn’t want to leave. But he also said he would not be back. Hah.  I am what I inhale.