I did not know my wife’s biological father very well. We only met a few times, and each time I got the impression that he was happy his little girl married me and not some other guy. He passed away last year, the day before Thanksgiving (in November, as opposed to the Canadian version). The autopsy report confirmed what we knew, he was a man in poor health who passed away due to his body just finally giving out.
For nearly six months, between then and now, my brother in law kept the 15 pounds of cremation ash on his home office desk. This morning my wife and I retrieved the ash and drove to a fairly remote cemetery and spread the ash over his mother’s grave. He is not memorialized by a headstone, and only in the memories of those who still live and various legal records and historical artifacts such as school attendance or small town news articles.
My oldest son cried, sad for the loss of a grandfather he never truly knew. But for the rest of us, it was really just a last goodbye. He was a man who destroyed relationships with those around him, only late in his life working to salvage the relationship he had with his children to some extent. Neither hero nor villain, just a man who lived his life in his own way, and never with any obvious malicious intent, but also not a man who could pass on highly functional relationship skills.
In the end, we are all ash and dust, and the lasting impacts we have are only in the people left behind. And as they grow old, their memories will fade and like the ripples in a pond, the ripples from the impact will dim until it was as if they were never there. But they did exist, and their impact was felt, and life will go on regardless.
Tomorrow my brother in law will wake up to a desk without the remains of his father for the first time in six months, and will then get married to a lovely woman who has a daughter the same age as his. The white ash on the cemetery grass will wash into the soil, and the next time my wife and I visit, there will be no trace.