A human life carries with it a collection of artifacts- -tokens, mementos and, when time runs out, ashes.
By token, I choose the meaning of a symbol or emblem. Early in our relationship Bruce wistfully requested a token from me. Nothing fancy, he said, maybe just a little silver ring that he could wear on a pinkie finger, a symbol of what was happening between us. I found just such a ring at a local bead shop. It seemed perfect, as part but not all of it was stamped with a design, a blank stretch of silver designating the unknown. He presented me with a similar ring not long after. We both wore our silver rings- -friendship rings? promise rings?- -on our right hands.
Today I wear them both, his stacked beneath mine to ensure it doesn’t slip off. Our wedding rings, plain gold bands, are similarly stacked on my left hand ring finger. This configuration first occurred on December 14, 2018, minutes before Bruce was taken off for the procedure that couldn’t be done, the procedure that told us his time was even shorter than we’d first believed. “Don’t lose these,” he’d said as he worked the bands off his fingers and handed them to me. Even on that day, a couple of hours later when I learned the news was dire, looking down at my hands, at the silver and gold stacks, brought me comfort.
Mementos- -programs, ticket stubs, newspaper clippings- -we’d pitched a lot of that stuff when we moved last May, yet there’s still so much. What’s so important about a used up Disneyland gift card from our honeymoon or ticket stubs from a Walla Walla Sweets home game? Everything and nothing. If I were cleaning out someone else’s stuff, I’d toss these. But those times and days are somehow more vivid to me when I look at the pieces of paper that document nothing more than a “day in the life of.”
Ashes: the sand in the hourglass that finally runs out. I’ve learned this week that you don’t “pick up ashes,” you “receive cremated remains.” The formality of funeral home parlance might be off-putting to some, but, through this process of collecting the most basic physical remnants of Bruce I’ve appreciated the respectful, formal language employed. Receiving Bruce’s remains was a sacred experience. Bringing this part of him home, to the house, was the right and reassuring action to take.
The shock of Bruce’s death is wearing away. Sadness edges in to claim the vacant emotional space but it can’t squeeze out the good memories and my belief that he is still here, just in a different form. When I touch the rings, they are warm.
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