It took 22 years to come to this.
I never knew what to do about letting Jacob’s ashes go.
But I am taking a creative writing fellowship on the East Coast this fall. My ex-husband is also moving, and our other son is in college on the West Coast. It didn’t seem right to put Jake in storage, or to drag him around the country.
It’s pretty hard for parents to design a memorial for their own child, especially when they have no religious community. When it’s a baby it can be even more difficult, because no one else knew the person or has any memories to share.
In the last few months I’ve been getting a strong sense that it’s time. And finally some ideas for how to go about it.
Return to the source, the place where he was made. Where both our boys were made.
Climb to an overlook on Spencer Mountain, where I used to hike, ski, or snowshoe nearly every day. Sometimes I was alone, sometimes with a friend, sometimes pregnant with one boy or the other, and sometimes with the second son on my back or at my side. (And always with a dog or several.)
Hold up the urn, a hollowed-out piece of an aspen branch, and show Jake the view he never got to see with his eyes.
Point out the house he would have lived in.
Kiss some of the ashes, taste them on my tongue, and offer them to the wind that slips out of the jet stream to help make Eldora such a place of power.
Then lead my ex-husband and my living son back down the mountain to “the rock,” a boulder jutting into the rapids in North Boulder Creek.
When I was depressed and drained I would lie there and draw on the heat of the rock, the roar of the water, and all that melting light from the glaciers above. I did this when pregnant with one son and then the other and after Julian was born I brought him here for picnics in the summer. I took him snowshoeing here in the winter, when the hurl of the wind supplanted the thunder of the melt. “Icy ri-ber” was one of Julian’s first concepts.
As the three of us approach the rock, there are many shared ah-ha’s and remember thises and remember thats. But also some shocks as a treasured memory turns out not to be shared by the other.
For years I’ve had a hard time revisiting this valley because its beauty pains me. I hate that I don’t still live here, that I couldn’t hold on to the magic for the sake of my living son.
And that’s part of why this ritual needs to happen, and why Jacob needs to go now. He doesn’t need to be tangled up in this confusion and regret any longer. This is a farewell to a marriage, a segment of motherhood, and a childhood, as well as to a little son and a brother.
All this source water. Jake may never have seen this place, but he certainly heard and felt it.
One of the most challenging moments comes when the box is empty. We’ve talked about burying it nearby, but I’ve forgotten to bring a trowel. Julian dangles the box over the river, stroking it. Should we just drop it? his dad and I wonder. It feels right. But when we do, we all are shaken by the violence with which the water grabs it away.
“I guess you’re never ready,” Julian says later.
No. You never are. Not for the final good-bye.
So I think of Charon and his boat on the River Styx, Moses and his basket of reeds. This valley was once a container for all of us, and now we’re all taking different paths. It wouldn’t be right to leave Jake behind, rooted.
Well, little boy. We’ve kept you close for so long. Travel far. Stay safe. Please, please check in. Our hearts are always open to you.
Beautiful ….. thank you for sharing.
Huge, beautiful, small and sweet and heartbreaking. (Not sure if I mean the blog post or your baby Jake. Both I guess.)
If my tears could join Jacob, I would drop them there now. If my eyes could capture anew the palpable sense of place that is now the start of his new journey, I would use them to never forget the little family that never was. As his mom and dad and little brother scatter to the wind on their own paths, I can take comfort that life DOES go on but Jacob will forever be in each heart that his tiny time with us touched. How perfectly you convey this journey. I love you all.
Claudia, this is a fabulous piece. Thanks for sharing your farewell.
Oh, Claudia. I didn’t know about Jacob. My heart breaks for your original loss, for the years of lost memories, for this parting. I’m sure that Jacob has played a significant role in the person, mother, writer that you’ve become. His life has also made an impact on all of us who now read your words. As you move to this next step in your journey, I can only say, go with our love, my friend.
Thank you for sharing this beautiful moment, Claudia. I wish you and Jacob and all your family peace, as you continue on your sacred journeys.
Claudia, your insights are startling and powerful.
Thank you for your generosity and distilling these raw things into beauty.
You have taught me a great deal.
Damn. Beautiful and perspective-altering. I admire your strength and, as a new father, I can only imagine the depths of this experience- though I do hope the writing of this post was cathartic. All the very best to you and your family.
I still have the story that you wrote for the Sunday Camera in 1989 titled “Losing Jacob”, and have, unfortunately, copied it many times for families in a similar situation. Your telling of your story has helped many, and especially me in counseling them. Best Wishes.
Jim Loehr, M.D.
Thanks for coming by, Dr. Loehr. It’s good to hear from you. Your compassion and expertise made a big difference in our lives all those years ago, with both children. Most of the time you probably have news and information for parents that’s helpful, and even when that’s not the case, they’re never unfortunate in having you for a physician.