My father was a flyer.
He died at 84. It was a good death, in the arms of the wife he had married when he was 21 and just before he went off to war. He was cremated. I’m also a pilot and my daughters and I scattered his ashes over Blatchford Field in Edmonton, Alberta; along the runway he had learned to fly from when he was just 14. He was and remains the youngest pilot in Canada. Blatchford field has been closed for re-development as high-density housing. My father’s ashes will soon be part of a crammed and corrupted inner-city nightmare. I will walk in his company at the risk of life and limb.
My mother died horribly in a home with one eye wandering and the other wondering what the Hell she had done to deserve such a sad ending. Nothing, everyone agreed. She was 91. My sister scattered her ashes along the shores of English Bay in Vancouver, to mix with those of my younger brother along with oil from the tankers waiting their turn to load.
I’m 69 and from a long-lived family. My maternal grandfather lived to celebrate his 105th birthday. Still, I’ve suddenly become very conscious of my own mortality and pending departure. For my age, I have young kids, Twin daughters just 19. I will almost certainly miss many of the major events in their lives.
We don’t have to talk about it.
My older kids will have to deal with disposing of the body. Again, we don’t have to talk about it. But we have, based on my assumption that when they think about it at all, they imagine me finally scattered over someplace where I did something I love. Over the drop zone at Eloy, Arizona where I loved to skydive, perhaps. Or along a section of California Highway 1 where I loved to ride my Ducati. One of the bays in the Gulf or San Juan Islands would reflect a late-life love of sailing.
I don’t mind being cremated. I’ve lived in cold climates most of my life and the heat will be welcome. But I don’t want to be scattered.
I want a proper burial. I want to spend eternity under a headstone and provide whoever remembers with the option to visit, stand over my bones and pee on them or bring me flowers. It’s not a modern notion, but it’s one I’ve thought about a lot.
I want my final whereabouts to be known.
Why? Because there are times in our lives when a link to the past is the only thing that equips us to face an uncertain future. It helps if the past is dead and gone and in a place that is more physical than philosophical. We are enabled to focus on events, reflect on their outcome and edit reality as we write a plan for the days ahead.
There is a small cemetery by the ocean in Moss Landing, California and I want to be buried there; where the bikes roar by on the Pacific Coast Highway, surfers wait in anticipation of the next tsunami and the fastest-climbing Beechcraft King Air in the world hauls jumpers to 18,000 feet in just a few minutes and just a few miles away.
Perhaps the restaurant there, the Whole Enchilada, will name an artichoke after me. There may come a time when one of my kids or an ex-wife or a friend I didn’t know I had will drop by on their way to Disneyland. At best, maybe they will buy a ticket from some far off place with no other destination than my grave in mind and no other purpose in than to sense my opinion about some important point in their life.
That being the case, they won’t have to follow me down a stream or chase me down a back alley that used to be a runway. I’ve spent a lifetime being elusive and that will end at last.
Perhaps for the first time, I’ll truly be there for them.