Tuesday 14 July 2015.
Today marks the beginning of a new phase in saying farewell to Chris. To explain why, I need to go back to October 2014, after she had been discharged from hospital to spend her last few weeks at home.
“What are you going to do with my ashes?” she asked, sitting up in bed.
“I don’t know,” I replied. “We haven’t got a mantlepiece so that’s out.”
“Seriously,” she said. “I’d like you to think about it.”
“What do you want me to do?” I countered, playing for time. She’d already told me that she wanted a quiet funeral followed by a bang up celebration a few months later. I could manage that but I couldn’t bear to think of her reduced to a few kilos of dust.
“I can imagine you doing something like Martin Sheen did with his son’s ashes in The Way,” she replied. “Not the Camino maybe, but some kind of journey.”
“OK,” I said. “I’ll have a think and we’ll talk about it again.”
We made plans for the celebration but I put off the conversation about when and where her ashes would be scattered until it was too late. In the end, I had to decide by myself what kind of journey it would be.
Rather than a pilgrimage (with it’s connotation of a single destination) I settled on the idea of a peregrination: a sacred wandering reminiscent of the old Celtic monks, like Brendan, who called themselves “peregrini” as they voyaged the western seas and made landfall on mythical islands. For them it was their experience of the journey that really mattered rather than reaching a pre-ordained destination. I realised that I too must let go of fixed expectations and travel mindfully, open to whatever happens.
Which brings me back to where I began. I’m writing this in the departure lounge at Gatwick Airport waiting to board a plane to Heraklion. In a few days time I’ll be at Agios Pavlos on the south coast of Crete, the first of many places in UK and abroad where I shall return Chris’s mortal remains to the earth. Later this year, I’ll be going to Puglia, Italy.
Next February, I’m planning a trip to the Masai Mara in Kenya; and in June a North American tour of Long Island, San Francisco, Esalen, and St Miguel de Allende. In most places there are particular friends to share the occasion; in some, Chris and I will be alone with our memories.
In my backpack is a plastic, screw-top jar containing some of her ashes. I thought it might be a problem to take human ashes with you on an airplane but it turns out that as long as you have the right paperwork, it’s relatively straightforward.
It’s good to be travelling together again.
They’ve just called our flight.
Wish us luck.