I arose early on Friday morning. I had many miles to go, and my first stop was about an hour south for a special task in Key West.
I realized I had the chance to honor a request from my brother David when I decided to visit the Keys. In his will, David had asked that we—his family of origin and his family of choice—scatter his ashes in places that held special memories for him. One of those places was Key West. When I told my family of my plans, my sister gently said that David’s friends had already taken some of his ashes there.
I thought about that before I flew down to Florida. The implication was that my effort might be redundant; and in fulfilling David’s wishes, that was so. But this ceremony is for the living. It is a ritual of remembrance and connection and closure. I was doing this for me.
In Sarasota, just before I went to bed on Tuesday night, I took from the bookshelf the cloisonné urn that contained David’s ashes. There was little remaining, as David’s friends had performed a number of rites of commemoration for him and themselves. I scooped a handful into a plastic baggie and zipped it tight. I put it carefully into a pocket in my suitcase—such an incongruous container for this small but priceless item.
I left for my road trip the next morning, and as I visited friends the remaining purpose for this trip lingered in the back of my mind. When I allowed my mind to fully examine what I was feeling, I realized it was not sadness. At least, it was not sorrow for the act I was determined to fulfill. The grief that came with the vision of what I was going to do was not new. It simply floated to the surface for this moment. I was surprised by my sense of completion at doing this for David. For all that I was unable to do for him in life, I could do this one small act.
Friday morning I left a note of thanks for my still-sleeping hosts in Marathon and started down Highway 1 for Key West. The sun was up and the air was barely cool, so I put the roof down on the car and played Terence Blanchard’s soulful jazz. I traversed once again Seven Mile Bridge and continued southward. As I approached Big Pine Key (just above Key West), I saw a wall of fog worthy of a Stephen King movie rolling northeast over the islands and swallowing the end of the bridge. In minutes I was enveloped in cold gray mist that made the temperature drop eleven degrees. I pulled over to raise the roof and keep out the cold.
The fog was intermittent when I entered Key West. I knew almost nothing about the island. I did know that I wanted to complete this act on the ocean. I followed the road to the left until I reached water and swung west. The public beach stretched for perhaps a mile. In the middle of the expanse of sand I saw a rock jetty reaching out into the ocean and decided that this spot was a good one. The mist had lifted just high enough to give me some light.
I took the bag from my purse and approached the beach. Gingerly I stepped on and over the rocks to the end of the jetty. While some traffic continued behind me on the sidewalk and street, no one was near me on the beach. A swimmer was far off and moving away.
I reached the end of the jetty and stood facing the calm and endless ocean. The wind was constant but not troublesome. I really hadn’t thought about how to perform the ritual. I didn’t have words chosen, so I let the moment speak for itself. I poured David’s ashes into my hand and they filled my palm. I held them in my upturned fist and remembered our last months together. I recalled that instant when he knew for certain that we loved him. That love powered this moment, and I swept my arm across the sky and surrendered his ashes to the Gulf Stream. My stomach had been tight and finally released the sob I’d been holding.
My grief was short-lived as I stood and stared at the water. Calm descended once again and I recalled my resolution to let David live on in me, in the acts I commit on his behalf and for those he would love. My connection with David was too brief, but at least he knew that I loved him fully for who he was. May his legacy be one of greater bonds in our family and widening circles of acceptance in our world.
I had over 300 miles to drive; it was time to go. I meandered through a few streets of Key West, happening upon Old Town with its tiny alleyways and bright flowers and smiles. I can easily see why David loved this place, and I will be back to enjoy it fully, with friends and family. I left the island in silence and didn’t turn on the music until I emerged from the mist into the sun. A friend awaited my arrival that afternoon in Cape Coral, near Fort Myers.