I fulfilled a promise to my mother this evening. I released her ashes into the Knottyhead Falls of the upper Nantahala River in western North Carolina. It was difficult emotionally, but incredibly beautiful spiritualy. I am still trying to process the experience, but the feelings I am having are all based in gratitude.
The day began with craziness- car trouble in Chattanooga, half-way to our destination. We surmounted that, and got to the Nantahala Gorge a couple of ours later than we’d planned. My Guardian Angel was watching over us- the car trouble happened in bustling Chattanooga, and the VW Dealership was right on the way we were traveling to North Carolina….and the issue was minor. We were grateful to get to the Gorge with plenty of sunlight still left. We checked into our wonderful cabin, unloaded the Bug, and headed to the falls, as I wanted to go ahead and have our ceremony first thing. We also felt that going later in the day would (hopefully) give us the privacy we needed.
Driving down the winding Waya Road always fills my heart with excitement. We set the odometer to zero and drove 3.8 miles, counting each of the four bridges that we cross before we reach “our” falls. The lush green is intoxicating, and the primal aroma of the river and the earth is invigorating. And the river…well, the river claimed my heart twelve years ago. We had the top down on the Bug and just took it all in.
At last, we rounded the last bend and there were our majestic falls. The river was low last year, but this year it was overflowing, fast and furious. We parked the car, I held Mom’s remains to my chest, and we scrambled down the rocks to the large rock formation, very like a natural couch, where Dan proposed to me on the Summer Solstice, and where we were married a year later on the Solstice. The very first time we came here, we felt the ancient magic of this place. The rock seems to hum with energy, with the history of time and space.
I had never seen cremains before, and I have to admit I am still trying to wrap my head around the whole idea that my mother (or what was left of her physical self) was in this box. I had opened it the day before, as I’d promised to send my sister a small portion of the ashes so that she could place them in a jewelry urn. Doing that wrecked me. I was alone, and so- even though she is recovering from breast cancer surgery- my best friend, Diane, Facetimed with me as I did it so that I wouldn’t be truly alone. I am blessed to have her in my life.
I was glad that I knew what to expect as we sat on the rock, the falls crashing around us. Dan and I put our hands on the box and I began to cry as Dan said a beautiful prayer. I know that Mom has been gone since last August, and I know that she was not in the box…but whatever this was, it was at one time my mother, the woman who gave me life and loved me more than anyone could ever love me. Opening the box opened up memory after memory, bringing so many emotions to the surface. My body wracked with sobs as we opened the box and took out the clear bag of cremains. We each held the bag, feeling the crystallized texture- so not what I expected. I have only seen human ashes in the movies, and they looked like silky sand. Real life is very different.
When we were ready, we sat at the edge of the big fall, where I had decided I wanted to do the release. It was perfect, the falls singing all around us, a wise witness to this most intimate moment. Just as I was lowering the bag to empty it into the water, Dan grabbed my arm and said, “Wait! There are children coming!” I couldn’t believe it- we were in the middle of nowhere at seven in the evening doing such a private thing…and children show up? I held the bag to my chest, still sobbing. The mother showed up, waving to Dan. It seems we’d left the lights on in the Bug, and the woman was trying to let us know. Dan motioned that we knew and it was fine. They were taking pictures from the road, pointing at us….they may find interesting things when they check their photos. Finally, the mother figured out that something serious was going on, gathered her brood, and left.
While it threw me for this to happen at such a critical time, I quickly realized it was perfect. Mom would have absolutely loved it- a bit of comic relief to lighten a heavy moment. Especially that it came from the joy of children, who Mom always loved so dearly. Another reminder to let go and appreciate the moment as it is- not what I think it should be.
I released Mom’s ashes into the falls, and Dan exclaimed, “Look, Honey- look at your mother mother joining the river…so very beautiful.” Through my tears, I smiled as I watched the ashes swirl and spread in the water, going down the falls and flowing out into the river. It was a deeply moving and spiritual experience for me that I am still wrapping my head around. I read the poem that I had written for this moment,,,,
“I told you of my sacred place, the waterfall where I found love,
The place I feel my soul has known for a thousand years and a thousand more.
“Will you take me there when I am gone, so that I can become a part of the beautiful river?”, you asked. “Then you will think of me every time you visit and you will feel me there.”
And I promised you that I would.
Today, I fulfilled my promise, journeying to the mountains, to the falls, my precious cargo held to my heart.
We read poems, offered prayers, told stories, and then I released you into the pristine falls, as you became a part of the swirling Nantahala, timeless.
The crashing falls sing hymns to me, for this, your last farewell. The spray kisses my tears, but they are tears of remembrance, tears of thanksgiving.
You have come full circle, becoming elemental, becoming one with the water and the earth, your spirit already flying free, boundless, infinite love.
And now, I feel you everywhere around me. You caress my cheek with the wind, your laughter bubbles in the rushing water, your stories echo in the call of the Mountain Warbler.
My sacred place has become even more sacred. My church, filled with the spirit of joy, of gratitude, of love everlasting. Peace.”
When I finished reading, Dan dipped his fingers in the falls and then wiped away the tears on my cheek with the water….his gesture touching me deeply. I feel a weight lifted from my heart now that I have fulfilled my promise to Mom, taken care of my final responsibility to her. I didn’t realize how much I needed this. Mom is completely free, and now so am I. It was a a beautiful moment, one that I will always cherish. Our bond will never be broken, but now I can continue on with life completely, just as Mom would want. Peace, Momma.
Mom’s last journey…