A Journey to Hope

     In the it-could-only-happen-in-Mexico department, my husband’s cardiologist arranged for his cremation. Only minutes after Mike died, the ever-smiling Dr. Moya showed up at our front door with heartfelt condolences and assured me that he would take care of this end-of-life service. I was incredibly relieved to hand it off to him since I had no idea how to arrange a cremation in a country that seemed to thrive on red tape and endless paperwork.

The good doctor showed up three days later. He not only carried Mike’s urn but held out a bag of four-inch screws that had once resided, scaffold-like, in my husband’s spine due to a lower back operation he’d undergone several years earlier.  

 “I thought you’d like to have these,” he said.  

Smiling to myself, I thanked the dark-eyed, thirty-something young man for the unexpected gift. Not sure what to do with the long metal spikes but unable to throw them away, I buried them under some clothes in a box that now sits in a storage unit somewhere in downtown Ajijic.

Worried that my husband’s ashes might get lost if I put them in my checked baggage on the trip back to Portland, I gingerly placed the urn in a gray, wheeled carry-on. The small suitcase was only out of my sight when it passed through the airport x-ray machine.

I settled into the guest room of the McManus family home while I planned my husband’s memorial and started to piece together the rest of my life. Michael’s ashes sat on top of a chest of drawers that had been in the room as long as I could remember. A relic of the 1950s, its heavy blond drawers had once housed his mother’s winter sweaters—a fact that seemed fitting, somehow.

During those early days, I saw his ashes as a stand-in for the man I lost and often found myself talking to the heavy black box embossed with silver flowers. I discussed my day or asked his advice. Sometimes this felt foolish. Sometimes, it was comforting. Either way, I felt closer to him while I was doing it.

Since I had to get the plaque on the front of his urn engraved with Mike’s name and the dates of his birth and death for the memorial service, I looked for an engraving shop in the nearby town of Sandy. It turned out that the only place to get this done was an ammo and gun shop.

The irony of a gay man getting his husband’s urn engraved by an earnest curly-haired young man in a baseball cap standing in front of a wall lined with stuffed animal heads and racks of rifles wasn’t lost on me.  

It was with a sense of glee that I said, “I need to have my husband’s urn engraved,” knowing that I was probably making a request he hadn’t heard very often, if ever. I pictured the Sandy native telling friends, “This gay guy came into the shop today to get his husband’s urn engraved,” and the thought of it made me happy. It was as if, by doing this, Michael and I were striking a blow for inclusion and maybe even broadening a few minds in the bargain.

A year and a half later, I moved back to Portland to house share with my best friend Jenny and her partner, Derek. Mike’s ashes moved right along with me, of course. His urn took its place on top of a Tallboy, where I kept jeans, khakis, and shorts, along with a few other belongings I’d managed to bring with me from Mexico.  

After packing my things, I watched them being put in the back of a moving van seventeen months later. I stowed Mike’s ashes in my carry-on again, and Marty and I boarded a flight to Nebraska.

These days, when I wake up in the morning, I can glance up at the bookcase in Marty’s and my bedroom and see Mike’s urn. I not only think of the circuitous journey it took to get here but the memories it represents and the hope I feel for the future.

Published by: charlesdavis

Charles Davis, MSW, is the author of a couple of scientific journal articles, encyclopedia entries, and a chapter in a nursing textbook. He is a public speaker who conducts training on disability law, disability etiquette, sexuality, and learning how to navigate grief as a gay man. Mr. Davis is also obsessed with writing about classic films.

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