I need to tell you where I’ve been for the past week or so. On the Tuesday after Labor Day my family and I traveled to the Keweenaw Peninsula to bury Ed’s ashes at the little cemetery behind the village of Ahmeek, where my parents, my brother, my grandmother, and my aunt and uncle are buried. They’re all within a few feet of each other and now Ed is there, too. I’ll be there with him when the time comes.
The planning, as complicated and full of tangles as it was, turned out to be the easy part. The graveside ceremony was everything I wanted it to be: Our families came from long distances to be there—nearly 40 of them—the day was perfect, and the Marines gave him a military send-off with such care and compassion I had no words to tell them how honored Ed would have been, and how truly grateful I was for their presence. (See below)
We had a dinner afterward, with Pasties as the main course. The famous Upper Peninsula staple, adapted from the Cornish, is a must for our Finnish family. We grew up on them. (This is me, making my mother’s recipe.)
We both loved the Keweenaw, even though I was the only one born there. Ed married into that place, so remote he’d never even heard of it, and he loved it from the first moment he breathed the ‘“the purest, most vitalizing air on earth”.
The Keweenaw Peninsula is the finger of land that juts northward into Lake Superior, surrounded on three sides by that mighty, unpredictable inland sea. The people who live there are hardy and proud of their winter survival skills, where the snow levels have been known to reach close to 400 inches in a season.
The very remoteness makes it special. Off the beaten trail, with no freeways within 200 miles, with air travel so expensive it’s not practical for most vacationers. Still, people find their way up there, and once they’ve seen it, they promise they’ll be back.
My family lived up there when I was in the fifth grade but left after only a year, when my dad’s upholstery shop in Ahmeek failed and we had to move back to Detroit. But we spent every summer of my growing-up life up there, until I was 18 and graduated from high school. (By the next summer I was a married lady and Ed and I spent part of our honeymoon up there.)
My dad would drive us up there as soon as school was out in June and come back to pick us up over Labor Day. Those summers were magical. I’ve come to believe I found my writing voice up there, somewhere in the woods and water, somewhere in the history…
The hard part was saying goodbye to Ed on our last day. I didn’t expect to feel as though I were abandoning him. The planning and the activities took up so much of my time, and I was feeling good about all of us being there for him, but when it came time to leave it was a different story.
As odd as this may seem, it was the first time I really felt the separation. I’d had his ashes with me all that time, but I didn’t think I felt any attachment. They were just there, waiting for me to take them to his resting place. Even as I watched the cemetery caretaker place his ashes into the ground, I felt at peace. It seemed right. As long as I was there with him. But driving away was more painful than I could imagine.
Now I’m home on our island, and everyone has gone back downstate. I slept almost all afternoon yesterday and slept through most of the night. I woke up this morning having to talk myself out of an unexpected deep sadness, and decided it was time to write. I put on some music—quiet and new age—and this is what came of it. This story.
But one more part of it: When I settled on a date for the memorial, months ago, I thought it would be long enough to get the headstone in place, as well as the military marker. Neither of those things happened. We held the memorial without them, with flowers taking their place.
The granite stone won’t be in place until next spring, but here’s the rest of the story: We were driving back home, having covered nearly half of the peninsula, when I got a phone call that the military marker was in and would be installed the next morning. Luckily, our son Jeff had stayed an extra day, so he met the cemetery people in the morning and watched them place the marker.
There’s something endearing and right about it now. I think what I hated most about leaving him was that nobody would know he was there. Now they will. He existed. He exists. He is loved.
(Cross-posted at Constant Commoner)
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I'm so very sorry for your loss, Ramona. This is so beautifully written. Thank you, thank you for sharing this with us.
Such a gorgeous place, Ramona. I spent time in the Porkies a few years ago and didn't realize until then how unbelievably magical that area is. How wonderful for you that you grew up there and spent so much special time with your husband there, too.
I am still as sorry for your loss as the day you first shared about it here. I choke up looking at the USMC flag and grave marker. It seems you and your family gave him a lovely send-off. Take good care of yourself in these days following -- grief is exhausting and it's okay to be wherever you're at, feeling whatever you're feeling.