Debra Ruder Communications

Writing that matters

Scattering Cheryl’s ashes

My cousin Ann took us to the shores of Lake Michigan last summer. We followed a long, windy path through the woods and emerged at a bright clearing flanked by dunes of fine sand. Beyond the dunes was the calm, shimmering lake, where we rolled up our pants with our kids and searched for fossilized coral called Petoskey stones. We all agreed it was a magical spot.

Although we didn’t know it at the time, that state park was also a resting spot for one of Ann’s friends, who had died several years earlier. Ann had placed some of her ashes there, and Ann relayed the story as we hiked back to our car.

Ann and Cheryl had met when they both lived outside Bloomington, Indiana. Ann was practicing landscape architecture, and Cheryl had landed her dream job coordinating recycling programs. But a brain tumor changed her plans, and after undergoing treatment for several years, she passed away in her late 30s or early 40s.

Cheryl was a “small-town girl” from Indiana who had not traveled much beyond the state. She came up with the idea of dividing her ashes (her remains after cremation) into 50 bottles and having friends scatter them so she would symbolically have a chance to see the world. At the memorial service, Ann picked up a small bottle with her share.

Ann knew she wanted to take the ashes to Leelanau State Park on Lake Michigan, not far from where our family has been vacationing for several generations.

One cool day, perhaps early spring, she walked alone through the woods toward the dunes. It was exceptionally quiet. “I got to the spot and reached for the cork, and as soon as I pulled it out, I heard a tree nearby make this loud squeal. I looked up and said, ‘Hello Cheryl.'” At Ann’s feet were two hemlock tree seedlings, so she spread the ashes around them. Then she filled the empty bottle with a note that went something like, “Here lies my dear friend Cheryl. She was always loved.” My cousin dug a hole in the sand and covered up the bottle.

Where to place a person’s remains after a cremation is often a difficult decision, unless the individual has already made those arrangements. Known as ashes, they can be scattered or buried in a variety of places, from gardens to cemeteries to sports grounds to the sea. You can have your or your loved one’s remains released from a hot air balloon, sprinkled over the mountains, or placed in a biodegradable urn that floats briefly and then sinks in the ocean. Some people choose to keep some or all of the remains at home, or in a special pendant.

In Cheryl’s case, one friend took her ashes to a lake in Glacier National Park, while another transported the bottle to England and spread the contents under a tree. There was talk of making a book for Cheryl’s two children describing where their mom has gone.

For Ann, burying part of her friend at Leelanau State Park means she can go to one of her favorite places on Earth and always think of Cheryl. Even though the two had a falling out toward the end, which Ann believes may have been triggered by the tumor, she is comforted knowing that part of her friend, a gardening expert, will always be in this beautiful and tranquil spot.