Thoughts on a final resting place for ashes

Sandi Troup, Everyone Dies Producer

A generational appreciation

My parents both grew up appreciating the outdoors, and they passed that love on to me and my two sisters. I have fond memories of childhood fishing, hiking and camping. I remember as we were hiking my dad would point to certain trees and tell me what their names were, as well as the birds that we could hear singing from the treetops. To me, learning names of things (even rocks!) and understanding natural processes was like gathering gemstones into a pouch. The more I understood, the more enriched I felt.

I got married, had a child, lived all over the world, but I was so happy when we decided to settle in the heart of some of the most beautiful country you have seen…pristine spring fed rivers on every side, tall bluffs covered with pine, rolling green hills, lush hardwood forests. Most of it is protected land, kept in its wild state.

The value of mindfulness

About only four years ago, I discovered fly fishing. The first time I headed to a small spring-fed creek near my home, I learned something amazing. Trying to keep my casts out of the sycamore trees and watching my fly intently for any hint of a bite as it drifted along was so technical, I was completely in moment the entire time. When the sun set, I realized, I hadn’t thought about anything…no working through my management challenges at work…nothing. And I felt more de-stressed and refreshed than I had in years.

This hobby has taken me to beautiful places! As I’ve become more skilled (or maybe not, LOL!), I spend more time just enjoying the river. The towering bluffs, sounds of the birds, the flow of the water, the deer crossing the stream in the mist just a few paces from me.

A small creek with a mist rising.  (pic by Sandi Troup)
The intimate, spring-fed creek I often fish at gets a lovely mist on summer evenings. I literally saw a young doe silently pick her way across the creek just before taking this picture.
The author's son paddling on Jack's Fork River in the springtime with dogwood and redbud in bloom. (pic by Sandi Troup)

But in 2019 I was diagnosed with motor neuron disease,* and I know my days are limited that we will be able to do these things. That makes every moment even more of a treasure. Everything I experience is something to be captured and saved as a memory for a time I can’t.

Especially this year, my son and I have been out every chance we get to kayak, camp, and explore the maze of National Forest roads for that next perfect camping spot. I am overjoyed to see him with the same interests. I often wonder if I will make it to see a grandchild, to pass along some of the things I have learned; how important exploration and taking time to listen to nature is for our own well-being?

The ultimate treasure hunt?

I was recently finalizing some of my advanced directive.  The last page of the template hinted at having a separate page documenting other things such as funeral wishes, etc.  My family knows that I wish to be cremated but I’ve seen so many beautiful places, I’m not really sure (yet!) where I would want to be placed. But I have a few in mind.

A bluff, wildflowers, a river in the valley below. This place is beautiful in any season!

I got thinking…what if we treated this kind of like a geocache? If you’re unfamiliar with geocaching, it’s kind of like a treasure hunt, with the goal of getting people to explore unique landmarks and scenic places.

No, I don’t want anyone looking for my ashes per se (especially if I didn’t get permission from the Forest Service like we talked about in S2 Episode 43!), but I think it would be cool as heck to give out cryptic clues to lead people on a journey of exploration. Perhaps this would be a way to be an eternal mentor, guiding a future generation that I couldn’t touch directly, or knew me but by then I was only a shadow of my youthful self. Maybe I can give them one last, timeless gift. This treasure isn’t a one-time find…it’s about discovering something about life.

Campsite with a view!

My son and I have been camping and exploring some of the beautiful National Forest land that we have around us; with this fresh on my mind, I penned these thoughts of what I would like to say.  I have a few places in mind that fit this description!

I hope it inspires you to think of your own special location and maybe pass along a little bit of why it was special to those you leave behind.

Come Visit Me

You can hear this read in the first part of the S2E43 podcast on Cremation.

Come Visit Me
by Sandi Troup

Come visit me in this, my final resting place...
chosen because I wanted to share it with you.

Stand where I once stood with joy and contentment 
taking in the beautiful vista in front of me.  
What do you see?  
What catches your eye?  
For I have found even the grayest days of winter have beauty...
When you look for it.  
Don't forget to also investigate the tiny world beneath your feet!

Feel the texture of the rocks, 
look at the colors, whether there are any crystals.   
Are there different kinds around you?  
What can they tell you about the geologic forces 
that shaped this landscape?  
It reminded me that I needed to be patient;
For big things can be accomplished with time.

What do you smell? 
The wholesome petrichor of a vibrant forest?  
The pines and cedars?  
Or perhaps the breeze carries a zephyr of nearby wildflowers.  
They say smell is the sense most strongly connected to memory...
Let time freeze as you take slow, deep breaths.  
Burn this memory into your soul -
For it will sustain you on difficult days.

What do you hear?  
The rush of the breeze on the hilltops, 
the tinkle of the creek below?  
The constant tweets of finches keeping contact with each other, 
Taps of prospecting woodpeckers... 
Maybe the nasal rubber-ducky squeak 
of the nuthatch as it hops upside-down looking for insects?  

If you sit still long enough a titmouse 
will probably take interest in this newest visitor to his world, 
And cock its tufted head at you 
as it searches you with adorable, beady eyes.  
There is a reward for learning more about 
the living things we share this planet with!

Now climb down to the banks of the creek. 
I have cast many a line as I pondered life in this creek. 
See how the water flows over the rocks and noisy riffles, 
spills into deep pools, circulates in slow eddies, then back out again?  
What does it say to you today, where you are? 

If you're in a difficult time,
it can remind you that slow calm days are ahead. 
If you're in that pool, you may feel you're drowning in sorrow.
Or, maybe you're languishing in a period that seems to be dragging on forever. 
Remember these pools have deep water, 
and these difficult times in our life is what grows us. 
But just as the river is always flowing, this too will also pass.

Come visit me, 
And come often...
for this place is not about me, it's for you. 
Listen, look, and sit quietly a while; 
Make your own discoveries.  
May its treasures help you find peace and perspective.  

Oh, I have so much more to share with you 
about what I have learned here...
But you know what?  

This is your journey now
The author standing by a creek with a smile on her face, lit by a setting sun.

*We initially thought I had a slowly-progressing form of ALS, but since I wrote this piece, doctors have backed away from that diagnosis, giving me much longer to live! But we are still searching for a diagnosis now, as is the case with many neurological diseases…it can take a long time! However, it is never too early to think about things like our final resting place, even when death seems far away.

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