Scattering Ashes / Jeffrey Merges with the Metolius

Honestly, by the evening of Friday April 19th, I was dreading the upcoming weekend. My husband Jeffrey passed away on March 4, 2018, just nine weeks after being diagnosed with stage IV cancer. He was cremated, and I distributed his ashes among his family. In the fall of 2018, his sister Brenda suggested that I come out to central Oregon near their father Bob’s place so that the three of us could scatter his ashes around the Metolius River. His father’s health prevented it happening then, however, so it was eventually rescheduled to April 20, 2019.

So the day actually arrived, as it is wont to do, beginning with an early awakening and setting up my two dogs for their pet-sitter, then a three-hour drive from Portland out to his father’s place, about twenty minutes east of Sisters. Along the way, driving down highway 26 through the beautiful Pacific Northwest’s forests and across the flank of Mt Hood, I was tearing up regularly. There was a place where he and I had enjoyed a yummy meal…that’s the road up to Timberline Lodge where he roared up on his big black motorcycle with me sitting behind him and joyful, shit-eating grins on both our faces…there’s the turn-off to a campsite where we spent a great weekend with friends and family…. On and on, the sorrow only expanding as the landscape transitioned to scraggly high desert trees and sagebrush, sights and smells that he loved so much.

A poem to honor Jeffrey and commemorate the occasion started to emerge, which I first captured on a voice recording app in the car, and then I pulled into the Warm Springs Natural History Museum to sit at a picnic table and polish it up. I arrived timely to the custom-built house where Bob and his kind wife Vicki dwell, on ten beautiful acres amid the arid land. Brenda and her fine husband, Mark, were already there, and we sat down together to a fresh and delicious lunch. The skies alternately darkened and lightened as spring squalls of rain moved through, eventually relenting for good to sun in the early afternoon.

We piled into the car for a forty-five minute drive to Camp Sherman, where we first visited the mysterious headwaters of the divine Metolius River, which emerges as a “full-grown” river from beneath some rocks at the base of a hill. Nobody is still entirely sure where this pure, cold water comes from exactly, but thusly it begins wending its way forth, expansive from the get-go.



Then we drove deeper into the wilderness area to a campsite where we disembarked in order to walk downstream alongside the river for a mile or so. I was amazed to learn that Brenda didn’t consciously recall the appropriateness of the Metolius River for this moment in Jeffrey’s posthumous journey. Jeffrey had spoken fondly to me over the years about how he’d scattered his beloved grandmother’s ashes into the Metolius. Although in the days before he passed, Jeffrey said he had absolutely no preference in how we might handle his ashes, I knew that this was truly a perfect plan and one most fitting to Jeffrey’s nature.

We hiked along single file, with the rushing river just to our right, alternately quiet and loud depending on the extent of the rocks and trees in the waterway breaking up its flow. Incipient spring leaves and buds were just emerging, along with the Oregon grape and other bushes always sporting their greenery. Eventually, we reached a kind of glade some ways above the waterway, where Brenda felt called to place Jeffrey’s ashes. We left the trail and stood around a tall, gnarly cedar as she reminisced about her big brother. He was always so kind and loving with her — protective and nurturing, encouraging and proud. Almost twenty years her senior, he made her feel grown-up and special when she got to spend time with him as a child, whether cuddled up in his cold house with his first wife, or out on the town shopping for antiques and music. She dug a small hole and poured in his ashes. The sun illuminated this tree beautifully as we stood on the path to sear the place in our minds.


Then we reversed course and returned the way we came. I wanted to share his ashes with the water itself, and found a spot curving off the main path, a little sheltered edge of the burbling river. I had a very large amount of his ashes with me, and I poured them into the pellucid water at first slowly and then faster, with a strange jubilation rising in my core. I actually laughed out loud as the heavy ash kept hitting the cold water, clouding and moving with the chaotic micro-currents. We stood together and watched it start to settle, still swirling about but also dropping then onto the rocks and crevices beneath the water.


I felt somber yet elevated. And I spoke aloud this poem:

Here in the new season
of our old grief
we are returning
to the epicenter of the
destruction wrought
by the pain of your passing
Somehow, after that loss,
a wildfire that turned
all to ash, we can help
you return to the
places that you loved
And so we release
more grief, more tears
that fall on fecund ground
and lively river,
melding the two into clay
And we can see
the return of life —
rising from the ground —
emerging from the water —
And it is a new season
of grief, yes,
but also life and rebirth
And thusly your ashes
move into everything
We see you in the corvids
We see you in the pinus contorta
We see you in the aquafolia mahonia
and in releasing these ashes
we shed a weight and
seed a new beginning
where we can love you,
We can accept our loss,
let go of these pieces
of our grief,
and feel your presence
now at peace in the world

More tears were shed, and hugs shared among us. We moved along back down the route to a large boulder that Bob had identified as his place to deposit some ashes. We clambered up from the path and gathered around. In the lee of the stone, Jeffrey’s ashes were placed in a safe, sheltered spot and covered over with leaves, branches, and a small rock. Bob held onto another small portion of ashes that he intends to scatter on Black Butte, a place dear for being Jeffrey’s very first “hike” as a wee babe-in-arms. We smiled for each other as Brenda snapped a picture of us all together before the stone.


As we walked back upstream, the afternoon sun danced on the rushing waters, and butterfly after butterfly rose from beside the path and crossed before us in their trembling fashion. Light. Transformation. We may walk some very difficult ways, at various times in our lives, but nature holds us in her hands and shows us how to move with trust and openness. Being with loving family helps us to hold and manage the hurt. The grief that bedevils me, which can at times feel so heavy and unwilling to shift, is lightened. That evening as we headed out for dinner in Bend, a giant rainbow filled the entire sky, then becoming a double rainbow. And I feel my heart reopening, like a flower spreading new petals towards beingness and joy. May it be so for us all.


3 thoughts on “Scattering Ashes / Jeffrey Merges with the Metolius

  1. Thankyou for sharing…Jeffery’s memory of all the good times will live on in our hearts. Sending Love Auntie

  2. This is absolutely lovely! You make me hear the rush of the water and smell the pine. This is a wonderful tribute~ Blessings to you on your journey of healing

  3. Love resides in every word and image you share. Thank you for sharing this journey. Sending love and warm hugs to you, my dear friend. May we meet again soon.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.