It was a day of goodbyes. As I made my final trek to Owen Sound, it occurred to me that this would be the last visit I would be making to this little city to visit family. This was the day before Derek was leaving to join our son in Kamloops, BC. But before he could leave, there was some things that needed to be taken care of.
The bathroom for starters. As far as ex-wives go, I think I’m pretty awesome. Arriving at his home as the moving truck was wheeling away meant the only thing that remained was the clean-up. While Derek gathered a load of garbage to take to the dump, I was up to my elbows in Mr. Clean and soapy water. Yeah, I was helping to clean up my ex’s house. Some people marvel at the fact that we can be civil–even kind towards one another. If you haven’t figured it out by now, life is too short to be treating anyone–ex’s included–like an ass hat. Perhaps more so in the last few months, we’ve extended more grace to one another than in previous years, but it’s only been slightly more of a stretch. Whether or not we were able to keep a marriage together had no bearing on the fact that we had brought two children into the world together.
And since we had been together to bring those children into the world, it only made sense that we should be together when we returned one of them to the earth.
After the house was in order, it was time to head to the park. Seated in the front seat of Derek’s car, I cradled a soft velvet bag that contained all that remained of our daughter, Hilary. Focusing on the road ahead, I anticipated our final walk.
Harrison Park is a landmark in the city of Owen Sound. This vast expanse of woodland was donated to the city by a man of the same name, and for years, it had been a favorite place to enjoy nature. Each step along the trail with Hilary still snuggled against my chest, brought back over two decades of memories. I remembered summers of swimming in the pool nestled in the forest. Both Hilary and her brother Cameron were like tadpoles, swimming under water and only coming up for air when they absolutely couldn’t hold their breath any longer. Famished after a swim, we would make our way to the Inn for an ice cream cone. Our Saturday morning ritual was breakfast at the Park Inn and the kids always insisted that we sit in their favorite server, Andrew’s, section where he would talk to them like real people. I noticed that the bird sanctuary was still home to the peacocks. As toddlers, the kids would compete to see who could out-screech the peacocks, much to the chagrin of other park-goers. In Hil’s later years when she would come to see her dad, a visit wouldn’t be complete without taking her dogs, Ebony and Lila, for a romp through the forest– winter, spring or summer–it didn’t matter.
Derek had taken over carrying the velvet bag and I snapped pictures of my favorite places in the park. A field of trilliums that the long-awaited spring had finally yielded, created a beautiful carpet for the forest floor. With the trees finally in bloom, a primordial canopy sheltered us as we went about the business of sharing Hilary with the woodland. I watched with sadness as Derek set about finding the perfect places. I’d never seen him indecisive in the thirty-plus years I’d known him, so I acquiesced to every place he chose, letting him anoint flowers, ferns and paths where Hilary’s feet no doubt had tread.
If I’d wondered if Hilary was hovering over us watching the proceedings, I was quickly assured. Just as Derek had shared Hilary with the river, a dog came bounding out of nowhere, and jumped on the precise spot where Derek had poured her ashes. The dog jumped and frolicked in absolute joy. We looked at each other first in shock, and then burst into fits of laughter. With her love of dogs and any four-legged animal, we knew it could only be Hilary making her presence known. This act alone brought a peace and comfort that was much needed.
Finally, I asked if I could have some of her ashes. Derek went to hand the container to me but I simply held out my hand.
“You want me to just pour it into your hand?” He seemed surprised.
“Sure, why not. It’s just Hilary.”
I think he was a little hesitant at first, but did it anyway. The ashes, which more closely resembled sand from a beautiful white beach, actually seemed warm in my hand. I looked intently at the contents, reminding myself that I was only holding her carrying case; her truest self–her spirit–was everywhere.
I released the ashes into another part the river, at a spot where I was sure she and her brother had stood, watching for fish, frogs and whatever else they believed lurked beneath the water.
We walked for a while in silence when Derek turned to me and said with a serious voice, “Uh, Monica…”
“I think you’ve got Hilary on your pants.”
I looked down at my pant leg to see white finger prints on my thigh. “Oh well, she was always getting into my clothes.” I didn’t brush her off.
While it was a bittersweet occasion, it only seemed fitting that we made the pilgrimage back to one of the most memorable places that Hilary enjoyed; whether with friends, family or in solitude. I’d like to think that wherever she’s walking now is far more beautiful than any place her journey on earth took her and that one day, we’ll be walking the same path again.