By: Paul S. Cilwa Viewed: 2/21/2020
Occurred: 5/22/2010
Topics/Keywords: #NorthCascadesHighway #Glacier #Washington #BirchBay #Metaphysics Page Views: 3496
I experience endings and beginnings in northern Washington state.

I had traveled 1500 miles from Mesa, Arizona to Birch Bay, Washington, for a specific purpose: To support my long-time friend, Ann, in scattering the ashes of her late husband, Jim. So, now that I had had a day to recuperate from the trip itself, it was time to do the deed.

I won't give every detail here because it's Ann's story to tell. But Jim had been a victim of chronic depression. He was seeing a psychiatrist and being treated medically for it, but it got the better of him and, one night when he knew that Ann and his step-kids would be away for a few hours, piped the exhaust from his truck into the passenger section and took the Only Way Out in his driveway, where Ann eventually found him.

That was over four years ago.

To say Ann was devastated is an understatement. Losing someone to cancer or even a car wreck is perhaps less painful to the survivors than suicide, because suicide seems so preventable. And, yet…Jim apparently couldn't help himself.

A website,, points out,

"Time heals all wounds" is not necessarily true for survivors of suicide. Time is necessary for healing, but time is not enough.

It's natural for the survivors to alternate between blaming themselves for not seeing it coming, and blaming the suicide for being too weak to resist. The pain felt by survivors is surely equal to the pain the suicide was trying to escape. Yet for the survivors, the pain never ends, though with luck and love it can diminish.

And so, Ann didn't pick up Jim's ashes from the funeral home until months after the cremation, and then stored them in her shed where she wouldn't have to think about them…yet couldn't stop thinking about them.

So, last year, I offered to fly up to Washington state to help with the scattering. Unfortunately, the logistics didn't work out then. But today, I was here. And we set out, remains box in the back of the Kia SUV, towards the Cascades where Ann had determined Jim would want his ashes to be.

Her first choice was a spot called Artists' Point. However, I checked with the Forest Service and that road is still closed for the winter, not to be opened until next weekend. Still, we set out in the direction of the North Cascades Highway, figuring we would recognize the right spot when we came to it. I was also interested in finding a remote, deep-woods hot spring and Ann thought that would be nice, too. So we brought bathing suits just in case. (Ann and I love each other dearly but neither has a desire to see the other one naked, as most bathers in a remote hot spring generally are.)

We took State Road 20 (also known as North Cascades Highway) north, passing tranquil farms with dramatic, mountainous, backdrops; but came to no cliffs or drop-offs that matched Ann's expectations of how this would be.

Contented cows graze in the Cascades.

Eventually we found ourselves on a remote Forest Service road, gravel, pot-holed, crossing a river that must have run wildly enough to take down timber when the seasonal melt first started, yet was now just a stream that couldn't even fill its own bed.

A remote river in the Cascades.

Finally we got to the trailhead for the hot springs, but two things discouraged us. 1) Due to our late start, we now had just a couple of hours to be back in Birch Bay for a dinner engagement; and 2) A truck arrived just behind us, containing four men with guns and two hunting dogs. I was pretty sure they intended to hunt elk; but Ann seemed pretty certain they were there to hunt us. So, instead of getting out of the car, we turned around and headed for the northern slope of Mount Baker.

Mount Baker, northern slope

My rental Kia had a USB port for the stereo, and I had been playing James Taylor albums I loaded on my flash drive. But Ann became convinced that the proper music for the day would be by Yes, a group she and Jim had enjoyed; so we switched to the satellite radio Classic Vinyl station; and, sure enough, they shortly began to spin an old Yes album.

After passing through the charming village of Glacier, we came upon a picnic area just off the road at the rushing Glacier Creek.

Horseshoe Bend Trail

Ann recognized this as a spot where she and Jim had once visited. At home, she had a picture of Jim cavorting in the river, which was running lower then—probably taken in late summer. Now, of course, in late spring, the "creek" was runnable by rafts or kayaks.

Glacier Creek Scattering Jim.

And so, Ann decided, this was the place. I took the plastic box, about shoebox volume, down to the river. I had a little difficulty opening it; I think you're really supposed to use a tool but I just had my nails. However, I was able to pry it open. Inside was a plastic bag and, in that, the ashes; Jim's earthly body reduced to its mineral components. (Ann had asked if there would be bits of bone or anything. Having done this before, I could assure her there would not; just a homogeneous half-gallon or so of powder.)

People expect that ashes will "scatter in the wind". (I once did a cartoon advertisement for an "aerosol urn" for people who really wanted to "cast their fates to the winds.") However, it would take quite a gale to do that, as the particles are relatively heavy. They generally tend to pour rather than waft. Ann chose a small eddy at the edge of the river, and that's where I let Jim's physical remains go. Eventually they would disperse, travel downstream, and make it to the Pacific Ocean.

Dispersal is what it's about. Not just of the remains, but of the hurt feelings, the regrets, the agonizing pain of wondering what the survivors could have done differently. In the shock of sudden loss, people hang onto the pain only because it seems better than the hole left behind in the heart. But holding that pain blocks anything new from coming along: New opportunities, new happiness, new love. Eventually, it must be let go. And scattering the deceased's remains helps do that.

The river's edge was at the bottom of a rustic stairway. After the ashes had been scattered, and tears had been shed, Ann preceded me up the stairs, which seemed to me to represent her new choice: To move up, and ahead, with her life.

Moving on up.

But now we had to hurry back to Birch Bay, and our dinner reservations.

Ann's daughter (and Jim's stepdaughter) Devan had just received her high school diploma. Devan is 20, but Jim's suicide had impacted more than Ann. Devan and her brother had both been psychically jolted by the blow to their family. The immediate result to Devan is that she, who had been a brilliant student, dropped out of high school. But now she had taken her GED and was finally a high school (equivalency) graduate. She could now look forward to college, and a career, and a life.

Devan, surprised.

This was supposed to be a surprise party. Devan had been told just she and I and her mother would be there; but in fact a whole group of family friends were coming. However, Ann kept accidentally dropping hints and Devan, being as smart as she is, figured it out. Still, she looked surprised and pleased when we entered the dining room of the Semiahmoo Resort's Packers Restaurant and found a table full of friends.

Dinner was excellent; there were a lot of laughs. Ann and I did share our adventures finding a place for the scattering, but it was not a weighty part of the conversation. It was as if the tragedy that had, for so long, dogged their lives had finally been released.

Some attendees at Devan's surprise dinner: Susan, Sandra, Ben, me, Devan, Terra, James.

We stayed long after our dinners were eaten, and stepped onto the deck to enjoy the sunset.

Sunset over Birch Bay.

The spit of land in the above photo is part of British Columbia. We had celebrated Devan's accomplishment, and, secondarily, the resolution of Jim's remains, at the place where the United States ends and Canada begins. And that's what this day has been about: Endings, and beginnings.

Every beginning implies an eventual ending. But every ending implies a new beginning.

Just as we were about to go inside, a great blue heron flew up to us and landed on the railing.

Blue Heron at the Semiahmoo Resort.

Those who follow the metaphysical concept of messages from animals, know that the message carried by the Blue Heron is one of balance, evolution, and progress.

Ann's new life, and Devan's, has just begun.