Five Hundred Miles

Four years ago on a gray August day in Cleveland, nobody knew what to do with my sister Beth.  Except me.  I knew exactly what to do with her.  Nobody listened.  But I’m tellin’ you, I was right.

My sister Beth was a born wanderer.  Wherever she was, well, she wanted to be somewhere else.  For nearly 20 years following her divorce, Beth worked as a traveling nurse.  She criss-crossed the country, falling in love with California wine country, Albuquerque, Florida and points in between.  Just when she seemed to be settling in one place, she’d get that urge to go again.  And go she did.  She wanted to see all of America.  She said she never wanted to stop traveling.

So when Beth died due to complications of a stroke and kidney failure on August 11, 2009, I knew just what to do.

“She wanted to be cremated,” I informed my nephews, Dave and Chris.

“Why didn’t she tell us that?” Dave asked.  “Are you sure?  Nobody else has been cremated in our family.”

“Worms,” I responded simply.

They both laughed, realizing just how well I knew my sister.   Creepy crawly things?  Beth wouldn’t be caught dead with a worm anywhere near her, dead or alive.  Cremation it was.

“But what do we do with the ashes?” Chris wondered aloud.

That was a dilemma, because Beth hadn’t filled me in on the second half of the plan.

“Well, she really hated it when she could no longer travel,” I said.  “Let’s pour her into a cardboard box, poke a small hole in it, and tie it to a freight railroad car.  Let the train scatter her ashes across America.”

Sadly, and to my regret, Dave and Chris didn’t take me seriously.  They flatly refused to break all kinds of laws and get arrested for terrorism or littering by letting their mom wander like Marley’s ghost, only without the chains.

So poor Beth is still in Cleveland – the one city in America she lived in that she hated.

When I read this story about a woman who placed her husband’s ashes into a bottle and threw it into the ocean in Florida, where he got to visit parts of the state that I’m sure he never would have visited otherwise, well, I was delighted.  Finally, I’d found a different sort of after-death experience for Beth.  Naturally, I sent the story to my nephew Dave.

“But Lease,” he responded.  “She has a new great-granddaughter.  She’d never want to leave Cleveland now!”

Ellyana, Sitting in a Bug

Ellyana in a Bug

Beth never did like the beach much, anyway.

*     *     *

Thanks to Diatribes and Ovations for their post which inspired me to share this story with my Word Press Family.

60 Comments

Filed under History, Music, Stupidity, Traffic

60 responses to “Five Hundred Miles

  1. I love your writing style!

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  2. Breathless. I can never understand why people who know we knew another so well would not hear of our suggestions. Loving the train idea. Hope she gets out of Cleveland. But even if she doesn’t, just know her spirit is not there, she travels lightly on wing and air wherever she wants to forevermore. xo

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  3. You’re a good and wise sister, Elyse. I want to be cremated, too. Because of worms. Who does what with my cremains is none of my business. My soul will be dancing with my cadre of dogs long gone, my Reggie Bird, and who knows what other souls willing to boogie with when I get to where I’m going.

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  4. Your idea about the train was wonderful. I left instructions years ago. Cremation then the assigned duo were to get me on a plane to Ireland and spread me in as many places there as they could. I figured it was the only way I would ever get to see Ireland.

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  5. This is a beautiful post, Elyse, filled with both humor and love. But you know, trains tend to go through the least attractive parts of town. How about a hot air balloon?

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    • That’s a great idea! Thanks, Charles. I’ll forward that one on to my nephew. But I doubt he’ll act on it. He still feels weird about the whole cremation thing!

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  6. My sister-in-law had the same problem when her mother died. They had her ashes, but no clear directions on where to put them. She and her sisters finally decided to spread them over the ocean in a spot they knew their mom loved. I think that’s lovely because they held a little ceremony and shared stories about their mom. I’m sure your sister will be happy no matter where her ashes are, she’s probably laughing at this right now.

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  7. Aww, Elyse, so sweet and poignant. No matter where her ashes are, her spirit is ever near in the thoughts of those, like you, who loved her.

    “wouldn’t be caught dead with a worm”????

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  8. No doubt you are correct once again and Beth would finally find roots right next to that beautiful little girl!

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  9. Luanne

    Elyse, what a way to use your sense of humor to write about something so close to your heart. You’ve brought your sister into MY heart.

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  10. I remember watching a baseball player on the Tonight show talking about how he scattered his dads ashes at Home Depots in every town he played in because Home Depot was his very favorite place. Me – I like the train idea.

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  11. I always think of death as the release of energy and those molecules can travel farther than anything.

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    • Faster than a speeding bullet. More powerful than a locomotive. Able to leap tall buildings in a single bound …

      Yes, actually, I think you’re right. Beth isn’t in that container. She never has been. Because there is no way in hell she would stay in Cleveland. Thanks, S7.

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  12. Many of your best posts are about your sister … so this just adds to the list … plus a good way to introduce Ellyanna.

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  13. I love your family!
    (Though I’m guessing you edit some of the bits that you tell us.)

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  14. moi

    A good story… I wish I had been a traveler in my youth.

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  15. bigsheepcommunications

    The sweetest thing is that your sister is always in your thoughts.

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  16. I read that story!
    Adorable grand-niece Elyse.

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    • Thanks, Georgette. Beth would have been over the moon!

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      • The way you tell this story I think she would have been over the moon with love for granddaughter and the prospect of traveling in a bottle.

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        • Absolutely she would have been in heaven with a granddaughter! She was a pediatric nurse and loved, loved, loved the babies.

          She wouldn’t have liked to be in the water in a bottle though. She really didn’t like the beach or the water. She never went to the shore when we were growing up — it was right down the street!.

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  17. Oh, I love the idea of being spread around by the train! My husband and I have talked about this issue with each other, and with our kids. We want to be “set free” on the wind, somehow, so we just get sort of carried along with the prevailing westerlies. Maybe I’ll ask for them to wait for a nice big nor’easter and just pour me out over the Atlantic somewhere……….I bet your sister is smiling over this post!

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  18. You pose some interesting questions and a good reminder to get our intentions in writing so no one’s put in this same position later on!

    It’d be hard to leave a cute-as-a-bug baby-in-a-bug! MJ

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    • That’s true — although I change my mind from time to time. Guess I’d better put off dying, at least until I make up my mind.

      She is a cutie, isn’t she?

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  19. I teared up through my smile. I entirely get this.

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  20. A good friend of my husband lost his sister when she was too young (in her 50’s). She was his last remaining family member (except his wife), and he carries her cremains around the country as they have moved. He has sprinkled his sister from the west coast to the east coast, from Florida to Washington State. And now, California. And he has a little bottle on a lanyard that he sometimes wears around his neck.

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  21. I’ve been to Cleveland. A part of her should be there but not all. Couldn’t you smuggle bits of her out and set them free in wonderful places? You wouldn’t have to do it all at once.

    Just a thought.

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    • I’m thinking of it, Mae. But the decision is not mine — it belongs to her boys. I think they’re having a hard time letting go.

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      • I almost regretted writing what I did after I thought for a bit. From their perspective, maybe they needed a stillness from her that she could not abide while living but can with ease in death. Still, as a sister, should the opportunity arise…. a teaspoon and a jar could be the beginning of a great adventure!

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        • Not a bad idea, actually!

          And no worries — your comment was just fine. But I do know what you mean — wouldn’t it be great if we could go back and rewrite comments when we felt the need? Of course then I’d never get anything done but comment editing!

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  22. PS … you should listen to Roseanne Cash’s version of this song … so nice!

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    • I love that version — I think I’ll be playing it all week, actually.

      Before her marriage, Beth went to school in NYC in the mid-60s. She spent a lot of time in Greenwich Village and saw the early years of Peter Paul and Mary, Dylan, Joan Baez … that’s why I picked this version, although I think Roseanne’s is better. AND the video has train images … I was torn.

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  23. Yeah, you kinda gotta stick around for a cute baby in an inflatable bug….

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    • That picture really cracks me up, especially thinking about Beth. She had bug issues, shall we say! Less with the inflatable kind, though, I’m sure.

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  24. As someone who lives outside of Cleveland, I completely get this post…

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    • Beth first lived in Cleveland (city) when she was a young newlywed and mother. She didn’t drive, and felt trapped by the need to travel by bus with two kids. But the second time around she realized that it had changed quite a bit. She wasn’t fond of the gray, though.

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