Scattering Ashes

Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, and sisters scattering their mother's ashes.My mother’s ashes filled three red plastic 18-ounce cups. One sister poured the cremains evenly, and almost to the brims, and handed the cups to the others like she was serving Juicy-Juice. We sisters stared down into the ashes. They were much finer than my daughter’s had been. No coarse sand or bone fragments. These ashes were fine enough to fly. Which is what Mom had wanted: Take me to October Mountain and scatter my ashes to the winds, that I may soar the Universe and observe eternity, she’d written. The powdery ashes would fly, but they’d stick to our hands. Good thing one of us had thought to bring cups.

There we were. Four of us, aged-sixtyish women with an impressive collection of phobias and health issues, gathered at the overlook of October Mountain. We’d traveled from as far away as Florida to be where Mom had spent over twenty summers. The drive up mostly unpaved mountain roads had been brutal, the Toyota Highlander plunging up and down, in and out of huge potholes. Finally reaching the lookout point, we’d tiptoed out of the Highlander trying to be inconspicuous, and hobbled over to the highest point, a large rock littered with cigarette butts.

The fourth sister, our honorary sister, refused to be dragged up the rock. Instead, she would snap photos from below. Close by, in the parking lot, a man sat on the tailgate of his truck, smoking, and watching the view with his pit-bull who eyed us with interest. We hesitated, hoping the man would leave. But he started up a new cigarette. And then a park ranger who was spraying something nasty nearby came over to warn us not to go walking into the brush below. As if there was any possibility we ailing-ancients might venture off our rock to go bushwhacking down the mountain.

We better do this fast, one sister said, when the ranger turned back to his exterminating. None of us wanted to be yelled at, or maybe even arrested, for sprinkling ashes in a state park.

The day was sunny and clear. Fall colors were just beginning to paint the hills. From our perch on the overlook we could see all the way to Mount Greylock—But there was no wind. It took only seconds to toss out three streams of my mother’s ashes. They landed inches off the rock, thickly dusting the bushes below us in white.

No words were said. No poems. Quickly we gathered up the cups and bags, and scrambled into the car, and headed back down the mountain on the bumpy dirt road. Without being stopped. And two days later I’m sitting in my cozy house wondering if the winds ever picked up enough to send my mother’s ashes soaring—to greet the Universe—before the rains came down.


What is your Ashes Story?



Please Share on your Social Media

6 thoughts on “Scattering Ashes

  1. Elaine Mansfield

    You did it! The wind came or the rain came to spread the ashes and eventually blow them away. So much effort for a few moments of filling your mom’s wish, but you’ll always be glad you did.

    1. Robin Botie Post author

      Yeah, and it was pretty memorable too, Elaine. But it made me realize that I better figure out an easier way for my son to fill my wishes. That was a project. And the poor guy won’t have any sisters to make the whole deal a jolly party.

  2. Mary


    I love your story of maternal ashes, a journey with your sisters, putting mom into red plastic cups and being warned to take-care. At last, she rests heavily on the branches just below her October Mountain waiting to alight with the wind . . . unlike your daughter’s ashes . . . scattered in Australia.

    This is not to claim any understanding nor diminish the meaning it held for you and your sisters. Still, I think it’d make a great story slam on The Moth!

    1. Robin Botie Post author

      Mary, I’m going to have to do some research here to find out about story slams and the Moth. The Moth alone sounds like a story. To me, anyway. Yes, the Australia ash-scattering was amazing but I would rather scatter in good company. Scattering ashes alone is just depressing. I think it really turns into a story, an adventure, when done with people you love.

  3. Lynne Taetzsch

    After my father died in upstate New York, we brought his ashes to a family reunion in Florida, where he had lived until he couldn’t manage any more on his own. He had loved the water, so we brought the ashes to the edge of a pier, but it was too windy that day (just the opposite of your problem) and we feared they would be blown back at us. Then one of us got a bright idea: We had scattered our mother’s ashes in her garden in the back yard of their Florida house. Someone else was living there now, but we thought it worth a try.

    One sister and I (we didn’t want to intimidate the owner with a crowd) ventured to the front door and knocked. There was a motorcycle in the driveway and a motorboat nearby. When we told the mid-40ish guy who greeted us what we wanted, he said, “Sure!” So we all trooped into the small back yard, where the garden was now overgrown with weeds, and took turns scattering Dad’s ashes where Mom’s had been.

    1. Robin Botie Post author

      Oh, I love that, Lynne. I can just imagine being there with you sisters, approaching the motorcycle-guy and then, under his surveillance, tossing the ashes into the overgrown garden. Oh, the things we do to honor our loved ones and take care of them even in death. Sounds like you and I follow similar paths between New York and Florida. Those family reunions keep changing as we all move up in the ranks of the relatives and then out.


Leave a Reply

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