This is my friend, Claire, at the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. You can see by the photo that it’s one of those hazy, almost foggy days. She’s smiling and looking great. And look, what’s that in her hand? That little vial? Oh well, that’s Gunnar, or more accurately some of Gunnar’s ashes.
Claire’s cousin, Gunnar, died on the 4th of July weekend in 2015. He was just 21, hadn’t really had much time or done a bunch of things yet. But oh the places he’s been since then! His extended family (and there are quite a few of them) all have been taking Gunnar on adventures—everywhere! Sometimes he just visits like when Claire took him to work one day. She didn’t want him to get stepped on, so he just stayed in the vial. In other places a bit of his ashes get left like when one family friend took him to see the sunrise in Reykjavik. Gunnar was named for his family’s first immigrant from Iceland, Gunnar O.
Recently, when the vials are empty his carriers refill the interior where the ashes were with the elements of the environment he was left in. Some of the additives are waters, beach sand, or even moss. These are labeled and delivered back to his parents as a souvenir of his journey. He’s even been mixed with a bit of Tattoo ink for a more permanent site visit.
He’s really having quite an adventure. He’s been to a Neal Young concert, one of Gunnar’s favorites, and seen the Pope up close when he visited the U.S. Both NASA and Stanford have had Gunnar visits. He’s been to Ireland and Jamaica. He’s been added to fireworks and gunpowder and shot into the bright night sky. While in New York he went from under the Brooklyn Bridge to catching the view of the Chrysler Building from the Empire State Building. Gunnar has been wandering in the mountains of Colorado and Wyoming a bunch, and attended a Royals game in Kansas City.
His adventures continue. And as Claire said: “It’s the coolest idea and I am grateful for my family’s willingness to participate and to actually enjoy the celebration of this young man’s life. Maybe his “job” was to bring us closer together. He’s done a bang up job so far.”
Notice that what’s really happening here is that this family is creating experiences that they want to share with Gunnar and each other. Those experiences are what we cherish and remember. It’s an enriching way to spend our time, oh and money too, for that matter.
We all honor those we have lost in different ways. We take a piece of them with us in our hearts if not in a little vial. This family has found a way to be very intentional about that, and strengthen their own connection at the same time. I’m going to be more intentional about sharing my adventures with those that tag along with me in my heart.
Happy trails to you, Gunnar!
Shell Tain, The Untangler