Before my father died in a nursing home five years ago he would tell me he’d been in Mexico the day before, or the week before, or sometime in the recent past, despite the fact he hadn’t been anywhere but the inside of the nursing home for seven years.
I always asked him how it was, and how my dead aunts were. I never contradicted him, after all, he had dementia and anything I said would not have mattered much.
He wanted to go back to Mexico to die, but the logistics of it at his age would have made it impossible.
He died on August 11th, 2009, one day after my friend Andy died. I left work and went to the funeral home that had been recommended by the nursing home to make arrangements.
I was pretty much alone, Danusia was in Poland and my brother lives in Florida and I hadn’t spoken to my sister in many years. My son Javier was spending the summer with me, so it was just the two of us.
I arranged a viewing at the funeral home for the next day, Javier and I said our goodbyes and I had my dad cremated.
His ashes arrived by first class mail a couple of weeks later, and he took up residence in a John Varvatos shoebox that I placed in our inert fireplace at the Broadway loft we lived in. He spent the next five years there.
Danusia and I often discussed what to do with the ashes, and I had some vague Idea of taking them to Tampico, Mexico where he was born and tossing his ashes into his beloved Atlantic ocean. My dad loved the water, and swimming.
Tampico is a costal city and he’d grown up on the beach and in the water.
He wanted me to be the same way, but his way of teaching me to swim was to throw me in the deep end of a pool when I was 7. That didn’t work out too good, and to this day I hate the beach and I’m not a very good swimmer.
But I did think that he would have liked to be released into the ocean. When he was at the nursing home I tried to discuss his wishes for his passing, and all he would say was, “why should I care? I’ll be dead anyway. Do what you want.”
Danusia and I did go to Mexico in 2011, but we forgot my father. We were on a beach, too for that vacation.
I’d also thought about going to Florida and doing this with my brother, the both of us going to the Atlantic together to release the ashes into the ocean.
We had to move a couple of weeks ago, and I dutifully packed my dad’s ashes with everything else, but getting rid of stuff became a central theme of moving into a smaller place, and one of the things we could certainly let go of were dad’s ashes.
Danusia has a recurring cleaning job for a friend at his cottage in the Rockaways, and she was scheduled to go yesterday. I asked if I might tag along, and bring the ashes to put in the Atlantic out there, and a plan was born.
I found the box with the ashes, and finally opened the postal package. Inside there was a black plastic box with the crematorium’s name and address, along with the words: Cremated remains of Agustin Trevino Lucio. I’ll never know why he was Lucio and I’m not.
We made the long trek out to Beach 69th Street and spent a few hours cleaning the cottage. I cleaned the kitchen and the bathroom so we could get out of there faster, and when we were done we headed off to the beach and got there just at sunset. I was wondering how I was going to get the ashes in the water without getting wet, and we saw a rock jetty about a half-mile away. I remember a night when I was in high school when some classmates and me went out onto one of those in the middle of the night while drunk and tripping. It’s a miracle none of us drowned that night.
It may have even been the same jetty, I don’t remember exactly where my friend’s house was, except it was somewhere on the Rockaway peninsula.
Danusia and I reached the rocks and climbed out as far as we could and still be safe. We got as close to the crashing waves as we could.
I got the plastic box open and inside there was a plastic bag with the ashes. I took the bag out and for a crazy moment I remembered the scene in The Big Lebowski where they set out to do the same thing and the wind blows the ashes all over them.
I opened the plastic bag and held it out as close to the water as I dared and shook out the ashes. The bag was remarkably heavy for ashes; it was about four pounds. I managed to get most of the ashes in the water, but some blew onto a rock.
We sat and said our goodbyes, and I cried a little, it was my last physical connection to my father, and I was finally letting him go.
I sat and watched the waves, I knew one would come along and wash the rest of the ashes into the sea, but maybe it would happen soon.
The sky was beautiful, the setting sun and the clouds turned the world pink for a moment and then a big wave came and splashed the rock and us and dad was gone forever. We got up and made our way back to shore and the A train home beyond. It was an accomplishment.