Back at the beginning of the year I started making a list of 64 things I'd like to do this year. The number isn't of any significance apart from that's how many lines there are in my notebook. However, "A day at the seaside" did feature, and on Sunday I was able to put a star by that item...
The occasion was a family gathering to scatter my mother's ashes on the beach where she grew up, in Ijmuiden, The Netherlands.
It is a long, long flat sandy beach, with dunes where she used to play with her best friend when they were very young. As children, on some of our occasional visits to the Netherlands, we had stayed in her sister's beach hut. I remember sand castles, and riding a horse, and kite-flying. Chips with mayonnaise, chewing zoethout (and spitting the fibrous strands into the sand everywhere). Gas lighting. Sun. Wind. The cold North Sea.
Now, after all these years, we were back there, along with many of the Dutch relations. Most of us hadn't seen each other for decades. The cousins we used to play and argue with are all grown up (like us!).
It was a hot sunny day, tempered by a sharp wind, just as it had always been in my memory. A "beach taxi" - now there's a brilliant idea - took us along the beach away from the crowds, to a quiet place among the dunes, and there, we made a depression in the soft sand, and deposited the ashes. We covered them over, and scattered petals, and taosted her memory with prosecco. Someone (was it her sister?) thought she would like a share in the drinks too, so we poured some of the prosecco over the petals.
It was all very casual, very informal, very easy. A little quiet, maybe, but not solemn. And afterwards we went back to a pavilion for a (very late!) lunch together and catch up on theevents of the past forty years.
Back in January, last year, leaving her bedroom in the nursing home after we had gone to see her on the same morning that she had died was hard, very hard. I felt disorientated, and rather at a loss as to what to do next (lunch, as it happened, proved to be the right decision then as well!).
Later in February, walking out the the crematorium at the end of the funeral felt entirely wrong, as though, once again, I was leaving her when I should really stay (as I felt on so many occasions when we visited her in hospital). I took the funeral wreaths home with me, at my cousin's suggestion, and re-arranged the flowers into vases. That helped a lot.
Leaving the spot in the dunes was easy - the sun shining, the wind blowing. We had brought her to one of the places where she had been so happy. The other funeral and memorial gathering had all been about "us" - the family. This one was about her.