Beth and Uganda

[With apologies for an overwhelming number of links, there are many for those interested in digging deeper into this story, if this is your first time visiting this blog]

A tiny sphere containing Beth's ashes
A tiny sphere containing Beth’s ashes (Moyo, Uganda)

Most of Beth’s cremated remains are in Nebraska, near her headstone, or around North Platte.

Friends know I’ve taken small amounts of her ashes, contained in little spheres bearing her image, to as many countries and continents as I can. It began as an intense and personal grieving process — an act of love and devotion — but also became something I shared very publicly on social media. It’s now more of a promise, than anything. It’s also something of an obligation, I suppose, in the way wedding vows are, but it’s much more than a mere obligation.

I saved a little of her ashes in case I made it to more continents than I had originally planned. So, as I travel with Creighton University colleagues and students, I have found myself with the opportunity to bless the African continent with a touch of Beth — a whisper of her soul. A tiny, symbolic, yet meaningful amount of ashes will be left in the country of Uganda.

There are a couple stories I’ll share about our connection to Uganda and to Africa.

Many years ago, I had lost my wedding ring. I was always removing it when getting dirty from construction work or messy in my studio. I never wore jewelry, and I was always taking it off and misplacing it. Somewhere in our wedding photos, there is an image of us holding hands, wearing our rings. I purchased the diamond I used when I made her wedding ring when I lived in Bophuthatswana, Africa. I only lived there for four or five months, but we used to write each other letters and look forward to our once-a-week phone call. She didn’t know I’d bought her a diamond until the day I proposed to her.

Years later, one day the ring was gone. I’d lost it.

I talked about replacing it, but Beth said she didn’t care. She still had her ring.

Fast-forward to a day not long after she was diagnosed with Parkinson’s and Dystonia, she seemed worried I wouldn’t stay by her side. I wanted to show her I was committed to her — to us — like my friend Wayne was devoted to his wife, my lifelong friend, Pam.

That time in our lives coincided with a previous backpack journalism trip to Uganda.  Near the end of that trip, I asked everyone if they wouldn’t mind if I shopped for a new wedding band before we left. I decided to buy a simple, silver ring, which I still have to this day. You can see it on my finger on the blog I kept, as well as in the movie I made for Beth — my love letter to her, which was shown at a bunch of festivals, including the Omaha Film Festival.

Then one day, I woke up and Beth was gone. I’d lost her, as well.

Specific days or anniversaries are hard (birthdays – both mine and hers, our wedding anniversary, etc), but so are times like returning to Africa. Today, as I find myself back in Uganda, recalling our life together, it seems appropriate to return with the same colleagues, and with a bit of her cremains. I thought about wearing my ring one last time, but decided I didn’t want to risk losing it.

Beth loved waterfalls. I’ll leave some of her at Murchison Falls. I’ll likely also throw one into the falls, which will break apart as it journeys up the Nile toward Alexandria and the Mediterranean Sea. The final resting place will be nowhere near the falls. I’d like to leave one in a nature reserve, if I’m able. She loved traveling and loved nature documentaries.

I normally leave her ashes in private, but there have been times where I’ve left her remains while accompanied by friends. It’s been a powerful experience for me those rare times I’ve included friends or allowed a witness to those private moments. It becomes more ceremonial, somehow. It’ll be a challenge to find time alone on this trip for such moments, but there’s a small part of me that believes I should share the experience with this group, even if only once. We’ll see.

Either way, I’ll bless each sphere containing her ashes with the metta I say for her when I bury “BBs” at special locations. It’s a different form of the metta she used to say for friends and family that I say only for her. It’s been a long time since I’ve done it. I always hope she’d feel blessed and honored. I’ll never know.

For Beth:

May you dwell in safety.
May you rest in peace.
May you be free from suffering.
May you know my gratitude and love.

For the rest of you:

May you be happy.
May you be safe.
May you be peaceful.
May you be healthy.
May you know my gratitude and love.

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Until death do us part

beth wedding gown IMG_0038sm

Beth and I were married, until her death, when we parted.

It was a shocking and abrupt moment that will remain burned into my being until the day of my own death. There is no “sweet sorrow” in parting. It’s bitter sorrow. It’s brutal, it’s crushing, it’s earth-shattering, and at times, it’s been overwhelming and downright traumatizing.

On July 22nd, our wedding anniversary, I posted an image of me and Beth. The day before, I posted a different cropping of this photo, above.

Many of the posts for the last several months were scheduled in advance. This image, for example, I set to post last summer, but rescheduled for early November because I hadn’t yet written anything for it. Today, I am finally posting the image.

Even as I declare the blog “finished,” it’s possible I might post a few things at some point next year. For example, I was never able to capture a specific Colorado image, and I can’t take that until next summer, when the road reopens to the public. Still, I’ll refer to this as the final post, since it essentially marks the end of this process – this journey – I’ve been on. At least, it marks the end of publicly sharing my process. I suppose it will ultimately go on the rest of my days.

There are no more posts planned for the foreseeable future.

I was never certain what date this final post would ultimately occur. Back in early 2016, I thought I would end this blog after about a year. That seemed clean and simple. But, I’ve learned grief isn’t clean or simple, nor does it work on a timeline. I didn’t know when I would run out of images, but I hoped I’d be ready to let go after the first year. I later thought it might end around the second “anniversary” of her death (I’ve discussed how much I loathe that word in this context).

I was going to end with a “fading away” image, but it looks like this is how it will conclude. I keep running across images that I love, but never used. The image below is a good example. I had forgotten about it, but I saw this photo at her parents’ home, and I love it so much I want to include it on this blog.

beth frame IMG_1579sm

I don’t know when the photo was taken, but it was certainly taken long ago, not too long before I met first her.

All I know is, I can’t believe it has been more than two years since Beth left us. Something broke in me that morning. Shattered. I’ve never been able to articulate it, but people sometimes mistake it for simple sadness. It’s something worse. I’ve rarely been able to think very clearly. I’m always tired, but even in my continual exhaustion, sleep has been nearly impossible, and my eating habits have been abysmal. My brain is in a fog, most of the time. I’ve been unmotivated, with the exception of the journey I’ve documented here. As long as I’ve been able to do something for, or about, Beth, I’ve felt a little like my old self. I’ve been more focused and driven with this process than I have with anything else.

Each time I think I’ve completed something relating to it – the film, spreading her ashes, or even this blog – I spiral back into a depression because I realize I will no longer have this one thing that’s kept me motivated; given me a reason to live. In fact, I think that’s a significant reason I’ve continued this for as long as I have.

I’ll never know the grief of losing a child. I can’t imagine. My love for Beth is the only thing that even comes close to what I imagine that might feel like. It’s the kind of loss that is physically crippling on so many levels.

It hurts my brain to think about it. I mean that literally. I feel a heat and dull pain inside my skull. Just typing this, my head is pounding. I can feel blood pumping through my brain. I actually feel a lump in my throat that constricts my breathing. I feel a tightening in my chest. It is a physical reaction. It’s not mere sadness; it is more devastation than simple sorrow. In my world, the loss is more complete desolation than a singular absence.

That loss led to all of what you find on this blog, and although I wish with every atom of my being that she were here, so none of this ever had a reason to exist, this process ultimately helped me through the worst loss of my life, so I have no regrets about this blog.

Now, this also ends.

Even though it was meant only for me, as well as close friends and family, I hope it has helped someone out there. I want her life to be remembered, but more, I want to believe something good can be born from these ashes.

And so, I type this, with shaky fingers – the last foreseeable entry on this blog.

For Beth, whom I miss with every fiber of my being, and with all my shattered heart:

May you dwell in safety.
May you rest in peace.
May you be free from suffering.
May you know my gratitude and love.

For the rest of you, also with my entire heart:

May you be happy.
May you be healthy.
May you be safe.
May you know my gratitude and love.

I hope you have a blessed life. I mean that with all sincerity.

With so much love, and so much gratitude, especially for those that stayed by my side these past couple of years.

Love,

Tim

 


 

Some favorite photos (mostly for personal reasons) I’ve posted over the past couple years: