January 3, 2016

A Letter to my Husband, as I Open his Ashes.

A year and 10 months ago, my husband died while white water kayaking. In an instant, I became a 34-year-old widow.

Grief has been a crazy journey full of so many twists and turns that I have no idea what to expect next.

Here I would like to share part of my journey as I write a letter to my husband about part of the process—opening his box of ashes.

It’s been a year and a half, my love, since you kissed my lips and walked out our front door to go paddle down the beautiful river.

Even though you never walked back through our front door, your heart is still so much a part of mine, I’m not sure where yours ends and mine begins. So, I write to you now to share my thoughts on another piece of our story.

I often speak of strength. The strength I speak of was much needed today as I opened the box that your ashes have rested in quietly over the last year and a half. The box that has sat silently for so long was ringing in my ears as if encouraging me to sit down and face another piece of the process. Over the last year and a half I have longed to open it, yet fiercely hated the idea. I have wanted nothing to do with the box, yet find comfort in its presence. Conflicting emotions intricately dancing together but earnestly attempting to not step on one another’s feet.

I know, my love, that you are not in that box. You are so far up ahead that I can consciously express that I know this box doesn’t matter. But, as I already know this, it doesn’t change the current reality of my pain.

My love, this is our story, and today was another chapter. I want to share it with you now.

As I walk down the hall to get your box of ashes, all I can think of is your body. A longing that cannot be expressed in earthly terms flows through my heart and into my mind. I imagine your strong arms and your smile that melted all of our hearts. I reach out and pick you up, a box that holds my whole life sitting quietly and nestled on the shelf as if it could stay there forever, if I let it. All I can think of as I feel the weight of the box against my palms is…

I don’t want this box.

I put on some of our favorite music and I sit on the floor. I put you in front of me, the shirt I have seen you wear a thousand times still wrapped tightly around the box that holds your ashes and bones, all of my husband that I knew in his earthly body now sits in front of me. It is all there. Wrapped so nicely and sickeningly put together that It blows my mind how crazy this life is.

I don’t want this box.

I slowly unwrap the twine and release your shirt. I hold it as if you are still in it, smelling your body and struggling to stay in the present when all I want to do is go back to the past.

My mind races to the time I spent with you after you died. You looked beautiful; you looked perfect. I think about walking up to you and holding on so tightly that I couldn’t tell if you were the one that was cold to the touch or if it was perhaps my body that had lost its warmth, our lives being confused for one last time while I still had you here on this earth.

I am startled back to the present. Here we sit, my love, your box on the floor and me sitting cross-legged, not wanting to move a muscle. I lay the shirt on my lap, hoping that it will be my shield, my strength in physical form as I open the cardboard box that contains the urn.

I don’t want this box.

My mind goes back to when we first met. That day on the river when I was so terrified of whitewater and you were my fearless whitewater rafting guide. I think of your blue eyes that effortlessly stole my heart. I think of how I gave you my phone number and you thought it was going to be a tip… only to realize later that it was the best tip of your life.

I smile and weep.

I struggle to get the urn out of the cardboard box. I get it out and read the words that are written on the outside. My body reacts to your name next to an end date.

I don’t want this box.

I think about the time we said “I do.” I think about walking slowly down the aisle to you as your eyes filled with the most genuine tears you had ever shed, my love. I think about our house and our dog, our most imperfectly perfect life that we created together. I think about kayaking and hiking and singing and dancing and making love.

The urn opens and I pull out the bag that holds your ashes and bones. I hold it closely, my tears spilling down my face onto the plastic. I think about the song that is playing as I hold what used to be your body. I think of you singing this song and I cry even harder.

I hold you closely for a while, and then I gently put you back. Safely stored until we set you free. I know that this time will come, my love, and I know our story will continue onward.

As I take your shirt and wrap you tightly back up, I wipe my tears and look straight ahead. I am a different woman now than I was the day I found out you died. I am stronger and more vibrant; I know you would be so proud. I smile and I laugh, I look forward to life and I can once again sing and dance.

Grief has been a crazy journey, my love, but I will continue on through all of the twists and turns of life. I will do so knowing that you are right by my side for true love never dies and the river of life will continue on.

I love you for eternity,


Author: Melissa Wilder Joyce 

Editor: Toby Israel

Photo: Author’s Own


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