"But, wait!" says a voice deep inside my stomach as my eyes take in the woods around me. The trees are dancing in the wind, ignoring the pain being held as its weary host walks slowly under their branches. "How do you breathe when your heart is skipping beats? How? How do you breathe when nothing is left of your best friend but a pile of ashes?" The wooden box in my hands trembles as the grief cascades through my body. "How. Do. You. Breathe?"
The only answer is the sound of the trees responding to the wind, like chattering whispers in a language I've yet to become fluent in. A tear slides over my cheek, and my body lowers to the earthen floor of the woods that surround me. I lay the box in front of me and open it. There he is. Ashes, so fine and grey, with flecks of the remainder of bone and being. This is all that is left. My hand reaches down to find the soft locks of hair, lovingly cut away after he passed. So soft. And they smell like him. I close my eyes and sit. The breeze is caressing my hair and lifting into the leaves of the aspen all around me.
I fill my lungs with reluctant breath, and hold the sweetness of the forest for a moment before I push the air out of my body slowly all the way to the very bottom. I hold the emptiness; that place of "no thing". I stay there, with the no thing, and I think about my sweet friend, never to breathe again. I see his sparkling eyes in my mind's eye and I know that he would want me to breathe, even if he never will again. Knowing this truth, I pull the cool air around me deep into my body. My gift to him is to keep trying. To keep breathing until the breath is take from me, just as it was taken from him, leaving those who love me to find their way through trying to find their own breath again. Until then, I will breathe. I get to breathe! It's a gift.
I am alive.
That won't always be true, but today, I am alive. Breathing.
I place the wavy lock of soft white hair back in the box and place my hand on the pile of ashes in front of me. Just lightly. Just enough to frost my palm with a film of ash. I bring my hands together, held to my heart center, in prayer.
I pull in the breath. I let it go. I pull in the breath. I let it go.
I lose track of time. Of place. Of the why. And the how.
As I allow my body to do what it naturally does, I find the softness of a smile. My sweet old friend would have been glad to see me here. He would have liked to know that I could move forward without him. He wouldn't have wanted me to wander, lost, without him. I know this is true, because he was always happiest when I was laughing. It was at this moment that a bubbly laughter began to find it's way out of my body. Laughter at memories of a silly puppy squeaking a red rubber ball that would be his very favorite belonging for 12 wonderful years. Laughter at the way he would push his way between my partner and I on walks, determining that I belonged to him alone. Laughter at his quizzical head tilt, and his ever present sweetness. Laughter for the love we shared, and the friendship we both treasured.
My silted hands touched the tree by my side. I rubbed the ash on my hand into the bark, and then hugged it fiercely. Breathing. Crying. Laughing. Being alive. Just...being.
We breathe because we must, until we no longer can. We breathe, because that is all we can do in the face of loss, of love, of hope, of pain, of regret, and in the face of the joy that is our birthright. We breathe...because we get to
I held that tree until it almost felt that it was holding me in return, and then, with the deepest breath I could find, and the most peaceful exhale I had found all day, I gathered my precious box into my arms, and walked back through the trees with a feeling of love all over my skin. We cannot lose those we choose to keep in our hearts. Death cannot take them from us. Not really. Not as long as we breathe.