Before Eli and I even left the hospital, we both resigned that he was going to take the next 12 weeks off of work. I had already arranged for 12 weeks of “maternity leave” with my job, but Eli had only planned on taking off 4. We knew instinctively that nothing was going to be more important than spending time together in the coming months. After the first 3 weeks home, where we were flooded with love, food, flowers, and condolences, we took off on a road trip. We were on the road for 21 days. We put 4000 miles on the car, traveled through 7 states, and visited a number of friends and family along the way.
The apex of our road trip was a visit to the Grand Canyon where we wanted to scattered some of Poppy’s ashes. We picked up her remains from the funeral home the day before we began our adventure. When Eli and I decided to scatter Poppy’s ashes, we felt guided by her spirit to do so. In fact, we asked her permission and she gave it.
It was Monday, December 7, 2015, exactly 6 weeks after she was born. We arrived at the Grand Canyon the night before around dusk, so we hadn’t seen any of the canyon yet. Eli was out at the car gathering some of our hiking things and I was alone in our cabin. The sun was streaking through the window and I was drawn to the light. I sat on the edge of the bed, sunlight streaming on my face, and I held my baby in my arms. I could still feel the weight of her body. I imagined that I was nursing her and I looked down into my folded arms and pretended she was there, resting in my warmth. Moments like these were very powerful for me back then.
Eli walked back into the cabin and found me there, tears streaming down my face, holding my imaginary child. He came over to the bedside and shared that energy with me. He whispered, “You are an amazing mother.”
I wrote in my journal that morning and asked Poppy to let us know if she wanted some of her ashes to be scattered into the canyon.
Given that I was only 6 weeks postpartum, we tried setting a reasonable goal for hiking into the canyon. Our original plan was to hike 4 miles roundtrip. We are experienced hikers and we had the right gear, so I was convinced I could handle it. After breakfast and coffee, we set off to the visitor center where we would fill up our water bottles and take a shuttle to the trailhead.
It was an exciting but somber morning. We started the hike around 11am. I didn’t make it very far. We got to a spot called “Oh-Ah-Point” and decided after a short break that we should probably turn around. I was still quite sore from giving birth and my thighs felt like vice grips were holding them together. Eli was surprised, as I set the pace back up the canyon, just how slow I walked.
On our way back up, we stopped on a large, flat rock and ate our picnic lunch. It was 57 degrees Fahrenheit that day, a record high we would learn later. While we ate, 2 cowboys and a pack of mules passed by us. It was majestic to see those strong animals trudging up the canyon. I was swept into the glory of it all.
I was surprised how quickly we made it back up the canyon side. I thought we’d hiked further than we did. We shuttled back to the Visitor Center where we relaxed with a latte and watched the visitor center movie twice. Because it was December the theatre was practically empty. We stretched out with our shoes off and learned about the history of the Canyon and the National Park.
Several hours had passed since we left our cabin that morning, but we weren’t paying any attention to the time. I hadn’t worn a watch once since Poppy died. Time didn’t seem to matter much anymore. After the movie we decided it was time for a hot shower. We wandered back to our car and started driving towards our cabin. The stereo was playing and I was distracted by the music, so I turned my attention to the console. I saw the time. It was 3:39pm. Poppy was born at 3:39pm. I gasped, my hands drew to my mouth.
“Eli! It’s 3:39!”, I wailed pointing to the console. “She answered my prayer! She wants to be scattered here!” I kept my eyes on the clock. Eli slowed down the car, we watched that minute with fierce attention. It was 3:39…and still 3:39…time stood still. And then the minute was gone. Poppy was with us during those precious seconds, sending us a message, giving us permission to share her body with the canyon. So we did.
Eli and I weren’t sure where we would scatter Poppy’s ashes. Her little urn, then still a tiny white box provided by the funeral home, hadn’t moved since we tucked it snuggly behind the passenger seat 2 weeks earlier. It was secure and safe back there and we couldn’t bear the thought of anything happening to her if we moved it.
The next morning, we decided we would drive and walk along the Rim Trail. It is a mostly paved trail that runs 12 miles along the edge of the canyon. We were excited to see as much of the canyon as possible, and I wasn’t too sore from the previous day’s hike. As the day progressed, we both asked Poppy to guide us toward a spot where we would scatter her ashes. Each viewpoint along the Rim Trail had its own beauty, but Eli and I ultimately agreed that Hopi Point was our favorite.
That afternoon, with a blanket, a stick of holy wood, a lighter, and her tiny urn, we created a ceremony in honor of our daughter. We found a quiet spot to sit, away from the guardrails and other tourists. Neither of us had opened the urn since we picked it up at the funeral home. I remember removing the lid and seeing there was a plastic bag inside. I carefully removed the plastic bag from the container and untwisted the tie which held it closed. Her ashes were so colorful, pink, cream, gray, and green. I remember looking at Eli and saying, “I’ve never done anything like this before. Let’s just make it up.”
We decided that we’d each take a moment alone to be with our daughter’s spirit. We lit the holy wood to help cleanse our spirits and the air. We sat in silence and then I poured a tiny bit of ash into my hand. I stood close to the edge of the canyon and prayed to my little girl. I don’t remember what I prayed, but I do remember feeling a mix of sorrow and incredible joy. As I released my hand of the ashes I heard the click of the camera lens, Eli decided to take a few pictures to capture the moment. A fine dust remained on my skin and before I could stop myself, I licked my palm. It tasted bitter. My own communion with my own flesh and blood.
It was Eli’s turn. There was such love and exuberance as he released her ashes into the air. Turning back to look at me, he was smiling, tears lingered on his cheeks. We sat together for a while on the blanket and held one another. I felt at peace. “This is ‘Poppy Point’,” Eli announced proudly. “Of course!” I said feeling a rush of gratitude for my incredible life partner. “Now she’ll get to watch every sunset,” he pointed out.
We were scheduled to leave the Grand Canyon later that day, but decided to watch the sunset before heading to Nevada where we would visit my sister and her family. We were excited to share in just one of the endless sunsets our daughter’s spirit would witness at Hopi Point. It was crushing not to have Poppy in our arms, but I felt bonded to her spirit and that sacred spot of the Universe.
When we arrived back at Hopi Point that evening, there were several people already there, camped out for the sky’s show. We wanted to sit on the rock that Eli dubbed “Poppy Point” but there were a few people taking pictures there, so we lingered until they moved on. When the rock was clear we moved in and set up our tripod camera. It was really cold that evening. Rather than sit on our blanket I wrapped it around my shoulders to keep warm. Eli snapped pictures of the setting sun. Suddenly, I felt compelled to bundle the blanket in my arms. As I had the previous morning, I could feel Poppy there, swaddled in my arms. My heart breaking, holding on to the memory of her. Eli noticed me and took our picture. Then we took some family portraits. When I look at those pictures now, I see my child in my arms. I see a beautiful family.
I originally wrote this story down in February. My grief has transformed since then, so has my relationship to my daughter’s spirit. Since Poppy died I am finding solace and release by creating ritual and ceremony. Eli and I were so excited to create our own family traditions with Poppy. Scattering her ashes at the Grand Canyon was one way to do that. We are creating memories with her, even in her death. We are honoring the life we created together, and nurturing the family we are today. Hearts open, facing our pain, full with love.