My Dad’s Ashes Odyssey, pt 1.

Itinerary: 

  • Thursday: Fly to Richmond, VA
  • Friday: Drive to DC, go to Nationals/Reds game
  • Saturday: Touring the National Mall
  • Sunday: Drive back to Richmond and fly to ATL

Dates: June 30-July 3, 2016

Our Odyssey: 

While certainly not the first
step in the grieving process, a significant one in my family was our first trip
to spread my dad’s ashes.

My mom’s decision to have my dad
cremated instead of buried is one for which I am increasingly grateful. We’ve
identified a handful of my dad’s favorite places where we will spreads some of
his ashes. The first opportunity we had was in Washington, DC at a Washington
Nationals. v. Cincinnati Reds baseball game.

My dad was an avid baseball fan
all of his life, specifically of the Reds, and he had forged a friendship with
the Reds former manager Dusty Baker, who now manages the Nationals. Dusty and
their mutual friend Buzz coordinated together to get tickets in the family and
friends section of the stadium for me, my mom, brother and Tim for the Friday
evening game on 4th of July weekend. He also said we’d be welcome to leave some
of my dad’s ashes at the stadium.

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My dad, in the mid- to -late 1960s, in his baseball uniform.

Tim and I flew into Richmond that
Thursday night to sync up with my mom and brother, and then on Friday morning
we all drove up together. DC is about 2 and a half hours from Richmond. We
headed to the game that afternoon, mom carrying a bag that had two small mason jars
with some of dad’s ashes. Once in the stadium we enjoyed all the typical
baseball game fare – frozen margaritas, beers, hot dogs, ice cream – all from
amazing seats right behind home plate.

This game went into a whopping 14
innings before the Nationals won 3-2. That’s right – 14 whole innings, score
3-2. After the very long game (it was already 11pm), Buzz went with us to the
bottom level of the stadium where we waited outside the locker room for Dusty
Baker to come meet with us. We also got to see all the players leaving from the
locker room after showering up – I’ll admit this didn’t suck.

When Dusty came out, we chatted
for a bit and thanked him for his kindness to us and as a friend to my dad. We
weren’t able to go out on the field since the stadium was closing, but we gave
Dusty the container and he ran back into the locker room and put them on his
desk. Mom told me later he went with a chaplain out onto the field later on and
said a prayer and left some of my dad’s ashes on the pitching mound and home
plate. This was really meaningful for us, though I have to say it was less
ceremonial than I had envisioned. Something about just handing off a little
mason jar just felt very quotidian when in reality it’s far from it. That said,
we all agreed dad would have loved that game and loved going down near the
locker rooms to meet with the players, and he would be really happy knowing a
little bit of him will be in that spot forever.

After the game we went back to
our hotel – the Renaissance Downtown, near DC’s small (and relatively
uninspiring) China Town – and grabbed surprisingly good food and drinks at the
gastropub next door.

The next morning we were up early
to take advantage of the free and amazing breakfast buffet that came with our
room before venturing out to explore the Washington Mall and Smithsonian
museums. We took an Uber out to the Lincoln Memorial, on the western end of the
mall, and then walked along the trail next to the reflecting pool up towards
the Capital building, stopping at various monuments along the way. Particularly
moving and beautiful were the WWII and Vietnam War memorials – we spent a lot
of time around there before ending up in front of the Washington Monument,
where we took some requisite family photos.

image

Mom, Travis and me on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, looking out over the reflecting pool and the Washington Monument.

image

Tim at the WWII Memorial

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Mom and Travis walking along the Vietnam War Memorial.

That afternoon we visited the
Natural History Museum, where we saw Egyptian mummies, preserved mammals, and
an outstanding IMAX 3-D film about the US National Parks and the power of
nature (it made me tear up). We also spent a few hours in the Air and Space
Museum (arguably the coolest of the Smithsonian museums) where I indulged in
space ice cream (my favorite treat from coming up to DC for field trips with my
dad when I was elementary school) before watching a mind-blowing film about
dark matter in the museum’s planetarium.

image

At the Natural History Museum

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Intricately decorated interior of an Egyptian coffin.

After this we were all pretty
hungry so we got some food at a Basque culture festival that was happening at
the eastern end of the mall in front of the Capital and then, sitting on the
lawn, watched a band perform for a while. It was truly a lovely day, and we
were all pleasantly surprised by how NOT hectic DC was shaping out to be on 4th
of July weekend!

image

Tim and I on the lawn enjoying the band.

That night we got a second dinner
at the gastropub by our hotel, and my friend Catherine from elementary &
high school, as well as college, came to meet up as well. After food, my mom
went up to bed and Catherine, Tim, Travis and I ventured to “China
Town” to find a bar or place to hang out. We didn’t find a bar, but we did
find a sit down Chinese restaurant that also served us a few sake bombs (a
first for my brother!).

The next morning, Tim stayed at
the hotel to get a few things done work-related, while mom, Travis and I
ventured out to the Capital Botanic Gardens. This was my brother’s idea, and
having only been to a botanical garden once for a wedding, I was excited to
explore. My brother enjoys going to gardens and I was really happy he
recommended checking this place out – we saw a stunning array of plants from
all over the world. It was truly beautiful.

image

Me and my brother Travis at the Botanical Gardens.

That afternoon we headed back to
Richmond, our mini-vacation complete. In some ways it was a strange weekend – I
think anytime you’re carrying someone in a jar it’s a little strange. But it
was also very therapeutic to leave a piece of my dad at a monument to a sport
he loved so much, and to revisit with my family the site of my school field
trips that dad joined as a chaperone. Half touristy, half deeply personal, all
part of the steps my family is taking on our walk through grief.

Below – a baseball cap my dad bought me on a trip to the National Zoo in DC when I was in the 1st grade.

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