Omer 31: Ashes, a Ritual

Omer 31: Ashes, a Ritual

Day 31: Tiferet she’b’Hod, Balance in Humility

A smiling man wearing mirrored sunglasses standing outdoors in front of a bay and a mountain

We scattered my brother-in-law Rick’s ashes today. Well, technically, his brothers in Florida did. My husband and I watched on FaceTime.

It was a sunny day in St. Petersburg, with a bright blue sky. My brothers-in-law wore mirror sunglasses. They stood near a car with mirror windows. Its trunk was open. Behind them, we saw a paved suburban street, quiet, no traffic. And a small one-story building, yellow, small, rectangular, run down. 

My brothers-in-law explained where they were. “We’re outside the local blues radio station. They’re going to do a legacy show for him next week.” Rick loved music, and donated generously to this station. My brothers-in-law pointed the camera toward the building, so we could see the call numbers in big red plastic letters.

“They have a garden. We got permission to scatter the ashes here.” Then they turned the camera towards the garden. We saw agave and other hardy plants, planted on mounds between curved sandy paths. A lovely garden for the climate, I’m sure. But sad-looking to me, a rain forest girl, used to lush soft green.

“We’re going to take the ashes out of the trunk now,” they said. “But first we have to take out the microchip.” 

I say “they,” but really Rick’s step brother J. did all the talking. Biological brother D., usually a chatterbox, held himself in silence.

A bag of ashes, cremated remains in a plastic bag

D. reached into the trunk and pulled out a plastic bag filled with fine beige dust. He stuck his hand in the bag and felt around for the microchip.

Meanwhile, we joked with J. “What if these are actually the ashes of someone who loved rock ‘n’ roll, not blues?” “No, it’s definitely Rick! We’ve been driving around with our brother in the trunk!” “Hope there’s no recording of you saying that!”

D. found the chip and set it aside. He asked me to say a prayer.

So I said the blessing mourners traditionally say just before beginning a Jewish funeral. But I added my own interpretation.

“Baruch…Dayan Ha’Emet.” “Thank you God for being the true judge, because we really don’t know what the heck is going on in this world.”

And it resonated. Rick was a difficult person, estranged from his family on and off for decades—though recently reconciled. By choice, he lived hundreds of miles from his nearest relative. He died alone, and suddenly, from cumulative health problems.

When Rick’s brothers hadn’t heard from him, they insisted that the local police do a wellness check. Police said they found a boarded-up house. Hurricane-ready, for the last storm, six weeks earlier. Surely no one was home. Maybe Rick went on a weekend trip and didn’t tell the family? So the police didn’t enter. But the brothers insisted. The police found Rick in his bed. He had died in his sleep, some days earlier.

J. turned the camera towards the garden. There, D. held the plastic bag at an angle. He walked along the garden paths, shaking the bag. Light lines of ashes poured out, the same beige colour as the garden sand.

When D. was done, he came back to the car. He put his face close to the camera. My husband and I said the Kaddish.

“I love you,” D said, and then ended the call.

What a day for humility. For seeking balance in humility. Because I like to understand things. Wisdom—spiritual, philosophical, psychological—is my life’s quest. But I didn’t understand Rick at all. He was just so different from anyone else I know.

Today I am also awed by the power of ritual. I watched the ashes drift and fall. Not long ago, Rick was embodied. He had a body; he was a body. But now he exists in memory, in the thoughts and feelings of friends and family. Who, no doubt, will continue to wrestle with Rick’s eccentricities and the hurt they caused for a very long time.

But today, we saw Rick’s body dissolve into weightless fragments. We saw how subtle his new form is. The ritual made this new form tangible. Or, rather, it reminded us that this is a natural change. It’s one of the shapes grief takes.

New to the Omer? Here’s a guide to the theory and practice. Want to learn more about different definitions of Tiferet? Here’s a resource.

Image: Photo of Rick by Charles Kaplan; Photo of ashes from

    1. Thank you, Lynne.I’m glad that came through. (I tried to write it in an understated way.) Blessings to you and Mitchell.

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