Ashes Don't Always Fall To Ashes
They were gathered under a full circle of bright sky scattered with lacy intermingling clouds served up with a pale slice of tender moon, mingling on the very edge of the continent where earth, heaven and water meet on a single plane.
Shading their eyes against the brightness and the tears, they watched as the balloon bounded upward beyond where keening seaguls wheeled and gyred. All nature appeared oblivious to this gathering of joyful sorrowing people clustered at one end of the tenuous shore, souls connected through sight to that ever rising balloon.
The words of the man, Gil Brier, were still reverberating in their hearts, like the last lingering chord on a sweetly tuned cello.
He spoke of his wife before the balloon was released: as a bereaved lover, a mystic seeker of life's meaning, a poet singing to celebrate the life of the beloved, a reminder to all of the life quest many have forgotten, or set aside for far too long.
"Today" he told family and friends, "we are launching the mortal remains of Adrienne Brier to timeless space, eternity, the place of new beginnings."
"Here in my arms, I hold this quiet dust."
"The laughing lips, the feet that rove, the face, the body that was loved. Mere dust, no more, yet nothing less."
"And this has suffered consciousness, passion and terror, and this again shall suffer passion, pain and death. For life without the consideration of immortality is a philosophy of emptiness."
"To consider immortality, however, time just has no meaning except as a point of reference to eternity."
"Time obsession is the root of much of the evil in our world."
"Many of us constantly run a race with time. There is so little time we think, to find and enjoy the good things in life. We discriminate, we cheat, we will without compunction. Without a belief in both immortality and the superior intelligence some call God within it, we act like jungle beasts, with survival for as long as possible the only law."
"Adrienne's life, dedicated to helping others, illuminated and exemplified the philosophy of immortal eternity."
"I hardly understand, yet here in the hollow of my hand a bit of God I hold between two vigils, fallen asleep. For as all flesh must die, so all now dust shall live. It's natural."
"Incognito God, Anonymous Lord, with what name shall I call you? Where shall I discover the mystic word that will invoke you from eternity?"
"Is that sweet sound the heart makes, clocking life, your appellation? Is it the noise of thunder? Is it the hush of peace. The sound of strife?"
"I have no title for your glorious throne and for your presence not a golden word. Only that wanting you, by that alone I do invoke you, believing I am heard."
And so to my incognito, anonymous Lord God, I implore that you send out your light, your truth and lead these mortal remains of my love, which I am about to release, to your presence."
"We too will someday pass again to the 'Place of Origins.' As we release the container, I ask those gathered here to join with me in the thought that as we someday pass to that place, we will reunite with previous travelers, dear to us, and together move through timeless eternity."
With those words the balloon, filled with helium and the cremated remains of Gil's wife ascended into the sky where its progress upward was followed by eye and lens for several long minutes, up into the bright haze of the heavens.
The business that made all this possible "The Eternal Ascent Society," is operated by Crystal River native Joanie West.
It was created, she says, to assist those suffering from the loss of a loved one or a precious pet, helping to close the door in a memorable and befitting way.
"For those families who have chosen cremation," she says on the society's Web site- eternalascent.com - "it's an ideal way to say farewell."
The mechanics of the business work like this: "After being provided with the remains (in whole or part) we will deposit the remains in an environmentally-safe, biodegradable balloon, approximately four feet in diameter."
"This is accomplished while the balloon is inflated inside a specially-designed acrylic containment unit (preventing accidental breakage). The balloon remains in the containment unit until just prior to release."
"The balloon and containment unit are then transported to the release area, where they are sent on their flight to the heavens."
"We only release on beautiful weather days," she reports, noting that the balloon can be seen floating skyward for about 2 miles.
When the balloon reaches something like 5 miles into the atmosphere where the temperature cools to 40 degrees below zero, the balloon freezes and shatters to release the ashes to the four winds.
"It's breathtaking," she says. "Simply breathtaking."
For Gil Brier and those who knew and loved his wife, Adrienne, it was a fine way to say goodbye, at least until another time.
Nearby, oblivious to the ceremony, a family with three tow-headed kids waded in the water by the fishing pier at the end of Fort Island Gulf Beach, searching the warm shallows for bait. The mother, with a narrow young-old face, wore a thin print dress and next to her was the lean and lanky father, gazing intently into the cloud-reflecting water like a heron over a fish.
The balloon became a pinpoint and disappeared from sight.
Slowly, the group fell apart, saying their goodbyes and left the beach, heading for what Gil said was Adrienne's last dinner party at a nearby Chinese restaurant.
They left their own thoughts, still vibrating with mixed emotions after this gentle act of closure, while the small Florida family continued their search in the shallows where the Crystal River enters and becomes one with the Gulf of Mexico.