Thursday, July 14, 2011

Tribute at Grand Canyon West

Most people don't believe this story, but I'll tell it anyway.

Seven years after Daniel's death, I received a phone call from the funeral home in Durham, NC.

"Is this Alice Wisler?"
"We have your son's ashes."
"His ashes?" My mind spun. Then what had I buried seven years ago in that little lamb urn? "But I buried him." The words came out slowly.
"These are the extras."
"Sometimes," the woman at the other end assured me, "There are more than what fit inside the urn."
Gulping, I nodded into the phone.
"Would you like them?"
Would I like them? What mother wouldn't want the leftovers?

I made the trek across town and picked up a white box that had Daniel's name on a card inside. The box was heavy, and I was eager----in a strange sort of curious way--- to look inside. At home, I opened the box to view fragments of bones. I'd never seen ashes up close and was amazed at how chalky, gray, and dirt-like they are.

For seven years, I kept the box of ashes inside my bedside table.

As I worked on a novel (yet to be published), I created a scene where the mother of a young deceased boy spreads his ashes over the Grand Canyon. She crosses the United States from North Carolina to Arizona by RV.

And then, they say that truth can be stranger than fiction, the day came when we planned a trip out West. My husband booked us on a bi-plane flight from Boulder, NV to Grand Canyon West with a helicopter ride into the Canyon and then a trek on a pontoon boat down the Colorado River. "Take Daniel," he encouraged me. "You can do like the woman in your novel."

Thinking that was a great idea, I packed some of Daniel's ashes in a small bottle. I'm an avid watcher of the show, Locked Up Abroad and I hoped that no authorities would think the contents of the bottle were suspicious as I went through the security check before boarding the aircraft to our first destination of Las Vegas.

On Saturday, July 2, we set out on our Grand Canyon experience. A bus picked us up at our hotel in Vegas, taking us to Boulder City where we got on a bi-plane that flew us to the edge of the Grand Canyon. Next came the scenic helicopter ride into the Canyon, my daughter Liz seated next to me by the pilot, Carl and my son Ben seated behind us. The helicopter took us to the sloping edge of the Canyon where we walked down to the dock. A pontoon boat waited. This part of the journey was the most meaningful for me. This was where I would do what I'd never done before, and what so many have done---scatter a loved one's ashes.

As the tour guide talked of the mighty Grand Canyon, I slowly placed the ashes into my hand. I let the sun warm them, and then dropped them into the chilly Colorado River.

What a privilege to have this experience, to pay tribute to my son on a July day fourteen years after his death.

Upon my return to North Carolina, I composed the following poem about this adventure, one I know Daniel would be tickled to hear and one that will always be a tender caress around my heart.

Saturday Tribute on the Colorado at Grand Canyon West

Cold even in the height of summer
this river runs more shallow
than a mother’s daily sorrow
Your ashes brittle in my hand
No match for the winsome kid
who once sailed down the cul-de-sac
in a vibrant plastic car
One prayer
One benediction
into the waters you stream
Bones that once embraced the
sweet laughter of yesterday
Join, my child, merge
Energize this Canyon presence
As my empty fingers shield
teary eyes from a blazing sun
in heaven I imagine
your loving gaze
mesmerized by this tribute
You always loved adventure.

~ By Alice J. Wisler


  1. Alice, I love this tribute poem to Daniel and the trip you took to the Grand Canyon. My son took a trip to the Grand Canyon and drove Route 66 in April. He throughly enjoyed the trip and one of the reasons is his dad and my husband, who died in 2001 was a truckdriver and drove that route in the early years of his truckdriving. He told my son and I about how beautiful the Route 66 and the Grand Canyon were. My son brought back beautiful photos and T-shirts and other trinkets for me to see.
    Thanks for the post!

  2. Thanks, Rebecca, for reading and for sharing about your son.