A bridge spanning the Vermillion River helps symbolize the eternal bond of love
A bittersweet tale of a loving husband who, on their anniversary, heads to the special spot where he’d scattered his beloved wife’s ashes.
It was a long trip. Some might say that it was not really worth it. However, when I consider the thousands of miles followers of the Islamic faith travel en route to Mecca, and the hardships that thousands of Christians endure during pilgrimages to Christian sacred sites, a few hundred miles is not very far.
It was necessary for me, on that special day, to visit the place where I scattered the remains of my late wife. June 17 was our wedding anniversary. In all the years we were married, I never missed our anniversary. I used to pretend that I had forgotten the date, that I thought it was on June 15 or 16. Meryl learned to expect me to deny that I remem- bered it, and it turned into an annual joke between us.
When Meryl passed away on October 17, 2009, she was cremated as she had requested. Following the well-attended service to celebrate her life, the immediate family accompanied me to the Vermilion River, which winds its way through Capreol in northern Ontario. My disabled wife and I had owned a home there, and she got great pleasure in our frequent drives along the banks of this beautiful river. We always used to stop by a bridge that crossed the river and watch its current swirl southward.
When she was alive, I would take a folding chair and place it as close to the water’s edge as possible. Meryl would sit quietly, reading a book or watching my attempts to catch fish. She sat there, soaking in the beauty of the scenery, until I was willing to concede that once again the fish had outsmarted me.
I chose that particular spot to scatter Meryl’s remains because of Meryl’s love of travelling and all the places we had enjoyed together over the years. The Vermilion River winds its way through serene farmlands to the municipality of Chelmsford. It joins up with the Spanish River, which continues through Espanola and Webbwood. The
Above: Photos of Reg and Meryl through the years, from their wedding day to just one year before Meryl passed away.
waters then flow into Lake Huron, past Lac Sainte-claire and Lake Erie and over Niagara Falls into Lake Ontario. They quickly move past Stoney Creek, Hamilton, Mississauga, Toronto and Scarborough, and proceed down the St. Lawrence River into the Atlantic Ocean. The Gulf Stream of the Atlantic moves northward, picking up the waters and carrying them across the Atlantic Ocean, where they brush the coast of south Wales and southern England. I had not only given Meryl the opportunity to visit all of the places we had lived in Canada one final time but also sent her home to the land of her birth and the heritage she was so proud of.
My drive north took longer than usual due to highway construction. I did not mind, because my mind was occupied with the many memories of when Meryl and I travelled this route. Several times, I found myself talking out loud, as though my wife were alive and with me in the car. It was fortunate that the road was almost clear of other traffic. Anyone who observed that old man driving alone and talking to an empty car would have believed him to be crazy, but I was not alone. I knew that Meryl’s immortal spirit was travelling with me that day.
As I approached the roads that led to Capreol, I had a strong desire to take a back route that I knew always gave Meryl great pleasure. At one point, the road is narrow and rises so suddenly that the road ahead is no longer visible. Then, it descends suddenly on the other side of the hill. It does this not once but four times; after the fourth time, it narrows into one lane to cross a wooden Bailey bridge. Meryl used to scream out, “Weee!” as the car descended from each of these hills. I would also drive faster than safety would suggest, ensuring she got the full effect. As we both screamed out our “Weee!” we would burst out laughing like a couple of teenagers. Our actions were very immature, but if two adults cannot engage in childlike behavior when they are on their own, when can they? Besides, it hurt no one and gave us great amusement and pleasure.
As I reached the top of the first rise, I felt the presence of my late wife Meryl stronger than I have felt it since she passed away. The feeling was so strong that I could not resist the urge to glance towards the passenger seat beside me. For a split sec- ond, I could see her just as I remember her. Her image was looking towards the road ahead and suddenly turned towards me and smiled in anticipation of the approaching hill. The image appeared to begin the customary “Weee!” and I started to join in. Suddenly, the image was gone. I screamed out our cry even louder as my car went over each rise and kept screaming until it reached the bridge. I knew from that point on that Meryl was indeed with me and that we would be together on our anniversary as we had always been.
I was to stay at my brother’s house in Capreol, but before I arrived there, I had to drive along the riverbank. It was just as I remembered it, still flowing strong and unchanged. I crossed over the bridge, turned around and then proceeded to my brother’s home, stopping for a second to wipe my eyes and regain my posture. When I arrived, my brother Mick was waiting for me with a hot meal.
On June 16, I purchased flowers at the local store. I drove down the river in the pouring rain, crossed the bridge and parked. After walking to the centre of the bridge, I dropped the flowers one by one into the crystal-clear, fast-flowing river. Each time I dropped a flower, I remembered something Meryl and I had done together. I spoke the words of remembrance out loud, although I know that whatever dimension Meryl now resides in she can read my thoughts. I believe she could do that when she was alive. I left the bridge that Wednesday, vowing to return the next day.
The Thursday was a beautiful day, and the sun was shining. As I parked my car alongside the bridge, I stopped to pick
As I reached the top of the first rise, I felt the presence of my late wife Meryl stronger than I have felt it since she passed away.
some wildflowers. I took the collection of white, yellow, blue and purple flowers with me to the middle of the bridge. I spoke to Meryl as if she was standing beside me. Like the previous day, I threw the flowers into the waters one by one to make the moment last. I stood on the bridge as the current carried the flowers down its winding path, watching until the last flower was almost out of sight.
Before I left the bridge that day, I felt the need to stretch my hand out across the water. On my pinky finger was the wedding ring I had placed on Meryl’s hand the day we were married. I wanted Meryl and the spirits of the river to see it and know that the love it symbolized did not die. She had worn the ring every day of our marriage; the only time she removed it was during hospitalizations. Even on those occasions, she ensured that she had it close to her. But on the night she died, she had taken the ring off her hand and placed it in a tray in our dining room. We had often joked that if she ever gave me the ring back, our marriage vows would be declared void. I often made out that I was trying to take the ring from her and she would resist and say, “Off of my dead body.” It was as if her final gesture with the ring was an indication that she knew her time was imminent and wanted to save me the disagreeable task of removing it. She had given it back to me and released me from my vows.
I admit that I wiped tears from my eyes as I returned to the car and drove away from the bridge. Similar tears are making it difficult for me to write this account of my pilgrimage. I am not one who is prone to weep- ing. I have seen a lot of sorrow during my life, but I never really knew the pain of loneliness until Meryl had to leave me. Ours was not a physical relationship because of Meryl’s health over her last few years, but it was one of pure love, support and fond companionship that people of advanced age need to enrich their final days.
Before I left Capreol, I paid one last visit to the bridge. At my age, I did not know how many times I could make the trip. I do not really believe it matters if I cannot return to that special bridge again. The words from a famous poem that I spoke at Meryl’s memorial service came back to me, “Do not stand at my grave and cry, I am not there, I did not die.” Those words now have more significance for me than ever before. Meryl lives on in my memories.
On my return drive to southern Ontario, I felt Meryl’s presence with me all the way. Large distances, and even death, do not create a barrier when a bond has been established. I have always believed that death is only a stop on a person’s life journey. It is not the end but merely a new beginning.
Since that first pilgrimage to the banks of the Vermilion River, I have made several more trips to pay my everlasting respect and express my thanks to my late wife. Each time, I am filled with a host of mixed and conflicting emotions. There is joy in reliving the memories of our life together and sadness that she is no longer here to inspire me. There is pride in all that we achieved together, as well as regret for things I should have said and done when I had the chance.
That particular spot on that beautiful river has come to symbolize my love and devotion to all those things that mean so much to me. My love for a loyal and beautiful woman, my love of nature’s beauty and all of God’s creations, my devotion to my family and friends, and my desire to continue to live my life as Meryl would have wanted me to. The constant flow of the river has come to symbolize that life also must continue to flow until it reaches the place it is destined for.
To the many people, young and old, who frequent the banks of the Vermilion River, I say, “Enjoy its beauty and take pleasure in its splendour. Let it help you create your own personal memories as it has for me.” It is a physical symbol of God’s everlasting love, which will flow long after most of us have passed on to our final reward. n