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  • Writer's pictureSarah Mason

Ashes to Ocean: My Sister, My Grief

Today, we released her ashes, scattering them into the sea. Today, we memorialized her for eternity by entwining her with the wilderness she loved.

My sister is in everything I see, everything I do. I hear her voice, see her scrunch her nose, feel her judgment and passion.

She was the sun, blinding, scorching, dazzling. She, too, was a comet and we mere mortals stood watching in awe as she careened across the sky and struck us at our core, altering our landscape and the very composition of who we are.

And as I stare out at the expanse of the sea, I find her there as well. She is in the mystery of the deep blue. She is in the white froth of the peaks of waves. She is in the churning crash of the ocean colliding with the earth. She is in the power, the ruthlessness, the glory, the freedom, the majesty. She is the unknowable, feral, unfettered spirit that rules the ocean. She, like our great seas, is a frontier we may never fully master.

Today, as the sun rose, my father, my mother, my brother, my sister by heart, and I stood at the stern of a charter boat, and we released my sister’s ashes into that wild, wondrous ocean. She is free, riding the surf and cruising the currents.


A young woman, in the military uniform for an Army medic, stands on the shoreline, smiling widely
Katie wears her uniform as an Army National Guard medic but is governed by no man. A free spirit, she is of the sea.

It’s been 2 years, 4 months, and 24 days since my sister died. I miss her every day. Though, how I miss Katie manifests differently each time. Some moments, it’s a struggle. I feel like I’m drifting along the ledge of numbness, suspended in time. My dry eyes sting, staring blindly into nothingness, Just below the surface is a decaying dam, worn by the pummeling of a river of tears that crave light. My body is rendered immobile, while my thoughts scurry like rats along into my dark corners of my mind, the corners that ask, “How can you laugh, how can you smile, how can you find normalcy in this wrongness?” I lie or sit unwavering, rendered stone by the darkness of my thoughts. I feel empty of all that matters, full of only the sludge of heavy pain. I sink into the guilt, the loneliness, the pain.

These are the bad days, hours, moments. They still come. I tumble, spiral down, sometimes only briefly. I always manage to clamber my way out. I have to. I have to. I resurface for my friends, my family, for myself, for her. I promised her. I promised her I wouldn’t forget to take her with me wherever I go. I promised to live a full life, to make it interesting, I promised to live larger than I ever lived. So I claw my way up, fingers dug in, full strength. I lug my grieving self back out of the hole it wants to hide in. I force myself back into the world of the living.

When I do, I live. I live deeply, fully, vigorously. I am living. I am exploring, witnessing, breathing, smiling, laughing, hoping. I have closed my eyes gently, let the gentle wind lift me and the pulsing sun warm me. I have spun in circles, skipped along flowers. I have followed my curiosity, leaped at opportunity, and experienced more joy than I thought I would ever know. I have more life pulsing in my blood than I recognized even in the before. I have more love to give than I knew possible. I have more life to experience than I ever knew could be lived.

It’s a choice to live with hope and joy when I could sink beneath the grief. I could let grief pull me down to the bottom of the ocean, down below even my sister’s ashes. I could let despair drown me. Or I can push to the surface, suck in the air, kick back and laugh as the sun makes my tears glisten. It’s a daily choice. Sink or surface. Surrender or live. I choose it daily. I surface and live and hope daily, even on days like today. With resounding fervor, I choose life.

My attitude towards life is not the same as my mood. My mood is temporary. My attitude dictates my direction. My mood is like a riptide. I consider and respect it, so I know how to find the shore again.

I do have those painful moments of grief. I have heartbreaking mornings, despondent afternoons, devastating evenings, forlorn nights. But more importantly, I have glorious days. Mornings full of cooing doves and possibility, afternoons with bubbling laughter, evenings blanketed in peace and calm, and nights where the stars dance for me and I for them.

I can’t stop the hurt when it comes, even if I want to. Instead, I let the grief hit me like the sea hits the land. My lungs wheeze and my eyes well. My clenched jaw aches from the tension. There’s a tremor in my pinkie finger. My body resists angrily at the truth of my hurt. It’s a wave of loneliness. I want her back here; I want my sister beside me, bickering with me. It’s a lonely life without her. We were supposed to grow wrinkled together. We were supposed to be old biddies, pestering our little brother, caring for our beloved parents, disagreeing on who loves and cares better and quarrelling on who is the favorite. I can’t introduce her to my new friends and watch in annoyance as she eyeballs them and scrunches her nose unimpressed. I can’t call her to fill the quiet moments when I just need some reckless, ridiculous distraction. I can’t reach out to her to remind myself I’m not alone in this world and never will be.

A tear falls, a second and third as I sink in my grief. Then, I hear her make a ridiculous screech and ruin my wallowing. I can hear her belch, slam a door, meow, or call me “dork.” Chasing away the silence and its bleak thoughts.


It’s perfectly fine to not be happy and hopeful all the time. My grief does not define who I am, it is not my future. My grief is not my destiny. For I have decided that my grief is my teacher, opening my eyes, encouraging me to live boldly and fully. So some days, I think of my sister and I hurt. But also, some days, many days, I think of my sister and I smile. I think of how she would love the towering sunflowers I pass on my walk. I hold a garter snake and revel in the memory as she, in jealousy, called me a snake whisperer. I spot a wandering dog and think how she would see a lost dog flyer and spend her Saturday scouring neighborhoods for the poor pup, so I joyfully am late to meet friends because I am busy searching for the terrier’s home. The sun beats down and I think of her. The moon crescents and I think of her. Thunder rumbles and I smile. Cicadas sing and I am comforted. She is in so much that I see, hear, smell, and feel. And when she is not in the world I experience, I can hear her opinion.

I look for the beauty whenever and wherever I can. I let the lovely world around me encourage me to fight to live abundantly. I feel I share the world with my sister.

So today, as we freed her ashes to the ocean, an entity mysterious and marvelous as the one and only Katydid, I emphatically know she is and always has been free and I am free to grieve her and honor her and remember her and love her. And I live my life boldly because of her.


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