After the Exit, A Scattered Road Trip

After the Exit, A Scattered Road Trip
Mike standing at the hilltop above Cape Reinga, the northernmost point of New Zealand, and the place where the Maori believe the dead begin their journey to the afterlife.

The first time Mike and I talked about his remains, we were not talking about his remains. It was 2007. He was having a terrible time with some of the side effects from his arsenic trial, and it was the first time I had really considered what those side effects might do to him. We were lying in bed, and I was crying. I couldn’t help it. I had waited until he was drifting off with his back to me, so he wouldn’t know. I was having trouble breathing through my tears, but I managed to keep my voice even, and I asked him what he believed would happen to him after he died. He said he didn’t know, that he didn’t believe in Hell, he didn’t know if he believed in Heaven, and he didn’t care what was done to his body. “I don’t care where I end up,” he said, “I just want to be with you.”

That became the directive. Each time we brushed against the topic for the next thirteen years, in POA forms or conversation with social workers. We didn’t buy cemetery plots, we didn’t plan for headstones. We both knew that whatever I wanted to be done with my eventual remains, whenever that time came, that’s what he wanted to be done with his.

As it turned out, this was slightly less practical than it sounded. When Mike became bedbound, we started talking about his death in tangible terms. What did he want in terms of a funeral. How he wanted to be memorialized. And of course, the remains.

“I just want to be where you are.”

But for the next fifty years, and if I’m lucky more, what then? Where would I keep Mike’s remains? How would I keep them safe and also with me? How would I honor these wishes and also acknowledge that, per his fervent desires, I might at some point remarry, or otherwise join my life with somebody else? What if there’s a house fire or a flood? There are so many things that can happen to a volatile object in one decade, let alone half a dozen.

So we started talking about options.

He and I decided that we were going to interpret this concept more literally. A portion of Mike’s ashes would become a diamond, and I would set them in a ring that I can wear every day, forever, so that he will always be with me.

However, as it turns out, a man the size of Michael Grover creates a lot of cremains. I could have turned him into a full set of diamonds for everyone in the family, something he definitely didn’t want (and ridiculously expensive), and still had part of his remains leftover.

The next, and most obvious answer, was to scatter his ashes at my family home in Michigan, where I plan to be either buried or have my own ashes scattered. This matched his wishes most closely, but he and I agreed it was a kind of unkindness to his family, who live in Minnesota and have never been to my family property.

I jokingly asked if there was anywhere particularly wonderful he wanted to spend eternity, if he wanted me to take kids back to New Zealand, where we honeymooned, and scatter his ashes off Cape Reinga, where the local Maori believe the dead begin their journey to the afterlife.

He said yes. Maybe in jest, it was his kind of joke, but I ran with it. We had always talked about bringing the children back to New Zealand. I asked, “What about all the other places we wanted to take the children? The road trips, the camping trips, Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon and Maine…”

And soon, it was agreed upon. Mike wanted me to take the children to all the places he had wanted the five of us to go, as a family, to bring him with us, to scatter his ashes along the way and in those places we would always know and love together, with him, without him.

Those of you who follow me on social media may have noticed a shift in recent weeks. While I’m still not writing much long-form, I’ve been writing more and more short bits, attached to photographs. Mostly on Instagram. Our Mike-scatterings have begun.

It’s hard to write about this in most ways. It’s all raw, it’s all immediate, but it’s so important to me to get this down now. Firstly because this is going to be a book. I am going to turn this experience into a book about grief and children, about Mike’s last year, about facing death with honesty and without fear, about grieving with intention. About driving 7,000 miles just me and my kids and scattering Mike’s ashes.

We’re not doing all of them this summer. The kids and I discussed it, and we’re going to make it an annual family vacation. This year, we’re scattering his ashes in six places. Next year, it will be three, and they’re much closer together. At some point, yes, we will take them to New Zealand. But that’s a long way off, I expect.

This summer, most of the summer, we’re road tripping, me and the girls, our newly redefined family of four. We’re having a wonderful time. We’re seeing wonderful things. We’re laughing so much, and loving each other so hard… and we’re crying together and holding each other and learning who we are without Mike.

It’s hard. It’s ridiculously hard.

But it is so good.

I’ve been telling people that this is Mike’s last request, me and the girls taking these trips, and that’s not exactly the truth. His last request was for a batch of gingerbread cookies that I never made. But the trip is something he wanted for us. For him, he didn’t care. He wasn’t afraid of the void of death, he was only worried that his girls, me and our daughters, would struggle to find ourselves and find joy when he was gone.

He’s gone, and we’re doing our best. Most of the time we’re doing pretty damn well. And I think in part it’s because this is what he wanted, what he told us he wanted every chance he got. He wants us to be happy, have fun, and have the life he wanted for us. And that means that a few weeks ago we climbed into the car with a little urn full of Mike’s ashes and had some adventures.

You can (and should!) follow me on Instagram to keep up with them. I’m trying to keep them posting to Facebook as well, but the app keeps giving me trouble and my widow brain is making navigating that harder than I’d like. I’m still working on things like titles and hashtags to make it easier to follow, so please feel free to chime in with suggestions.

Last week we scattered Mike’s ashes at my family property. Next, we’re scattering them in Minnesota, and after that our travel will take us to two oceans. Yes, by car. Yes, just the four of us.

If you’re thinking, “What the Hell is wrong with you, this is an insane thing for a newly single mom and a widow of six months to do with three kids and no back-up,” your concerns have been heard (repeatedly) and noted. But if you want to voice your concerns or even better your support by donating to the expenses for this trip, I could certainly use the help! There are hotel and campsite fees, tents, emergency gear, food on the road, museum admissions, equipment rentals, extra audiobooks… we’re riding burros to the bottom of the Grand Canyon at one point. It’s not a cheap vacation. This was supposed to be paid for by Mike’s life insurance policy, but that was before I didn’t get an MRI I still had to pay for and a new furnace and air conditioning system on one extremely dreadful day. I can’t even begin to explain the horror of that day, you may have to wait for the book for the details, but suffice to say it was one for the records.

Please consider donating for these expenses either through the GoFundMe for Mike’s end-of-life expenses or via PayPal at love4thegrovers@gmail.com.

More than anything, please follow along on Instagram. I’m taking pictures of everything, notes for the book, yes, but also for us. For the kids. For Sophia, who is afraid of forgetting her father, and for Rivka, who is afraid to speak about her grief, and for Deborah, who speaks about him with so much bravery.

And for me, because I need to do this for myself, too.

As Henry V said, and as Mike liked to say before his surgeries, “Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more.”

We’re heading off into the terrifying unknown. The incredible unknown.

I hope I see you there.


You can read more about getting into the car as grief therapy: The Inevitability of Hope and Change


Read my most recent post here: The Weight of the Sky


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