Ashes to Ashes

Last night I watched, ‘The Way’, with Martin Sheen, directed by his son, Emilio Estevez. I hadn’t heard of this film until I started researching the Camino walk. I’m a little ‘off the grid’ when it comes to film these days, a turn around for the books, as 15 years ago I managed an Art House Cinema and saw everything.

The film was an enjoyable road movie, with a cast of quirky characters, strangely, not unlike ‘The Wizard of Oz’. Martin Sheen plays a middle aged, middle class doctor who receives a rather shocking phone call while playing a game of golf, that his estranged son has died walking the Camino. He flies to France to collect the remains, and ends up continuing his son’s journey, walking the Camino with his son’s ashes.

What struck me most was the beautiful scenery – It was artfully shot, and every frame had me drooling for that landscape. I found it touching and unpretentious. Thankfully it held back from being overly sentimental. It could be too slow for some viewers, but I can happily sit through a four hour film shot in real time (this isn’t however)… but it is almost 2 hours long. If you are planning to walk The Camino, it really is a must see. If you’re in the mood for a pleasant rainy day, not too challenging film, this also fits the bill.

There are several scenes in the film when Martin Sheen’s character leaves little deposits of his son’s ashes in poignant places, this reminded me of a passenger I had on a trip – She bought along the ashes of her recently deceased mother, to scatter in places she thought her mother would have enjoyed. At the top of Mt Bromo, an active volcano in Java, Indonesia, she proclaimed, “Mum would have liked this”, as she grabbed a handful of ashes. Scattering them into the volcano, she suddenly retracted, saying “Oh no, Mum didn’t like heights”. With that statement, a sudden gust of wind blew the ashes back towards another passenger, who was covered in them. Thankfully they stopped what could have been a very embarrassing situation, and calmly brushed them off, asking, “what was your mothers name again?… Nice to meet you!”

After my Dad was cremated, as my Mother was handed his remains at the crematorium, they asked, “Was your husband a big man?”. He hadn’t been, but his ashes didn’t fit in the standard urn, so she was handed two boxes. Mum decided to take the ‘leftovers’ on a ‘sentimental journey’ depositing his ashes in places around country New South Wales where they had spent time together. The ‘standard sized box’ she interred in the whiskey cabinet, I think Dad would be happy with that.

A few years later, Mum came on one of my trips. One of my other passengers was a woman whose husband had died the same month as my father. They quickly bonded and Mum asked “What did you do with your husband?”, “Well,” she began, “I don’t know exactly where he is… When I was given the ashes I had wondered what to do with them. My husband had always been good at fixing the car, and it had been playing up, so I decided he could ‘live’ in the car, and anytime I had a breakdown, I’d just call on him to help.” Time passed, and she moved overseas, leaving her son in charge of things back home. One day she received a call from her son “Mum, I’ve sold the car, you weren’t using it and I got a good deal.” Pause. “What did you do with your Father?” Silence.


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