On the evening of July 19th my amazing grandparents were laid to rest in their beloved Lake Michigan.
“Now, when I go,” my Grandpa told me the last time I saw him, “wait until Grammie goes then give us both to RJ, he’ll know what to do. It’s important that we go home together.”
Confused I called my brother, but he knew exactly what Grandpa was talking about. “He wants their ashes to go in Lake Michigan at sunset,” RJ told me, “and he wants me to be the one to drive the boat.”
Less than 2 months after this exchange, my Grandpa passed away. Then, last June, my Grammie joined him.
This past summer we laid both of them to rest in the Great Lake that spans from Grandpa’s hometown of Evanston to Grammie’s hometown of Milwaukee to where they raised their family in Chicago up to Northern Michigan, where Winter family memories have been made for generations. With the exception of their retirement years spent in Arizona, Grammie and Grandpa always lived within a few miles of Lake Michigan.
In a summer full of gorgeous days, there was something especially beautiful about July 19th. The lake was calm and enormous as we boarded the boat and toasted my grandparents with glasses full of Grandpa’s favorite Scotch and Grammie’s favorite vodka. It was special to have so many of the Winter family onboard: my parents, two of my dad’s sisters, three cousins, one niece and all four of my siblings. As we cruised to dinner, we shared favorite memories of Grammie and Grandpa.
The summer sun sets late in Northern Michigan and the sky was just starting to glow as we boarded the boat after dinner. We cruised toward the setting sun for a few minutes before RJ cut the motor and suddenly the stillness of the lake was all around us.
At their request, we mixed Grammie and Grandpa’s ashes together before we gathered at the stern of the boat and said a few words about this amazing and spirited duo. As the sun set slowly to the west, a full moon rose in the east and we were surrounded by a beauty so great, there was no question that Grammie and Grandpa were there with us.
Slowly we each poured Grammie and Grandpa’s ashes into the quiet water and watched as the they lingered at the surface and spread through the water. It was nothing short of ethereal, the way the ashes met the water and took on an almost angelic quality. It was really a remarkable sight and one I’m glad I was able to experience with my family.
I’m glad that Grammie and Grandpa chose this as their final resting place. Spreading their ashes on Lake Michigan was a celebration not only of my grandparents and their lives but of the family that they created. Their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren were all represented and the Winter Family’s favorite Lake Michigan has become a place even more sacred. I told my niece, Chloe, as we watched the ashes in the water, “now every time we go for a boat ride or take a swim in the lake, Grammie and Grandpa will be with us.”
And they will.
Robert John Winter, Sr. 1918-2010
Barbara Ragsdale Winter 1922-2015