Before she even told me her name she told me most of her life story. I was on a layover waiting for flight 1557 in Salt Lake on my way home to Seattle. She was returning from San Diego on her way home to Kalisbel, Montana.
The day before I was sitting in a 5 star hotel in Colorado Springs, wallowing a little in self pity because I'm aging and struggling financially. On that same day, she was spreading some of her dead husband's ashes on the beaches of California - the rest of them lay in an urn on the seat next to us at the airport bar.
He died three months ago, unexpectedly, in the middle of the night next to her in bed. She shared her story with me in detail: On the night he died they built a bonfire in the backyard and invited neighbors over for beers and company. He argued with one of them and she scolded him for it. They went to bed a little mad at one another; "never do that," she told me. "It's true what they say, don't ever go to bed angry."
Her name is Mary, her husband's name was Barry but she and everyone else call him Bear. They were soul mates, according to Mary. When they met 14 years ago she was engaged to someone else, but the minute she met Bear she knew he was the one for her - she quickly broke off her engagement and 3 months later Bear moved in with her.
Bear was an artist with a passion for tile work. He loved animals, Mary and Dancing with the Stars. He told Mary that when he died he hoped he'd be greeted by Francis of Assisi, the Patron Saint of Animals because he'd much rather hang out with animals than people. In my imagination, based on the gleam in Mary's eye and smile on her face when she talks about Bear, I picture him as a big burly happy man with a heart of gold.
She misses him terribly. In the last three months she's had three different memorials. Bear wanted to be buried in a pine box in the back yard but Mary said no way. She didn't want to have to visit him there if someone else owned the house. So in a compromise she created three tiny pine boxes and buried some of his ashes, along with a love letter she wrote to him, on their property. Later, Mary took more ashes and three-wheeled around their property scattering Bear while taking shots of whiskey. Finally, she put a tiny amount of his ashes in a silver bear pendant that she wears on a chain around her neck. She plays with it while she tells stories about him.