A surprise starfish from a stranger

While watching TV, my phone beside me buzzed. A quick glance showed an unknown number from Washington State, so I tapped the red decline button, thinking ‘telemarketer, spam, someone selling something.’ A few minutes later, I received a text message from the same number: Please call me about Gregory’s starfish.

I was about to text back something vaguely cheeky like Sounds intriguing, but I don’t know anything about any starfish! Then I realized the texter had also left a voicemail, so listened closely to the message. A kindly sounding man’s voice said, ”We made the heart and the starfish for Gregory, and every once in a while, we get a little crack in the glass on one of the starfish legs, and we’d like permission to make another one.” He was calling from a place called Artful Ashes.

Oh, I thought soberly. I Googled the business name. Exactly what I expected from their moniker. So, instead I texted back, I can tell this is something very meaningful to someone, and I don’t want you to think your message was ignored, but I’m afraid you have the wrong number. I hope you can find the right contact information. Take care.

Oops, thank you, a new text popped up, replete with a heart emoji.

No worries, I wrote back. I’ve had a memorial made of a loved one’s ashes, too, so I appreciate what you are doing.

My mind flashed back wistfully to nearly three years ago when, facing the tenth anniversary of my brother’s death, I wondered what to do with the parcel of his ashes that I’d been holding onto for a decade. A dear friend who lost her prematurely born baby daughter had had a ring made with a pinch of the cremains. I thought it was a beautiful way to commemorate this tiny girl, to prove that she had once been real and tangible, to hold a bit of her against her mother’s skin.

I figured that was the end of my text thread with this nice stranger, but instead, I received a photo of a blown glass starfish with a rainbow of colors emanating from the center, lustrous and swirly, amid silvery granular specks. I could easily see how one of the delicate arms could be broken in the process of making. And also, why someone would want one.

How beautiful! I texted back.

Did we make yours? he wrote.

I can’t remember the name of the lovely woman who made my friend’s ring. But I do remember that she instructed me, with great care, how to legally mail a teaspoon of my brother’s ashes to her. I had to tell the post office to send it Express Mail (as if something inside could perish?) and to have them adhere a foreboding black sticker on the front that read, “Human Cremains.” Pets’ ashes don’t require such morbid labeling — it seemed just another way we are all creeped out to even admit death happens to us humans.

No, I wrote back, but I was very grateful that another artisan helped me.

I love the pendant that was made with a pinch of my brother’s ashes pressed under a piece of translucent crystal. It’s elegant, yet understated. Wearing it when I’m missing him feels reassuring. This person who makes memorial artwork out of the ashes of dearly departed people (and pets) could have texted and called anyone accidentally, but it felt meaningful that this misdirect had landed in my inbox.

Perfect, my new generous friend texted, We hope it helps you heal. (another heart emoji)

I closed our thread, Thank you. It does. ❤

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