Cheryl Krauter’s latest memoir, Odyssey of Ashes, is both a moving tribute to her late husband John and the celebration of an emergent woman who finds herself “being carried on great winds across the sky” in a cradle of intermittent sorrow and enlightenment.
Krauter’s background in sciences related to human consciousness appears to have inspired the structure and form of her memoir. Beginning each chapter with carefully selected words and quotes help set a presentiment of what’s to come. She smoothly takes the reader along on a journey to get to know John, a man who loved fly fishing and who even managed to get Cheryl to accompany him to learn the sport. She says, “..what I really enjoyed was being with John in his element…sharing a quiet moment side by side.”
The odyssey of John’s ashes begins with a trip to the Madison River in Montana, a premiere fly-fishing river of the world. The author spends an incredible July day fishing the river that John would have fished with her, since he won the trip at a raffle hosted by Casting for Recovery. After her day on the river, Cheryl sets out to find a place to scatter John’s ashes. Suddenly she finds herself caught in a tempest; torrents of rain hammer her car, rendering the road impossible to navigate. The reader can’t be sure whether this is some sort of divine interference mingling with electromagnetic storms, or surreal visages and cacophonic sounds exaggerated by a terrified widow caught in a rainstorm. Suddenly she hears John’s gentle voice guiding her to his eternal resting spot along the river, just as the storm subsides.
Written in an enjoyable flowing format with chapters divided between two main sections, Krauter’s book will break your heart while channeling habits of self pity toward doing a greater good. If you, like Cheryl, find yourself alone and wracked by moments of immobilization while clearing out closets or garage items, you’ll find good examples of ways to carry on. From creating an annual Day of the Dead altar to commemorate the departed, dressing up to go to town once in awhile, finding life’s humor and ironies, or looking for signs of life all around you, Krauter shares personal, interesting anecdotes.
She also shared the folktale of Mis, a little known wild woman of Irish mythology. Mis, an archetypal woman who lives within us, “screams the rage we are afraid to express, wails the grief that threatens to swallow us whole, expresses the unacceptable inner voices we suppress out of fear.” Mis demonstrates the need to honor mourning in all its forms, from wild expressions of rage to subtle moments of screaming silently inside. Since the earliest of times, primal mourning sounds offered release for broken hearts. Odyssey of Ashes is a sort of keening for Krauter.
I highly recommend this book for those who’ve lost a spouse and want to understand how one woman is working through it.