I Bring My Late Friend’s Ashes With Me Whenever I Travel


The author and her friend.
Courtesy of Carly Newberg

  • I lost my friend to suicide and have searched for ways to keep his memory alive.
  • Before my most recent trip, to Peru, I decided to take a small amount of his ashes with me.
  • Now it’s a tradition I’d like to keep up whenever I travel.

2020 was a tough year for many reasons.

The main one for me was that I lost my close friend Kyle to suicide. Unexpected deaths leave little room for goodbyes, and I was devastated we never had one. Instead, there was an unread email in my inbox from him I didn’t get to soon enough.

Kyle was only 28 years old when he took his own life, and I’ve spent a lot of time wondering what the outcome would have been had I seen the email sooner and replied. What would I have said, and would it have made a difference?

I think this is a natural response when we lose someone close to us in such a tragic way. We want to give meaning to it all, and sometimes, when we can’t find a reason, we blame ourselves.

Since losing my friend, I’ve gone through just about every stage of grief, but I now know his death wasn’t my fault. No one has that much control.

With time, I’ve found ways to honor Kyle and keep his memory alive. And now, whenever I travel, I plan to take my friend’s ashes with me to spread in every beautiful place I find.

I made a lifelong commitment to keep my friend close

Because of the pandemic, I couldn’t fly from Oregon to Arizona to attend Kyle’s funeral in 2020. While disappointed, I had the chance to speak at his ceremony by sharing a short recording of myself. Then, the week of what would have been Kyle’s 29th birthday, I went to stay with his family and see more of the place he grew up in Tucson, Arizona.

While there, I looked around his childhood bedroom, gazed at old photos, and met the people closest to him. It was an unforgettable trip, and afterward, his parents and sister sent me home with a small container of his ashes.

Apart from the few I spread at one of our special places, I’ve held on to Kyle’s ashes while trying to think of the best place for them. Then, while preparing for my most recent trip, to the Amazon rainforest of Peru, an idea came to me.

Kyle loved to travel and was an explorer at heart. While he visited many neat places in his lifetime, there are several he never had the chance to see. Remembering this, I’ve decided to take a small piece of him to every wondrous place I visit.

Peru seemed like a good place to begin this tradition. When I got there, all I could think of was him. Though gone in the flesh, he was abundant in spirit.

There were 2 places on my most recent trip where I spread my friend’s ashes

Partway through my trip, I left some of Kyle’s ashes on an eco-reserve I visited. The family living there made me and my group a delicious vegetarian meal and took us on a canoe tour through the nearby wetlands.

It was the exact type of place he would have wanted to spend time chatting with locals, taking in the sounds of wildlife, and lounging in his hammock.

Kyle was a seemingly simple guy, and I like to keep that in mind when scoping out spots to let him rest.

On my last day in Peru, I took the remaining bit of ashes on a long hike up a nearby mountain. Then, when the sun was falling behind clouds and the sky faded to dark, I played one of our favorite songs and let the rest go in the wind. I smiled, let a few tears go, and felt grateful we got to experience such a spectacular view together.

I thought about how far I’d come since finding out Kyle was no longer here. In only a few years, I went from not knowing how to continue on without my friend to watching the sun go down and being confident he was right there with me.

The people we love and have lost are never as far away as it may seem

My decision to take my friend’s ashes with me when I travel has reminded me that although grief is a lifelong journey, we don’t have to be without our deceased loved ones forever. With some careful thought and intention, we can find simple ways to keep their memories alive and with us.

I know Kyle is with me wherever I go, but now he gets to be with me in an even more meaningful way. Together, we are exploring beautiful places in awe and wonder — just like we did when he was alive.

In some ways, it feels as if I am scratching out items from his bucket list while making my way down mine. And for someone whose life ended way too soon, that’s a pretty special feeling.

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