Grief is complicated, but Monica Corcoran Harel's piece for the Cut on her older brother's death—and her travels with his remains—is as smooth as it is poignant. She explains that Robert never left the US during his life, though their dad went so far as to purchase him a ticket to Ireland for a 2012 family reunion. He didn't make it, and Harel explains the "involuntary wince" she spotted in relatives who asked after him by explaining her brother drank, hard, starting at age 16. "In his mind, alcohol was rocket fuel. Why hover a few feet off the ground when you can ricochet around the solar system? That’s a long way to fall. Eventually, he fell hard." Robert died in 2016 from a diabetic coma tied to his alcoholism. Harel ended up with his ashes, and decided to sprinkle some of him in all parts of the world—to have him finally travel.
She and her husband dubbed the quest "Planes, Trains, and Remains," and it saw her take bits of Robert to scatter in Rome, Mexico, Central Park, Montana, Long Island, and Joshua Tree National Park (she gets into the legality, or illegality, of doing so). But the last of him ended up closer to home. Harel digs into the the guilt she feels for not being there when he died, and the "idealized image of the end" that was lost for her, and for so many during the pandemic. "I finally realized that I could give my brother what he sacrificed and struggled to regain: stability, a family, a home," she writes. "And selfishly, I could get what I always wanted, which is to know that my brother, who went missing so many times during his lifetime, is safe and near me." (Read the full piece to see where that led her.)