Meet the Mom Who Sprinkled Her Husband's Ashes Across U.S. and Taught Her Daughters Resilience
It all started in 2010 at a campsite in Portland, Oregon.
"I had to pee in the middle of the night and was scared," says Laura Fahrenthold. "So I brought the ash box into the annex. I stumbled and it spilled and dusted me everywhere. Now when I look back, I want to say that it broke out of the box."
"He" was her husband Mark Pittman, a 6-foot-4 investigative journalist for Bloomberg News. A year earlier, on November 25, 2009, he died at the age of 52 in her home in Yonkers, New York, from a massive heart attack.
"My daughters Nell and Susannah were 8 and 10 years old and saw it," Fahrenthold says. "I was 46 years old, and when your husband fell dead with the two children you were looking at, it was as if someone had torn our lives apart. As if a bomb had gone off."
"We were all traumatized," she says. "There was a point, I just thought, let's get out of here."
And so she took a break from her job as a city government and took her daughters, who camp across the country.
"We brought Mark's ashes with me because I was afraid to leave them at home if something happened to them," says Fahrenthold. "I wasn't going to buy an RV, but I did and we traveled 31,152 miles and spread his ashes across America."
She wrote about her adventures in The Pink Steering Wheel Chronicles in 2018. As another Father's Day approaches without her husband, she looks back at the decision that changed her life.
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Courtesy of Laura Fahrenthold Laura Fahrenthold with daughters Laura and Susannah in Sedona, Arizona
"It was a combination that I was afraid of and that also had a sixth sense," she says. "I was afraid that the death of her father would determine my daughters life and that they would have problems because they were so young to experience something like that. I wanted to build other muscles so that they became stronger and learn to be independent "She learned to go fishing, read a map, change a tire and lie in a field and blow through blades of grass to whistle."
"I wanted to build them up so they could have experiences greater than their father's death," she adds. "When they climbed the mountain, did white water rafting or made a campfire, they could look back and feel that."
At first, she wasn't sure how her daughters would react to the idea of sprinkling her father's ashes.
"We were out in Oregon and I asked the girls if they wanted to sprinkle a bit of dad off the tree top. It was sort of a game for them. Nell said, 'It's like mini funerals.' I would ask, "Where do you think Papa is going to be sprinkled on?" We went to Niagara Falls, Graceland and the Grand Canyon. We went to the Badlands because Dad was a badass and we went to the largest picnic basket in America in Newark "Ohio because we had a picnic wedding."
"It was a wonderful, but also crazy family vacation," she continues.
After a few weeks of setting up the tent - and later a mudslide! - You saw a battered RV on the roadside in Washington State for sale.
"I just turned around," says Fahrenthold. "My mother transferred some money to me and that set us on a whole new course. We called it 'HaRVey, the motorhome'."
Laura Fahrenthold with the late husband Mark Pittman
For the next five years, the trio traveled throughout America and Canada during the summer and school holidays.
"You name it, we probably sprinkled Mark there," she says. "And another part was wherever my girls went when they were growing up, their father would always be there."
"I wanted to honor him," she says. "He was an investigative journalist who sued the Federal Reserve for failing to tell taxpayers the scale of bank bailouts during the real estate crisis in 2008. He was a bootstrap type from a working-class family. He really believed that the Americans should know that Truth."
In 2015 she and her daughters made the last stop.
"We took him back to his Kansas youth home and then to the sunflower field where he asked me to marry him, and we released him there for the last time," she recalls.
The story took a different turn after she got home and found a folder called "Mark's Writing" in a filing cabinet that they had shared for 15 years.
"I had never seen it before and I opened it and he wrote a diary in his 20s on a motorcycle tour of the country," Fahrenthold says. "Many entries were reminiscent of things we had seen and places we had traveled to. He also predicted his own death. There was a Hopi Mesa Indian reservation he had been to - the same one that we seven went to Hours driving. For some reason, I felt compelled to go there. It was almost as if he was leading us, but we didn't know. "
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Courtesy of Laura Fahrenthold Laura Fahrenthold book cover
"You know, I was scared most of the time," she says, "as if you're running out of gas in Carlsbad and the nearest gas station is 150 miles away, but people have always helped us. I look at my girls at Now and they had definitely not the same childhood as most children who grew up in the suburbs. I raised them to be independent because I had to think what if I fell dead? "
Today, 20-year-old Nell, who studies at FIT, and 19-year-old Susannah, an EMT, teaches sailing and navigation for Tall Ships America.
In retrospect, she says: "I think there is nothing better than street therapy."
"I bought a box of cookies in supermarkets and Walmarts and offered them to women in line, and sometimes we talked about my husband, and in the end I cried in her arms." "She says." It was like I was in the Mourn poor America. "
Fahrenthold, who lives in Hastings on the Hudson in New York, is currently working on her next book, The Airbnb Chronicles, about her adventures in renting her home.
"I wanted to welcome people to my house," she says, "the way people opened my arms."
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