AUBURN, Maine —For 3 ½ years, a black stone urn of C.J. Twomey’s ashes has sat on a shelf in his parents’ Maine home, not far from the door he walked out of one beautiful April day shortly before shooting himself.
Now, his mother is using social media to enlist the help of strangers to scatter his ashes from Massachusetts to Japan in the hope that her adventure-loving son can become part of the world he left behind.
“I don’t want him to have to sit in an urn for my benefit for whatever rest of time that we have,” Hallie Twomey said. “I wanted to give him something. I’m trying to give him a journey.”
It started with a simple request on Facebook to help C.J. – who was only 20 when he died – “see the mountains that he never got to climb, see the vast oceans that he would have loved, see tropical beaches and lands far and away.”
The post was shared by nearly 100 of her friends, and soon even strangers started offering to scatter C.J.’s ashes in their hometowns, on family vacations or just somewhere beautiful. She started a separate Facebook page called “Scattering C.J.,” which now has more than 1,000 likes.
The pictures and videos on Facebook tell the story of where C.J. has been. A man scatters C.J’s ashes on a beach in Massachusetts. One sprinkles them in the forest in Jamaica, and another off a rocky cliff in Hawaii.
Along with his ashes, Twomey sends a note and a small photo of smiling C.J., wearing a Boston Red Sox shirt with sunglasses propped up on his head. She asks the recipient to do four things: Think about C.J., think about the people he gave life to through organ donation, tell him that his mom and dad loved him and tell him that his mom is sorry.
Twomey regrets rolling her eyes at her son instead of hugging him as he stormed out of their home after an argument. A few minutes later, C.J. shot himself in his car in front of the home, she said.
C.J., who thrived on adventure like jumping out of airplanes, was upset about not making a special forces team with the Air Force, she said. After being honorably discharged, he wasn’t sure what he wanted to do with his life, she said. But she never thought he would do what he did that day.
Last week, C.J. was sent to Haiti and India and soon someone plans to take him to the top of Mount Everest, Twomey said. About 150 packets of his ashes have traveled so far and 300 other people have offered to share in CJ’s journey. When most of C.J.’s ashes have been scattered, Twomey hopes to put together a book with all the notes and photos people have sent her. The proceeds would go to the New England Organ Bank, she said.
Many of those offering to help scatter C.J.’s ashes have also been affected by suicide or lost children. The kindness has been overwhelming, she said.
“Really, why would a complete stranger want to help us?” she said. “I really think people are doing whatever they can, even if it’s a small thing, to ease our burden or to embrace life.”
Jessica Hale, who lives in Juneau, Alaska, heard about C.J.’s mom’s idea from her sister, one of Twomey’s neighbors. She was struck by how much she had in common with C.J. Hale is also a veteran and says she has contemplated suicide.
Seeing the impact C.J.’s death has had on Twomey’s family opened her eyes to the immense hurt suicide leaves to those who are left behind, said Hale, a 37-year-old security guard.
“It made me realize that I couldn’t do that, and it made me make a promise to myself that I would never do that.”
Hale scattered C.J.’s ashes near a rocky beach in Juneau that reminded her of a picture she saw on Facebook of Twomey’s family when C.J. was still alive.
“I feel like I had closure … some inner peace after that,” she said.
For Twomey, finding peace has proved more difficult.
“I want to find peace in this. I want to feel better, but my guilt is so intense so I haven’t yet. I don’t know if it will,” she said. “I hope. I just have hope that maybe this will help in some way, because for 3 1/2 years, nothing has.”