Death and Diamonds: A Journey of Healing

By:  Talor Stone                                                                                                                 August 21, 2018

I first wrote this blog post exactly one year since I traveled to Switzerland on a mission:  Closure.  It then took me four months to find the courage to publish it.  In those four months I haven’t written anything at all and fell into a real creative rut while I debated internally over how personal and honest I wanted my blog to be.  I finally decided…I’m all in.  Being wholly authentic is the only way I want to be even when that means the topics are hard!  Like really, really hard.

I’m sure you’re thinking that Switzerland would be an odd place for a serious budget traveler to go, and I couldn’t agree with you more!  On my own volition I certainly would never have chosen somewhere so expensive as a destination, but this was where my journey of healing led me.  It was a path I had to walk, first with my father and then alone.

On January 7, 2016, the world kept spinning but I stood still.  Abruptly and without reason the brightest light in my life went dark – my mom died.  It’s surreal, in this very moment, to even write those words.  I don’t think I ever have before.

I was in a parking lot 2 hours from my home in Virginia, but the phone call that came all the way from Florida was loud and clear.  When I hung up I sat in my car and just screamed.  The sound of it startled me, and in a detached observation I realized that I sounded more like a dying animal than a human.  I had never heard that kind of sound before, and I certainly never expected it to emanate from within me.

My mom was my size.  In fact, a year later when we finally had the courage to clean out her closet most of it became mine.  I wear her clothes almost every day.  I carry her on my shoulders and her shoes lead my way wherever I go.  She loved being outside and worked tirelessly in the yard transforming it by hand it into a lush and vibrant paradise.  She laughed easily and loved tirelessly.  She was the farthest image from a heart patient, yet that morning her heart stopped beating.  These things defy reason.  She simply didn’t wake up.

In some convoluted way it was exactly the death she deserved.  She was spared the indignity of age and time.  She experienced no pain.  She wasn’t afraid and escaped the sadness of goodbye.  While the abrupt loss was a shocking tragedy for all who knew her, I wouldn’t have wished for it to be any other way even to selfishly have one last hug.  That knowledge was my only solace.

There are a million “what ifs” that still burn in my mind.  There is guilt and self-pity.  There is deep loss and sorrow.  I know with certainty that I am not alone in mourning.  Many strangers and friends before me and after me will suffer acute and sudden loss.  But this particular suffering is mine and only I can live through it.

The Start of a Strange Path

Oddly though, it was a conversation she and I had just 2 months before her death that set this journey into motion.  I was in Florida visiting her – something I now realize I didn’t do nearly often enough – and we were walking together down the long and winding tree-lined driveway to take the trash to the curb.  It was a mundane task made enjoyable by the bond we shared.  We laughed and chatted about absurd topics as we always did.  During the conversation I offhandedly mentioned seeing a news article about people being turned into diamonds when they died and her face immediately lit up.

“You had better do that for me!” she demanded.

“I want to be a diamond so you can take me on all of your adventures!”  She said it with absolute confidence and her eyes sparkled as brightly as the topic of conversation.  We laughed about how silly an idea it was and about all the crazy things she would see if I carried her with me.

We didn’t know.  There was no way to know just how timely our discussion was.  But the moment she died I knew with certainty exactly what I had to do.  At the time I had no idea where the journey would take me, but I knew no matter what I would follow it all the way to the end.

Finding the Right Company

After months of tireless research I finally decided which company I would entrust with the precious task of fulfilling my mom’s wish.  While there are a handful of companies in the world which create so-called “Memorial Diamonds,” there truly was no competition.  As soon as I discovered the Swiss company Algordanza, I knew they were the right choice.

(Note:  I have no affiliation with Algordanza and receive no benefit from this review.  This is simply an honest representation of my personal experience.)

While there were a variety of reasons I chose Algordanza, there were three particular things that truly stood out.  First, the customer service was simply phenomenal.  From the moment I submitted my first inquiry, I received prompt and personal correspondence that allayed each and every concern I had.  The process was explained in extensive detail and I felt that I truly had a solid grasp on the timeline.  Most importantly, it was all done in a manner that truly prioritized how emotional and personal of an endeavor I was embarking on.  It was openly acknowledged that I wasn’t just handing over a box of ashes.  I was giving them my mother – a task they clearly took seriously and treated with absolute dignity.  This really helped put my mind at ease when it came to mailing off the irreplaceable physical remnants of my mom.

Second, Algordanza offered the opportunity for me to deliver the ashes or receive the resulting diamond in person at their facility in Switzerland.  This option came complete with a full access tour of the entire facility which quelled any fear I had about the legitimacy of the operation.  Transparency made all the difference and I jumped at the opportunity to pick up the diamond myself and bring my mom home with me.

But, the third detail was truly the one that persuaded me.  Algordanza created the memorial diamond as a purist would.  The carbon is separated from the ashes provided, but it is not purified further.  Furthermore, they do not add any additional coloring to the process.  In doing so, the resulting diamond contains all of the unique trace element impurities that make up the human body.  These are the fingerprint of a human.  The unique combination of chemicals that represent our lifetime.  These elements tell the story of our diet, our lifestyle, our medical history.  The combinations are unique and imbue the resulting diamond, which otherwise would be flawlessly clear, with a distinctive tint in a range of soft colors representative of the individual.  I personally felt that this was the only honest way to represent my mother with all of her flaws, with all of her soul, with everything that made her who she was.

Taking all of this into consideration, I made my decision and the journey began.

Bringing Her Home

Now, the process of making a diamond takes time along with lots and pressure and heat, but the day had finally arrived.  It was time to get on a plane and fly to Switzerland.  I really wish that I could tell you more, but to be honest it was all a bit of a blur.  I just remember that as I descended into Zurich I could see the Alps from the window and my typical trip excitement suddenly became mixed with other feelings of anxiety and sadness.  I landed, picked up the rental car and roamed around keeping myself busy until it was time to pick my dad up from the airport.  I was so thankful I didn’t have to do this alone.  At the last minute I asked him to join me on this journey and complete the task together.  He never hesitated.  He took the place of my soon-to-be ex-husband as my marriage rapidly disintegrated around me.  We had separated for the last time just a week before this trip, so you can imagine the inner turmoil I was enduring as I dealt with the shocking death of a marriage while simultaneously reliving the death of my mom.

My dad and I spent 5 beautiful days driving around Switzerland and passed through Interlaken, Lucerne and Zermatt in record time.  As an adult I had never really spent one-on-one time with my dad, so it was truly special in so many ways and I have to say we did a pretty good job of making sure we had a great time.  There were tons of laughs and even a spontaneous paragliding adventure!

As we strolled through cliff-bound Lauterbrunnen a quick flash of color against the cliff wall caught our eye.  It was a parachute.  We locked eyes and knew that we wanted to chase that rush, and within 2 hours we were perched on a cliff above the valley as a light snow swirled around us.  Without hesitation we got a running start and leapt into the void.  We glided on the updrafts over the valley and past waterfalls.  In that moment, none of our grief mattered.  We were alive.  I have to say running off of a cliff was a pretty effective way to take our minds off of the task looming before us, but all the while we knew the day was approaching that we had to go to           .

When the day finally came, I’ll admit we were pretty nervous.  We had no idea what to expect when we arrived, but we were warmly welcomed in and quickly set at ease.

Remember how I said that the color of each memorial diamond uniquely represented the life of the person who created it?  Well, hers was perfect.  When the box was opened before me it glowed the purest powder blue.  The exact color of her eyes.  And it glittered the way hers always did when she smiled at me.  It was both familiar and foreign; happy and sad; overwhelming and yet emotionally estranged.  I’m told that the blue color is caused by a high presence of Boron, an element especially present in green vegetables which made perfect sense since she loved few things more than her salads and leafy greens.

As we walked through the facility it was amazing how much precision and care went into the creation of each memorial diamond.  I can’t begin to explain the science behind it all, but their website offers a truly comprehensive description of the entire process.  Everything I was told and read was accurately represented before me.  I had undoubtedly chosen the right company.

Never Alone

My mom got her wish, though it was much sooner than I would have preferred.  Now she comes on all of my adventures without fail, and if you look at my photos abroad you will inevitably see her around my neck shining in the sun.  I’ll admit it’s a bit nerve-wracking to carry something so precious and irreplaceable on all of these crazy adventures, but I’ve had to make my peace with it.  If I lose her, I will be sad but I’ll also be okay knowing she will get to live forever in whatever beautiful place she fell.

Because I keep her near my heart, I now am never truly alone out there.  Any time I am scared or unsure, I impulsively clutch the diamond at my throat.  It’s my security and comfort.  Any time I think of her I can reach up and touch her knowing she is with me.  This journey of healing began with a casual conversation and has already taken me so many places.

After we picked the diamond up, my dad flew home while I stayed in Switzerland for 6 more days to continue the journey on my own.  All of those days she was with me.  From day one she sat beside me at Lake Geneva.  She hiked into the snow-covered Alps and bore witness to the mighty Matterhorn.  She saw the silent, pastoral beauty of the small villages between the peaks and watched as water fell from great heights.  When I returned home, she rode with me across the country and camped all through the Southwest.  She has trekked coast to coast and journeyed to the equator, to the arctic and back again.  She truly has become a prolific traveler and seen amazing things while being a true and faithful companion in the good and the tough times.  It is a healing journey with no end in sight and she gets to see the world with me, one step at a time.