The remains

I’m waiting for the ashes…or, as the mortuary says, “the remains.” I like ashes better. The ashes of mourning. The ashes symbolizing a move into a new life. It’s hard to wrap your mind around it though, that a once vibrant human is reduced to a pile of gritty ash and bone. It is just the body, the vessel, the container–and now that vessel will be contained within a vessel, an urn to be deposited in the earth. Which seems odd, too. To take an urn of ashes and place them in the ground at the tune of $1,500.

A friend told me last week she still had her mother in an urn on a side table in the living room. Another friend said her father had been in an urn in the bedroom for six years.  (Which reminds me of the scene in Meet the Parents when the cat knocks the urn — was it grandmother ?– off the mantle and then uses the ashes as a litter box. It’s a hilarious irreverent scene.)

It’s important for me that our family gathers at my father’s grave and bury mom next to him. It feels like we will be completing a circle, long needing to be closed. Dust to dust, returning to the earth. But in an urn? A family member suggested we save the $1,500 and go to the gravesite and just sprinkle her ashes over dad’s grave.

It wouldn’t be the same for me. And besides, you have to have permits to bury ashes or sprinkle ashes. But who would know if you climbed a mountain or sat by a river, or threw them overboard off a sailboat. A sailor friend sprinkled his parents’ ashes into the ocean near San Diego. He sent me photos of the kaleidoscope of color his mother’s ashes made as they swirled toward the bottom of the ocean.

In Seattle, so many people were throwing ashes off the side of the ferries that passengers were complaining that the ashes were blowing back into their eyes. Now people can request that the ferry stop so they can dump their loved ones remains into Puget Sound without blowback. It sounds like a made-up story, but I think it’s true.

I asked that the crematorium keep a few of mom’s ashes separate from the ones in the urn, which is actually a plastic bag inside a black plastic box. We have to buy the urn. I want to throw a small portion  into the Sound, not off the side of a ferry, but when we go sailing around the San Juan Islands in September. We’ve chartered a boat called the Morning Light. For some reason I never told mom we had scheduled the trip. I thought she might still be here. She would have loved to know we were finally going sailing.

Last year we told her we wanted to charter a boat and she told me sailing was in my blood. She just assumed so because she loved to sail. She and my dad owned a sailboat and I was onboard before I could walk, but then dad died and she sold the sailboat. After that she took cruises, once around the world for four months with my stepdad. They didn’t actually sail…it was on some sort of freighter. Another time she took a canal boat through a part of Great Britain with her third husband. She loved the ocean or any body of water.

My DH grew up sailing with his parents. Every weekend, instead of yardwork, they sailed. As an adult he sailed in the TransPac from Marina Del Rey to Honolulu and in a race from Los Angeles to Tahiti. He’s had numerous other sailing adventures before he bought a 55-acre orchard in the middle of Washington State.

It’s hard to  figure why a sailor would decide to do that, but he did. Maybe it was a reaction to his parents sinking their sailboat, Querida, in Monterey Bay, California, in 1980–with them in the boat. They agreed years earlier that when they reached 42 years of marriage they would sail off into the sunset together. His dad had a stroke and didn’t want to be in a nursing home. Mom simply didn’t want to be left without her husband.

DH and his brother had no ashes to toss into the wind off a sailboat. His parents remains are at the bottom of the bay. Some might say, well, what’s the difference. There’s a big difference. One being lack of control. Which is actually what his parents wanted–for no one else to have control. They are together as they wanted.

Mom and my dad didn’t have the same kind of love affair as DH’s parents. But the last year of their 13-year marriage, after I was born, they were in love. “Just when things were getting good, he died,” she would always say. She remarried and had a full life, but there was always a wistfulness and deep sadness that he left us so soon.

It’s time for her to be by his side, even if it’s only symbolically. I’m just certain that they are in heaven in new bodies, dancing to the tune of Tommy Dorsey.

We are left with the remains.


8 responses to “The remains

  1. Excellent post. Too often people ignore the reality of their own mortality and what to do with the “remains.”

    My mom was descended from real Puritan stock. (My dad, too. Both families ensconced in New England in the early 1630s) What my mom did with her remains completely blew me away when I found out about it. Two of my brothers died in infancy and were buried in the paternal burial plot in Woburn, MA. My mom’s family are all planted in Westminster, MA. My mom had herself cremated and part is buried with the boys in Woburn and part of her ashes were interred in Westminster. I thought that was SO COOL, especially in light of her heritage.

    When my dad died, he, too was cremated. Some of his ashes were scattered off of the Venice (FL) inlet, part were buried in Woburn, and we saved some of the ashes and my brothers and I visited our mother’s grave site in Westminster and scattered the remainder of dad’s ashes there.

    As for me, I have already made arrangements to be scattered on the Gulf Stream off Fort Lauderdale where I lived for nearly half my life. I was a yacht captain for many years and traveled more than a dozen times by boat between Cape Cod and Key West. I can envision some small part of me traveling one final time up the east coast on the Stream and maybe an atom or two will make it all the way across the big pond and back to the ancestral departure point of Great Britain.

  2. Was fascinated by the story of your mother’s decision to be buried in two places. Something like her heart, I bet, after your brothers died.
    I, too, have ancestors from Woburn, also Marblehead (Goudeys landed 1735,) Porters landed 1635 at Hingham, settled in Wenham. Porters and Goudeys (mariners among them) settled in Nova Scotia. I visited N.S. and MA two Septembers ago. Would love to go again…not enough time to experience it all.
    And was equally fascinated with your description of your decision to be scattered in the Gulf Stream…”an atom or two will make it all the way across the big pond and back to the ancestral departure point of Great Britain.” Lovely.
    Thank you for stopping by.

  3. Pingback: Thoughts On Final Farewells | One More Good Adventure

  4. I found you through oldsalt – and trust me, I’ll be back. Today is my mother’s 93rd birthday. She’s still in her own apartment close to me, and I’m her (ahem) caregiver. I never anticipated this, trust me. Of course, neither did she. No one in her family has lived longer than 62.

    There are issues, for sure – and I see lots here already that resonates. I’ll be back, to snoop. And by the way – I gave up on English because it wasn’t “practical”, and I lived in Salt Lake City for a while. My friends and I used to run up Little Cottonwood Canyon for beer, burgers and bluegrass on Sunday afternoons – it was the best Sunday entertainment around.

    And it was in SLC that a friend dying of cancer said, “I want my ashes spread, but not over the Great Salt Lake or any of those streams or Alpine lakes you kids like so much.” Why not? her children asked. She squiggled her nose and said, “Because I can’t swim!”

    I have several friends whose parents and siblings still are lurking about on mantles and such. Strange, funny and understandable.

  5. Having mulled this post over for the past day it reminded me of the book by David Lynch: “The Undertaking: Life Studies from the Dismal Trade.” Lynch is a noted poet and the undertaker in his small, Michigan town. I read the book years ago and found it fascinating and touching and not at all morbid, although I admit I’m a notch or two off center so others might find it morbid after all.

    One of Lynch’s key themes is “The Dead Don’t Care!” Funerals are for the living, not the dead because he Dead Don’t Care. As he says, and I paraphrase here, if you don’t believe they don’t care then the next time you wake up next to a dead person tell them you’re thirsty and would like a glass of water. Good luck. You’ll have to get it yourself because The Dead Don’t Care.

    You can get the book for Kindle at

    BTW, check out shoreacres blog It’s the most literate of the blogs I read and I’m flattered that she actually reads my first-draft efforts on my blog regularly.

    • I will look for it. I agree memorials and funerals are for the living…as did mom. She left my brother and a letter in which she tells us to do what we want.
      The rituals bring me comfort.

  6. I agree Jasara.
    Shoreacres…I’m glad you found my blog, but too bad it wasn’t earlier…then we could have shared the ongoing journey of caregiving, instead of mine in retrospect. But please lurk a bit in the backstory, as it sounds like you have done, and hopefully you’ll stick around for the ongoing story.
    It never occurred to me, as it has to my friend above who is 30, that I would be caregiving my mom…and for so many years. I will be reading your blog to see if you talk about it. 🙂

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