The story I haven’t told

Thursday, November 29, 2012 Permalink

I bet the title of this post shocked you. You found it hard to believe. Me, the oversharer… it must be unthinkable that there is something I haven’t written about.

But it’s true. There is something. I really didn’t talk about it at the time and even now, I’m not sure I want to. But… I know a couple of people who’ve lost others recently, including a fellow blogger who also lost her father. And it’s served to remind me of the ups and downs of the past year. Plus…. As a blogger that’s what I do. I write about stuff.

I mentioned that my father was cremated in late October 2011 as was his wish. (The ‘I’m-so-funny’ part of me feels compelled to add that he had – in fact – passed away first!)

We didn’t go out to the crematorium after the church service as my brother, mother and I decided we didn’t need to see what came next. Instead we continued onto the Wake with other friends and family.

PA280245 - To Live In Hearts We Leave Behind Is Not To DieThe Funeral Directors had asked us what we wanted done with ‘the’ ashes.

Quite frankly we had no idea. Our options were the usual… they could be interred in a ‘wall’ at the crematorium. Buried under a rosebush with some sort of plaque at the crematorium, or – of course – we could keep them and dispose of them ourselves.

The romantic side of me was keen to fling them off the rocks at the beach he visited as a child and raved about as an adult; or throw them from the seat perched atop a cliff on Fraser Island, named after his own father; or perhaps sprinkle them on his old football field. I was mostly, however, in denial that he was gone and really didn’t want to think too hard about it.

My mother, however, is far more pragmatic so wanted to give it some serious thought so the Funeral Director offered to keep the ashes for up to a year while we pondered on their final resting place. (Not to mention the fact that – having spent six weeks beside his bed as he faded away – we were tired and numb.)

But we talked about it off and on, during the following months.

My brother had no strong feelings on the matter.

“I’m not likely to visit him in a wall, or under some bushes, so I really don’t care where his ashes go,” I announced, telling my mother the decision was hers.

Almost six months later we made a decision as a family and my mother purchased two holes in a wall at the crematorium, one for dad and one for herself (eventually). The plaque was designed after some deliberation and angst (re space and wording) and everything was set into motion.

Except… I couldn’t get rid of the notion that I would like to hold on to keep part of him. A reminder, if you like. I read articles about people having ashes of their loved ones put into jewelry (and I envisaged myself with a little tasteful – and expensive – cylinder or sealed heart hanging around my neck). Of course the more macabre involved shooting rockets (filled with ashes) into space, pressing them into records (how silly, I mean… who listens to records nowadays?!) or having them tattooed into your skin. None of which appealed.

It was too late anyway, we decided – the ashes having been sealed into something or other at the crematorium. Mum had explained that the ashes went into a cylindrical hole in the wall and a plaque installed over the front. I envisaged a regal-looking cylinder made of lead.

Once the plaque was prepared my brother and I travelled to our hometown for the ceremonial unveiling. Over some wines the night before we wondered about the plaque and joked about someone turning up with a hammer and nails to hammer it in.

Again I pondered out loud on the idea of keeping ‘some’ of the ashes. Again my mother and brother rolled their eyes at my whimsies and we decided it was too late.

My father’s sister and her husband joined us the following day – which unfolded a bit like a slapstick comedy. Firstly it was raining and as were preparing to leave for the crematorium we got a call from the Funeral Director suggesting we wait another day as the ‘glue’ which holds the plaque onto the wall would not stick in the wet weather.

Glue?! WTF?! My brother and I were in hysterics that we weren’t too far off with our bad-taste hammer and nails joke.

My mother explained that my brother and I had travelled 300km for this and we were all ready; so it was decided we’d have a ‘faux’ service.

I knew it wouldn’t be overly formal (we’d decided against a Minister attending etc) but I must admit I was still a bit aghast at what the process entailed. Perhaps it’s not common to attend the ‘installation of the ashes and sticking-on of the plaque.’ Who knows?!

Rather than a sombre Funeral Director, the caretaker or groundsman in his fluorescent outdoor garb met us at the carpark. In one hand he had a plaque. It was bloody heavy and we took turns at observing it and cooing at its beauty.

I became obsessed however with what he was clutching against his body under his other arm. It was a white plastic screw-top cylinder. Not at all awe-inspiring and regal. It was something that might contain pool chemicals or protein powder. Not what remained of my father.

I was freaked out.

I pointed to the container. “Is that sealed?” I asked.

My family looked at me. My mother knew immediately what I was asking.

“Do you want some of his ashes Deborah?”

Naturally I burst into hysterical tears.

“Yes,” I said when breathing was again possible, “I think so. But is that okay?”

My mother can be surprisingly zen at times for a super-organised and quite religious person. “Of course,” she said.

I possibly looked at my brother and aunt and uncle for reassurance, wondering if I was being silly or had gone mad.

“Is it possible?” I asked the man.

He nodded, apparently accustomed to people losing their shit on his turf.

Bizarrely he was gone for ages. I envisaged him in his shed with a funnel and ashes being poured into a little test tube for me to take away.

But when he eventually returned he had for me a box. One the size that a bracelet might come in. WAY bigger than I expected. And heavier. (And sealed.)

I was still crying as I thanked him. Weighed down by a larger-than-expected supply of ashes.

We made our way over to the wall which mum had chosen and oohed and ahhed at the location. The man inserted the ridiculous plastic container into the hole and put the plaque on the front, resting it in place so we could see what it would look like once it’d stopped raining and he could glue it in place.

We diligently took some photographs. And left.

When I got home I sat the ashes on dad’s favourite computer chair. Not quite sure what else to do with them.I’m still not sure. But they currently live on my bedside table. I don’t find them macabre at all.

But it’s interesting as the notion of wanting some of his ashes is completely in contrast to how I feel about ‘what remains’.

Indeed, you may have noticed I often refer to them as ‘the’ ashes.

On the anniversary of his death (there, I used the d word again. I must be coming to terms with this!) I visited the crematorium.  “Hello dad,” I said as I drove into the grounds.

But then stopped myself. “No… you’re not here,” I said.

And I’ve never thought that. Although I left a flower with his plaque, I know he’s not there. And he’s not in a little box beside my bed.

He’s here all of the time. With me (with us) always. I can talk to him anytime. I can think about him anytime. I don’t need to go anywhere special to do that.

  • MinsMash
    November 29, 2012

    Deb you made me cry reading your post with the odd little chuckle at some of the funny bits. It is beautifully written!! I don’t think it’s weird that you wanted some of your dads ashes…and I think you are right…you don’t need to visit somewhere to talk to him. He is wherever you are. I haven’t lost either of my parents yet but I know there is no avoiding it. I dread it but try not to dwell on it…knowing that I should not ruin the time left I have with them by dwelling on that…but rather enjoy that I have them now.

    • Debbish
      November 29, 2012

      Oh absolutely Min. The end can come way too quickly. It’s important to make the most of the now.

  • Liz
    November 29, 2012

    The last line said it all Deb. He is with you 24/7, smiling at you and embracing your success.

    • Debbish
      November 29, 2012

      I do think of him as being always here Liz. As I’m agnostic I’m not sure about the heaven thing, but tend to think that the end can’t be just that. Either way, he’ll never be gone while he’s in our hearts and minds.

  • Claireyhewitt
    November 29, 2012

    I am glad he is with you all the time. My Dad hasn’t come back yet. I think it has a lot to do with a conversation we had before he died, where he pretty much indicated that he felt when you’re dead, well, you are just fucking dead. End of story.

    My Dad wasn’t meant to die that night, I know he wasn’t, I know it was going to be next year, but it wasn’t meant to be last month. He wasn’t ready yet, we weren’t ready yet. I am hoping my Dad comes back when I work my way through this current heartache.

    • Debbish
      November 29, 2012

      Claire… I just commented to Liz that I’m not sure about the afterlife thing – or any of that stuff. But I know that I can talk to him as if he was here (though not in a weird Norman Bates Psycho way!). I tell myself every so often that he knew how much we loved him and that is / was all we could ask.

      Of course it’s taken me a while to remember that I’m not going to see him again. And possibly I still expect that I will.


  • KCLAnderson (Karen)
    November 30, 2012

    What a poignant story Deb. My Dad was cremated as well, and we had his service/inurnment about five months later at Arlington National Cemetery (just outside Washington D.C.) because he served in the U.S. Marines. Both my sister and I wanted a small amount of his ashes but we were told by Arlington that the ashes could not be divided. Thankfully the funeral home in Florida that handled the cremation had already split the ashes. My sister and I got two small decorative vials, and the remainder is in a large urn. Arlington has no idea that we have a bit of him. It’s comforting to me.

    It’s been almost two years since he died and my grief has made a reappearance in the past month or so. As a friend said, grief is not a linear process, it’s more like a Gordian knot. That is for sure!

    • Debbish
      November 30, 2012

      It’s definitely not linear. I was lolling on my bed the other day half dozing and heard voices outside / downstairs and for a second I thought it was dad. And then remembered it couldn’t be.

  • Mel
    November 30, 2012

    Oh Deb, I sit typing here with tears pooling in my eyes.
    I havent had a parent die so Ive never paid much thought to what would happen with their remains once their gone. But I like that your family took time in deciding what to do with your Dad’s so that you could all do so with more of a clear head.
    I love your last sentence “He’s here all of the time. With me (with us) always. I can talk to him anytime. I can think about him anytime. I don’t need to go anywhere special to do that.” Beautifully said and very true.

    • Debbish
      November 30, 2012

      It is Mel… I miss him less knowing I can talk to him whenever I want.


  • Eating as a Path to Yoga
    December 3, 2012

    So beautiful.

  • Leanne @ Deep Fried Fruit
    October 17, 2016

    Deb, this is so beautiful! So incredibly real and beautiful. I felt like I was reading a novel actually, which totally contradicts my “this is so real” statement.
    I wouldn’t know what to do if I was in your shoes either.
    It’s such a huge thing.

    • Debbish
      October 17, 2016

      Yes…. I’d pondered on it for ages but in the moment I just couldn’t help myself. I’m really glad I spoke up and I did it though.

  • Sydney Shop Girl
    October 17, 2016

    Deb, I cried reading this post.

    Thank you for sharing about your dad.

    SSG xxx

  • Ruth Hillman-Booth
    October 17, 2016

    I knew the story, but it still made me laugh out loud… Until I shed a tear at the end ♥

    • Debbish
      October 17, 2016

      I mostly go in and out of Mbro via the cemetery so call out hello as I go past… just in case. 🙂

  • Ness
    October 17, 2016

    Beautiful words, Deb. You’re so right. We don’t need to go a grave site or crematorium to remember our loved ones. I’d never want my boys to do so when I’m gone. Especially since I’d probably have to make sure I had a custom made tombstone with free wifi built in to get anyone to visit!

    • Debbish
      October 17, 2016

      Ha! That’s a very good idea now you mention it…

  • Denyse Whelan
    October 17, 2016

    I smiled with recognition of some parts of this post, Deb. When Mum died (it was sudden-ish but she still kept on for around 3 weeks after entering palliatitive care, Dad wanted a simple Church service and no-one to go to the Crematorium. I still find that a bit tough meaning Mum went ‘all by herself” but we listened to Dad. It was ‘his’ gig for her. It was always going to be a cremation but no plaque. Instead, Dad wanted to add ashes to a large garden pot and put in Mum’s favourite flowering plant. I recall (with some amusement, because in death there has to be humour as you pointed out!) that Dad brought “Mum” home in the large solid container, with her name on it, in the front seat of the car. I “think” he put the seatbelt around it. Some time in the next weeks he did ask any of us if we wanted ‘any of Mum’ but we declined, liking the idea she stayed in the one pot with Dad. That plant ended up to be three pots with Mum in them and they successfully grew for the 5 years he remained at the house. I think one pot may have come with him to his retirement place but it’s nearly 10 years since Mum passed so the ‘ashes have truly gone to ashes’ and Mum is in all of our memories!

    • Debbish
      October 17, 2016

      I guess the ashes are just symbolic really aren’t they? When I moved house recently I was very careful to bring them with me as there was no way I was packing them in a box. They stayed with me.

  • Kat
    October 18, 2016

    I think I was holding my breath while reading this. I’m glad that you got part of your father’s remains to keep with you though. I don’t like visiting my mother’s grave at all. It upsets me to think of her remains under the ground and what’s left of her I guess. But also, part of it is because of what you said, she’s not there.

    • Debbish
      October 18, 2016

      Yes… I’m sure it’s like my dad… he’s always there so I don’t need to go anywhere special to visit him. x

  • Kirsty @ My Home Truths
    October 18, 2016

    I kept some of my Dad’s ashes too. Most of him was given to the ocean near the wreck of the Sygna on Stockton Beach but a little of him was mixed into the soil of his magnolia which is in a pot in the front of my house. I, too, was shocked by the ugly grey plastic container presented to us – there really is nothing regal about it at all. I’m also comforted by the idea that he is always with me although I love being able to see his tree each and every day as a physical reminder that his spirit remains.

    • Debbish
      October 18, 2016

      I know someone whose relation’s ashes were sprinkled on a bush that died…. So was a little nervous about that idea.

      But, I know re the container. I must ask a friend – whose husband is in the business – if it’s the norm.

  • Sandy
    August 11, 2017

    I get my dads ashes on Saturday, he died January 2016, they have been in my brothers home spending time in the company of his grandchildren & great grand children. He used to love staying with us as we live in the North York Moors and his ashes will rest for some time on the window sill he loved looking out at the moors, his ashes will be positioned next to our dogs ashes who he had a great understanding with. Thank you for your post it has made me feel that it’s ok for me to feel this way. PS dad lives on in my heart and visits me in my dreams. X

    • Debbish
      August 11, 2017

      I often dream about my dad as well… as if he’s still around or as he was when he was younger. But I do think about him all of the time. I’m sure your dad will enjoy his new view. x

I'd love to hear your thoughts