Sifting Through the Ashes

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On to Sifting Through the Ashes

When Kris died we had him cremated per his wishes. I never really ever thought about what to do with them afterwards. It wasn’t like I ever planned on having an urn or box until I was much older. They are called cremains and often are placed in an urn. 

That day came when the Mr. Funeral Director asked if he could drop the ashes off to me. 

An excerpt from my memoir, Soul Love: How A Dog Taught Me to Breathe Again shows what this grief was like and tells my story best. 

*** Beginning of Soul Love: How A Dog Taught Me to Breathe Again excerpt ***

“My emotions vacillate all over the place. Ashes. He’s been reduced to ashes. At least I’ll have part of him here with me. What am I going to do with the ashes? I wish they could fill the aching hole in my heart that won’t go away. A good friend from Scouts, comes over so I don’t have to receive them alone. I am thankful, and not sure what to expect. ...

Mr. Funeral Home Director arrives with a medium, shoe box-sized cardboard box. … 

After some niceties, he turns to me. “Mrs. Klein, how are you? Are you ready to do this?”

“Yes, let’s put him on the mantle,” I squeak out.

“Okay, here is the leather box you requested. Kris’s remains are in here,” Mr. Funeral Home Director says as he unveils the box. It’s dark brown with a gold locking clasp in the front. Very manly and simple—just like Kris.

My science nerd brain kicks in. I want to know what is actually in the ashes and how they cremate a body. I researched it some on the internet but I want the real insider’s knowledge.

I accept the box. “Wow, this is way heavier than I expected.”

Feeling its weight, I ask, “So, how much does it weigh?”

“The remains average six pounds for a male and four for a female. Height determines the weight.” Mr Funeral Director informs us.

“Can I see them? I want to see what’s left of Kris.”

At this point, my friend can’t take it anymore. I notice she looks pale and aghast.

“Teresa, I don’t think that’s a good idea right now,” she squawks.

“You really don’t need to know right now—let’s not open them.”

“Hey, I get you’re more squeamish than I am, but the nerdy scientist has to know. Please open the box and show me.”

“This unlocks the box.” Mr. Funeral Home Director hands me a small gold key. “Before you open it, let me explain the process.”

I pipe in, “I already know: you burn the body and his cardboard box, then the bones are crushed. I looked it up. I just want to see and feel him.”

Hearing the intake of a gasp, I look up, seeing everyone’s wide eyes, their eyebrows raised.

Mr. Funeral Home Director calmly replies, “Yes, Mrs. Klein, that is correct. That is exactly what we do and we also use a magnet to remove the metal.”

Without further ado, he opens the brown leather box. Inside is a brown plastic hard case, and inside that is a plastic bag. “Kris’s remains are in this plastic bag and tagged with a unique number for identification purposes.”

I reach in and grab the plastic bag, eager to feel the grains and finger his remains. I have to touch him again. I give the bag a quick feel and rub the grains through my fingers.

“Okay, here you go, thank you.” I quickly pass the bag back to Mr. Funeral Home Director and collapse on the couch in a wave of heaving tears.

He gently places Kris’s remains back into the brown plastic container and back into his leather box and closes the lid. He hands me the gold key and a green folder as I try to regain my composure.

“Here are the death certificates as well for your records. If you need anything else, just let me know.”

Um, I need my husband not to be in a box on the mantle. What the @&*# am I going to do with him? 

I nod as he walks out dissolving into a numb heap.

I have regained a zombie state of numbness and inability to talk or think. I am just trying to breathe. I stammer, “I’m okay, I just want to be alone. I’ll be okay, this is a bit much right now.” Meaning: Please leave, I am going to lose it and I need to be alone to do this. I cannot break down in front of you. You will see how unstable I am and how NOT OKAY I am. I have to keep my job and food on the table for us. Please leave me alone. I am cracking up.

Finally she leaves and I can really wail and scream. I am SO mad at Kris and now that he’s home on the mantle, I can scream at him directly. I have so much to say to him! I fire questions at him, the box on the mantle, like a machine gun.

“You @&*@#, how could you? I knew you’d die on that damn motorcycle! Did you suffer? Why ?”

I rage on for over an hour, screaming, wailing, pacing around the house until I am hoarse and cried out. I flop on the couch, wilted and worn out—again from grief.

**** End of excerpt from Soul Love: How A Dog Taught Me to Breathe Again *** 

That became a normal for me, talking, yelling and crying to Kris’s Box daily for months. I never got closure to see him or his body. He was reduced to ashes, a box, not the human. The box kind of represented his spirit to talk to and miss. 

At some point, our pastor asked me where I was going to inter his remains. I looked at him like he had four heads. I thought to myself,  inter him, he’s cremated why would I bury him and spend money on a plot? At the time it was the dumbest thing I had ever heard. 

My plans were to divy up the ashes and give them to his family members and the kids. I wanted some placed into a memorial tattoo for myself.. 

One day the summer after he died, my friends and their kids all arrived for fajita dinner to find me with the opened the box on the kitchen counter literally sifting the ashes into baggies. These sifted ashes were for the memorial tattoos. The finer the ashes the better they will mix with the ink was the advice from the tattooist. Needless to say my children and friends were a bit taken back to find me sifting ashes in the kitchen next to the chips and salsa. 

I got the memorial tattoo with his ashes on my thigh. No regrets and still love it.

Kris’s box remained on the mantle getting yelled at less and talked to more. The tears flowed less.

That is until I was marrying Bill and moving in with him.Then the box became an awkward subject. 

What do you do with your late husband's ashes when you get remarried? There’s no book for that.

I wasn’t ready to disperse them, the kids weren’t ready for a memorial send off, no one in the family wanted his ashes or sifted ashes. I wasn’t going to inter him - still felt weird. The boys didn’t really want ashes either. I just couldn’t part with him either. The box ended up in the extra room closet the boys stayed in when they spent the night or lived with us for a time. Never really forgotten but just there. 

I kept asking the boys, nope, not ready, not ours to deal with mom, etc. We’d talk about where and what to do. I had some ideas but no plans ever came to fruition. We were all moving on with our lives and didn’t want to deal with it. Eventually, my eldest took him with him and the box is in Colorado at the moment. 

I really wished I’d thought more about a place to bury him or a plan for dispersal. I encourage you to discuss this with loved ones so you aren’t stuck with a box or urn and no idea what to do. I had a client with over 5 urns in the garage on top of the freezer since no one could decide what to do with granny, aunt susie, mom and more. No one wants this or plans for this. However, a plan or wishes can help with the choices left after you’re gone.

If you find yourself with remains, do what makes sense for you. There’s no right or wrong way to do grief much less how you deal with the remains. I found a lot of peace and resolved a lot of grief by talking to them and expressing all of my hot tears. I no longer have that deep hole in my heart, it’s still there but not so achy and huge. 

I hope this is useful and of benefit for you and your grief journey. Know you aren’t alone. 

Wishing you peace & blessings, 

Teresa Q Bitner

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