That’s a question I never thought I’d have to answer much less really deal with in my 40’s.
He’s gone and now you have decide things you never wanted to. There are too many decisions that have to be made right after the passing of your spouse. How will you mourn him? In private and/or publicly? Will you have a memorial service, celebration of life, a wake, or a funeral or choose to do nothing? Will there be a photo, mementos, casket, or urn at the service? Do you have an urn, casket, a burial plot, or nothing?
What do you do with their remains or cremains? May I suggest having this discussion beforehand. It’s not fun, but at least you’ll know and have that assurance.
For Teresa, the answer was cremation and and urn in the shape of a box, For Jeni, the answer was a funeral with a burial
What do I now do with the cremains (often called ashes)?
Once the decision of what to do with the remains - cremation, water cremation, or burial is answered, then comes other difficult decisions. Do you have a vessel picked out - be it an urn, box, casket, pine box or something you’ve made? Next comes what sort of service to be had - none, memorial, wake, funeral, who officiates this, who speaks, sings, performs, helps organize. Then comes the obituary and announcements all must be decided at a time when you are most vulnerable. Other decisions associated, like what to do with the ashes and cremains, can be decided later but still must be addressed.
When Kris died, I knew he wanted to be cremated that’s what we had discussed and talked about. Simple... right?
Here’s what it looked like for Teresa as she best remembers- it’s not pretty and grief is messy.
In the miasma of grief I remember some of the details. I remember that family and close friends gathered at the house to help me get ready - i.e. force me to get dressed and shower while shoving coffee, food and water at me. Someone took me to the funeral home, a local not big-box place to sort this out. As we drove through the countryside into town, I thought simple, cremate him and we’re done. I can go back home and curl back-up into the fetal position and cry. How little I knew it was far from simple or quick.
The owner, Mr. Funeral Director (as I call him in my memoir - Soul Love: How a Dog Taught me to Breathe Again), was absolutely amazing, kind and helpful. He never lost a beat and rolled with this diverse crowd that arrived in his office. We moved to a larger room dragging chairs from the meeting rooms. The crowd consisted of myself, my sons 14 and 17, my youngest son’s best friend, my best gal friends, Kris’s best dude friends, his mother and (I think his father), and our pastor were ushered into the circle of chairs. I just plopped down with a wad of tissues waiting hoping it’d be over soon.
“What do you want?” was the first question Mr. Funeral Director asked.
Poor man--he had no idea what was about to hit him. Grieving raw unhinged New York gal.
“I want my f-ing husband alive and not to do this b.s., “ I quipped back to the shocked man.
Blah blah. So sorry for your loss, blah blah is all I heard as he droned on about loss, that's normal, here’s what we do, blah blah, blah...
“When can I see his body?”, I interrupted whatever he was saying. It got real quiet then.
Looking up everyone was aghast that I’d asked that. Then everyone started talking at once, you can’t, that’s not a good idea TQ (my nickname), you really don’t want to see him, honey no, not a good idea….blah blah blah. They all were trying very hard to convince me I didn’t want to see his dead body.
Oh, but I did! I needed to see him.
I wailed, “I just wanna see him. If he’s in bad shape, OK, I get it, he was on his motorcycle and hit a truck, what about his foot or hand or just a big hairy toe? Can’t I see something, please??
“I’m so sorry, no, you can’t see his body. We do have some of his clothing and personal effects that we can bring you after the investigation.” Mr. Funeral Director replied.
Oh right, the police and county are involved. “Are you sure I can’t see him?”, I asked.
No, you can’t. It’s not possible was all I heard from the circle. I was so out of it from grief, not sleeping or eating, I just shrugged and gave up and gave into the no, it’s not possible. I cried for a while and there was a long awkward silence as we sat there.
“Do you know what he wanted?” asked Mr. Funeral director
“Yes, cremation and I’m a poor school teacher, I don’t want to spend money I don’t have to. Let’s do this as cheaply as possible. Don’t try to sell me a bunch of crap, he’s dead, I can’t f-ing see him and what we do won’t bring him back so I don’t f-ing care. F*** this, I’m done.”
More gasps and someone tries to explain she’s from New York and can cuss a lot, she's very direct and not her normal cheery self. No kidding I think.
Mr. Funeral director - never blinks an eye and suggests a nice masculine brown leather box & cremation in a simple pine box. He’ll do everything he can to keep the costs low and not charge for this and that as a service to widows. I remember thinking - who’s a widow? His mom? That’s not me, I’m not an old woman. No way. First time I’m referred to as a widow - wham between the eyes.
I agree with a sure, whatever, I don’t care. Whatever is cheapest and gets me outta here fastest.
At this point, I’m bawling and not functioning. I’m in denial I’m a widow. I’m pissed I can’t see him and just want to leave. My pastor, Kris’s mom and best friends take over the planning of the memorial service details. I am present in body only, agreeing to whatever they decide is right. He’s gone and I can’t even see him one last time. Is he really dead? Was it really him? Did he suffer? Sing whatever, say whatever, it doesn’t matter, nothing does. I’m a widow now.
Mr. Funeral Director - reviews the costs with me, informing me of the costs, costs for death certificates, cremation, body transfer fees, box, pine box, obituary and whatever else there was that he’d provide. Next he brings me the invoice to sign - who knew it could all be listed on an invoice so neat. I whip out my credit card and sign off as quick as I can.
Mr. Funeral Director assures me that as soon as the body is released he’ll have Kris’s remains cremated and brought to me by himself personally. He reminds me that I have to write his obituary and get that to him in the next 24 hours so it can go in the newspaper.
I bolt out the door with my nice neat shiny green folder that begins what I now call the dead dude folders of important papers. Reeling with the knowledge that I have to write an obituary today, I just picked out his urn and signed off on his cremation.
Worst of all I was called a widow. Yuck.
I wish I had fought harder to see his body, I know now that he was at the medical examiners getting chopped up for the autopsy. I still wonder if I could have seen him it would have brought so much closer that we never had.
I hope that you have time to discuss your wishes with one another and make a plan. If you’re really motivated planning out your service and writing down your specific wishes can be of great help to your loved ones.
No matter what, the choices are difficult. Do the best you can and know that’s all you can do.
Peace & Blessings,
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