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The Case of the Missing Ashes
By Lona A. Smith
Saturday, February 04, 2012
Rated "G" by the Author.
Do you have control over your ashes? Maybe
My friend Helen died in October 2007 of complications from open-heart surgery. We received the news with disbelief. This was not supposed to have happened. Helen was not the kind of girlfriend with whom I chatted everyday on the phone, or posted on each other’s Facebook page. We were bonded by the passion we both shared for prison ministry. We spent many Sunday afternoons and Wednesday evenings conducting services, and a 12-Step program, for inmates at the county jail. Some of our best, and most personal conversations were in the jail parking lot. We’d planned to share a room at a statewide Prison Ministry Conference later in the month.
Helen didn’t always recognize her worth, nor did she take things for granted, but she accepted everything with grace and gratitude. I never heard her raise her voice, but I have known her to be firm. I never heard her complain, but I have heard her state situations matter-of-factly.
It was natural that her up-coming surgery was the topic of one of our last conversations. I asked her if she’d like me to come to the hospital to be with her before surgery. “That would be nice,” she said.
I met her and her husband, Ray, the morning of her surgery. We waited together in pre-op, and it was while Ray had gone to take care of her belongings that the surgical team came to take her into the operating room. I was the last person to speak with her. Although she survived a few days post-op, she never woke up.
It was natural that I was asked to take part in her memorial service the following week, and I was glad to pay tribute to my friend. It was natural that I kept in touch with her daughter who, along with one of her brothers, was in my Youth Group as teenagers. So, it was not unexpected that Susan would e-mail me the day before Thanksgiving 2011 to say that her father, Ray, had died early that morning. He’d been for the past year or so in an assisted living facility. Although Susan had moved out of state she told me she’d planned to visit her dad and have Thanksgiving with him. She said she was going through with her plans and she’d see her brothers. “There won’t be any formal service.”
It was unexpected a short time later in another e-mail I received from Susan when she asked, “Do you think Mom would mind if we scattered Dad’s ashes with hers?” Why was she asking me? She went ahead to say that the family understood, according to her Uncle Ray, Helen’s brother, from a conversation he had with his mother, that I was to have scattered Helen’s ashes in Lake Otsego, at the mouth of the Susquehanna River in Cooperstown, New York. I? I scattered her ashes? Oh, now I understood why she was asking. I replied that although I would have been honored to comply with that request, I didn’t know anything about it, and I certainly would have involved the family.
Where were Helen’s ashes? Four years later, where were Helen’s ashes? “I thought the family had them,” I said. “Maybe your dad took them.” Nobody knew. “Maybe you could contact the minister who performed the service, or the funeral home,” I suggested.
“We have a lot going on,” Susan’s return e-mail said. “I’m not sure we’ll have time.”
On Friday morning the day after Thanksgiving I phoned the funeral home. The call was transferred to the owner’s cell. He was on his way in to work. “Do you know what happened to Helen’s ashes?” I asked.
“I believe she’s still with us. I’ll check and call you back.”
A half-hour later the phone rang. “She’s here on the shelf.”
I e-mailed Susan. And I laughed. It was so like my friend, Helen—modest—unobtrusive—waiting on the shelf in a mortuary until her family needed her.
The next day, Saturday, I got a reply. “We’re picking up Mom today.” (We, being Susan, her three brothers and some family members.) “We’re taking their ashes to a campground in Massachusetts. It’s a place “Pappy” (Helen’s father) used to own. It’s where they met when Dad worked for Pappy one summer. We’re going to camp there this weekend and scattered their ashes together. It’s been a wonderful weekend of reunion.” Susan told me, “It’s the first time we’ve been together since Mom died.
Way to go, Helen. I can see you and God having a good laugh.
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|Reviewed by Donna Chandler
|I'm so glad this story had a happy ending. I was starting to get a bit nervouse there for a minute. A very positive way to look at what could have been an uncomfortable situation.
|Reviewed by J Howard
|i read a story about white boxes on the high shelves at a crematory...they were uncollected ashes of...no ones loved ones. your touching story reminded me of such hard lives, perhaps like those of some of the souls touched by prison ministry. wonderful story.|