Ashes to Ashes


Pictured above is a red foil gift bag with lacy handles. It is the temporary resting place of my mom. Her ashes arrived via the USPS; the mail lady tooted the horn to signal she needed me, and I went outside and signed for the package.

Cremated remains, or “cremains” as the funeral director insisted on calling them, are packaged 10 ways to Sunday for postal delivery, I suppose to avoid Big Lebowski scenarios. My sister, daughter and I had tried to settle on urns at the funeral home.

I wanted to use a Bustelo coffee can (and I will, eventually) because Mom liked her café con leche. I’m not keeping the ashes; I have places in mind to scatter them.

But no one else could decide on what size urn they wanted, and I got exasperated and started teasing them about “venti” and “grande” sizes until they agreed to leave, so we’re purchasing urns separately and dividing the ashes ourselves.

The package with the ashes contained boxes within boxes like a nesting doll. The last one is a somber black. I put it in the cheery red foil bag because Mom would have liked that. The ashes are surprisingly light. But so very heavy at the same time.

82 replies
  1. 1
    geg6 says:

    Ah, Betty. Your mom looks lovely in that outfit.

    I love your attitude in the midst of sorrow.

  2. 2
    Trollhattan says:

    Baby steps, Betty, baby steps. Thoughts are still with you.

    Red bag is nice touch.

  3. 3
    tybee says:

    it is sobering to hold the box and know the life it represents fits in such a small package.

  4. 4
    raven says:

    I mixed my dad’s with those of Molly, his beloved black lab. There are now “cremains” in the National Veterans Cemetery in Phoenix and scattered in front of Huff Gym at the University of Illinois.

  5. 5
    Yatsuno says:

    :: hug ::

    I had something to say here but couldn’t keep it from sounding callous. So just hugz.

  6. 6
    Graham says:

    Is there a Ralph’s around here?

    Much love and peace to you, BC.

  7. 7
    BGinCHI says:

    Much love to you and your family, Betty.

    Keeping your sense of humor is so damn important.

  8. 8
    Citizen_X says:

    @Yatsuno: Yah, not much to say. Love to you, your mom, and all your family, Betty.

  9. 9
    gogol's wife says:


    Yes, it’s probably the most important thing.

  10. 10
    Hawes says:

    Beautiful, lovely, funny and mournful. Like a good eulogy should be.

  11. 11

    How are you holding up? {{{Betty Cracker}}}

  12. 12
    rreay says:

    My mother and I flew cross-country with my fathers remains. At checkin they gave her suitcase big tag saying it contained human remains. Then when it came out at the baggage pickup it still had the tag and was covered in white powder.

    It turns out that a container of baby powder in an outside pocket had exploded. It’s funny now.

  13. 13
    SuperHrefna says:

    Hugs Betty! You bring grace and laughter to hard times. Your mom taught you well.

  14. 14
    Yatsuno says:

    @Hawes: At my uncle’s funeral there was a shit ton of laughing and good humour. Until they read the statement from my cousin. Then there wasn’t a dry eye anywhere. After it was done I knew why she couldn’t read it herself.

  15. 15
    Mnemosyne says:

    When we were picking the urn for my dad’s ashes, I kept telling my mom to get the “double wide” so we could put her in there, too, when the time came. We all thought it was really funny, because that’s how we roll.

    We got a reasonably nice wooden one because my dad was a woodcarver, so we thought he’d like it. We had some thought of trying to put them into one of his own pieces, but the canister was kind of an odd size.

    The “going through her stuff” phase simultaneously sucks ass and is really entertaining, so don’t put it off because you think it will be 100 percent depressing. Some of it will be depressing, and some of it will be, Ohmigod, do you remember this?

  16. 16
    KS in MA says:

    Betty, that’s inspired. Many hugs to you and your family.

  17. 17
    TaMara (BHF) says:

    I have so many stories I could share, having worked a few years with the dead, but I’m saving them for my book. Humor is definitely my preferred way to deal with my own grief. I second that your mom looks lovely in red.

    Big hugs, Ms. Cracker, big hugs.

  18. 18
    MomSense says:

    Hugs to you, Betty.

  19. 19
    donnah says:

    When my mom’s sister passed away and was cremated, her daughter brought her ashes home in a box. She realized she had to stop at the pharmacy to pick up a prescription and when she pulled and parked, she said to herself, “Do I take Mom in with me, or leave her in the car?”

    The family all gathered weeks later in her hometown. Her daughters had purchased little ceramic bowls so that each of us could collect some of her ashes and scatter them there where she grew up. We all found special places that represented what she loved: a stream, a grove of trees, the church grounds, the pond, all places she would have been happiest.

    You honor your mother well with your plans, Betty. My heart is with you.

  20. 20
    LanceThruster says:

    Betty Cracker’s mom has merged with the infinite.

    Nice to share the journey with the star stuff that is you and your mum.

    We are the local embodiment of a Cosmos grown to self-awareness. We have begun to contemplate our origins: starstuff pondering the stars; organized assemblages of ten billion billion billion atoms considering the evolution of atoms; tracing the long journey by which, here at least, consciousness arose. Our loyalties are to the species and the planet. We speak for Earth. Our obligation to survive is owed not just to ourselves but also to that Cosmos, ancient and vast, from which we spring.

    We’re made of star-stuff. We are a way for the cosmos to know itself.

    ~ Carl Sagan

  21. 21
    StringOnAStick says:

    Hugs to you, Betty.

  22. 22

    The funeral home was very disappointed that my sister and I did not want the Big Fancy Expensive Urn Experience for neither mom nor dad. We were going to scatter the ashes anyway, so what was the point?

    Since we live on opposite coasts, my sister used a garden trowel to go through the cremains and divide them into an equal number of baggies. Then commenced world travels to scatter the ashes everywhere my parents had been and loved. We scattered some in the south of France, some in New York Harbor, some in the San Francisco Bay … and then 9/11 happened, and I thought traveling with baggies of gray powder might not pass muster with TSA. So I’ve got an antique ceramic jar with parents’ ashes in it, wondering what the hell to do with them.

    I’m sorry for your loss. Ashes to ashes. The earthly remains are just that. The spirit goes on … and on … and on…

  23. 23
    Debbie(aussie) says:

    {{{{Betty}}}} share with your family as needed. You are an amazing lady, with a great view of life and a wonderful ability to share it. Thanks.

  24. 24
    Digital Amish says:

    I’ve instructed my kids to scatter my ashes in a specific remote location high in the Olympic Mts. It’s two days of off trail trekking to reach. It would probably fall to the one son-in-law who has been there with me. He swears it’ll happen. It’s almost too bad I’m an atheist because I’d like to see they follow through.

  25. 25
    ascap_scab says:

    Dad wanted us to put some ashes with his mother’s grave and the rest in the Mississippi River where he loved to fish. So yes, Dad now sleeps with the fishes, and we’re not even from ‘Joisey’.

  26. 26
    bg says:

    We took a small vial of my Dad’s ashes to my son’s wedding in another country. I was afraid I would get stopped at customs, but I didn’t. My long-haired hippie brother did get stopped and searched, though, so it was fortunate that I won that argument about who would get to bring it. I think Dad definitely would have preferred being scattered in the ocean than at customs at the airport.

    Several years out, now, there is more laughter than tears.

    Best to you, Betty.

  27. 27
    Linda Featheringill says:


    And I like the red bag.

  28. 28
    Kathy in St. Louis says:

    The last line of the article is poetry. Poetry are words that make you feel. I feel your pain and love.

  29. 29
    Ruckus says:

    I like that you are celebrating her life which sounded like it was well lived. A little/lot rocky at times but still well lived. I’ve said this before but what else is there?
    Dad we had to bury in an urn inside a box in a cemetery, so we plopped him in with his mom and dad. We were told that was the law that we couldn’t just put the urn in the ground. I think that was BS but there you are. Mom we scattered at sea because that’s what she wanted. She kept telling us for about the last 10-15 yrs to just throw her out when she was done. Hope she wasn’t kidding.

  30. 30
    Lyrebird says:

    When I reach that day, I’m gonna tell the funeral home people they need to use the perfectly good English word, “ashes” or no deal.

    And the bag’s awesome.

    A relative of mine, responsible for interring the ashes of a somewhat particular and very thrifty relative, found an awesome ceramic piggy bank in the shape of the relative’s all-time favorite vehicle.

    It was also awesome.

  31. 31
    opiejeanne says:

    @Mnemosyne: Yeah, my sister is still clearing out Dad’s house (she bought the house from his estate) and while we have helped her, we don’t live nearby so she’s done most of it. Thank goodness her daughter is with her so that she isn’t alone while she does this when we’re not there.

  32. 32
    opiejeanne says:

    Betty, I love your attitude and the stories about your mom. Hugs to you.

  33. 33
    SiubhanDuinne says:

    I love the red bag! What a wonderful outlook on life — and death — your mother bequeathed you.

    My dad’s ashes came from the crematorium in a Tupperware container — grey box, orange lid. We scattered them all around the base of a lovely Japanese maple he had planted decades earlier. It was his favourite tree. And because he loved the birds and critters, we alternated handfuls of ashes with handfuls of sunflower seeds.

    I hate the word “cremains.” If Congress wants to do something useful, they could vote to repeal that word.

  34. 34
    Roxy says:

    Hugs Betty. I remember wanting my mom’s ashes to come home. She lived with me and two of my sisters for 3 years before cancer took her away from us.

    My sisters and I couldn’t decide on an urn for my mom also. So we made one for her. We went to a local craft store and found this beautiful fluted jar with a silver colored lid where the top had a small pine cone on it. We then bought some yellow paint (her favorite color) that you can use on glass and painted the inside and outside of the jar. This is where our portion of my mom’s ashes are now. I know my mom is loving this. My brother took his portion of the ashes and scattered them. Splitting the ashes saved a lot of arguments with all the siblings.

    Funny thing I could never pin down my mom where she wanted her ashes to be scattered. Everytime I brought up one of her favorite places she would always find a reason why not to scatter them there. It was my aunt (mom’s sister) that said maybe your mom didn’t want her ashes scattered. So my portion and my two sisters portion of the ashes are in her beautiful urn, here at home.

    Take your time going through your mom’s belongings. I’m glad we waited. It’s been over three years since my mom passed. We are now able to give some of her belongings away where they will help other people and keep some of her other belongings.

  35. 35
    Mnemosyne says:


    Cemeteries are weird. Even if we had wanted to put my dad’s ashes in the cemetery where the rest of his family is, they wouldn’t let us because it’s a Catholic cemetery and they have very strict rules about how you can do it. I wanted to at least be able to put a cenotaph (aka “the person by this name is buried/interred elsewhere”) but they don’t do that, either. The most we could do would be to pull up my mom’s current gravestone and either re-etch it on the back or install a completely new one, and we don’t want to do that. So we’re kinda stuck as far as directing future genealogists.

  36. 36
    Amir Khalid says:

    That story about Keith Richards and his dad’s ashes comes to mind, but I don’t think I’ll repeat it here. (Not that I’d need to, in this company … ) I’m reassured to see that you’ve got your grace and humour to help you get through this. Bianca and I send our love.

  37. 37
    Violet says:

    That’s a beautiful outfit your mom is wearing. She looks great in that color. Hang in there, Betty. Hugs.

  38. 38
    Snarla says:

    My mom always told us she wanted us to split up her remains and keep them on our mantels. Then 20 years later she told me she was just joking. That’s some dry humor, mom!

    But I like seeing that dividing the ashes is not unusual.

  39. 39
    gbear says:

    I had to survey a funeral chapel building in preparation for a building addition, and as I was looking around inside a closet I noticed a little 4″ cube cardboard box with a name and address on it. It was very strange when I realized that there was a person inside the box.

    I really need to get my own funeral plans in place so that my family doesn’t have to do all that if I should drop dead. I want to be cremated too, and I would like my ashed dumped into the Mississippi River about a mile upstream of my house. The I-35E bridge has a very nice hiking/biking sidewalk with a very nice overlook that would work perfectly for ash-dumping, although it requires about a half-mile of walking to get there.

    To be perfectly honest, I won’t be around to care and I don’t believe I’ll be in any form that lets me know how people are reacting (I sure as hell won’t be looking down from heaven). My sisters could dump my ashes in a culvert in front of my house if they wanted. I’d wind up in the Mississippi either way. Maybe I’ll wind up in someone’s closet…

  40. 40
    opiejeanne says:

    @bg: I went to Denver to help my cousins clear out their parents’ house after their mom died. My job was identifying family photos because nobody ever writes names on the backs because everyone knows who that is, and it’s now 5 generations later but I had figured out a lot of them from my dad’s half of the photos. I scanned and saved hundreds of them to disc for each sister and myself, and uploaded them to a file on Flickr.

    While I was there they decided to scatter her ashes so we drove out to South Park and we had a picnic on a freezing, windy day with many of my aunt and uncle’s friends. It was beautiful but very, very cold. Someone brought homemade ice cream, hardier folk than I.
    Afterwards we drove to a hill overlooking the area but my cousins didn’t consider wind direction and my aunt ended up blowing back at all of us, so I’m sure I still had some of my aunt in my hair and clothing when I flew home the next day even though I did shower and wash my hair that evening.

    I laugh when I tell people we scattered Aunt Jean’s ashes at South Park.

  41. 41
    gbear says:

    Betty, no disrespect meant by my rambling. My parents passed away about 3.5 years apart and were both cremated and buried at Fort Snelling Cemetery. It was what they wanted but provided minimum closure for us kids. I hope that your plans for your mother’s ashes bring some closure and comfort. Hugs to you.

  42. 42
    Betty Cracker says:

    Thanks, y’all. I’m on my way to the Suwannee for the memorial. I know I can get through this because there’s no other choice. But damn.

  43. 43
    WaterGirl says:

    Oh Betty, holding the ashes is so bittersweet. Your mom would be so proud of you, and you are an inspiration to us all.

    Sending love your way, water girl.

  44. 44
    Elie says:

    My thoughts are with you during this time, Betty…

    We had both my Dad and my husbands parents cremated. It was a bit surprising to me at first that the volume is rather large (or at least larger than expected). We dispersed the ashes of all three — My Dad in the church garden where he and Mom worshiped (where they had a special garden) and my in-laws, right out on the water off the beach by our home. We planted trees in memory … and I think of them when I look at the trees — not with regret, but celebrating that life still prevails and focusing on that comfort.

    I wish you comfort and peace… may she stay sharp in your memories like my folks do. This stands out at a time when my Mom is slipping away and one day before too long will “walk to join our ancestors”

  45. 45
    Svensker says:

    I know I can get through this because there’s no other choice. But damn.

    Pretty much.

    Big hugs, kiddo.

  46. 46
    ruemara says:

    Lots of support to you, Betty.

  47. 47
    sharl says:

    Hugs Betty. Your mama raised a good daughter, and she’d be justified in feeling proud right now.

  48. 48
    Violet says:

    @Betty Cracker: Sending you much love, Betty. Be kind to yourself.

  49. 49
    Trinity says:

    Big hug to you Betty.

  50. 50
    WereBear says:

    Sounds like Mom is still with you. Blessings on all who miss her.

  51. 51
    Jebediah, RBG says:

    My mom scattered my Dad’s ashes at First Encounter Beach, which is where they honeymooned. We scattered my little brother’s ashes at the same place. We will probably scatter my older brother’s ashes there too, but his widow isn’t quite ready yet, so she still has them.
    We agonize over what to do with our loved ones’ ashes, anting to do it just right, but it is more for our benefit than that of the passed on, so I guess there really isn’t a wrong thing if it feels right.
    Which is a long-winded way of saying: thinking of you and hope you are holding up OK.

  52. 52
    tt cews says:

    My spouse says he wants his “cremains” “scattered from the southernmost parapet of Villhardouin’s castle in Sparta.” The whole point is to make sure I get out of the house and have a nice trip and not be too sad.

    So, Betty, have nice trip and don’t be too sad.

  53. 53
    Edith says:

    My husband died of lung cancer when he was 43 years old a year and half ago. He could never except what was happening and never made his wishes known. My mother-in-law and I decided on cremation. The only thing Michael ever said jokingly was that he wanted to buried in a Starbuck’s can. I told a friend of mine, he bought a Starbuck’s coffee container for Michael – we call it his summer home. My very best to you and your family, for years you have provided me some great reads and I appreciate it.

  54. 54
    Betty Cracker says:

    @tt cews: Wise spouse you have.

  55. 55
    TidyCat says:

    this is my grandfather – he’s got a pretty kick-ass resting spot

    also – who could forget this?

    best to you, Betty =^..^=

  56. 56
    kathy a. says:


  57. 57
    greenergood says:

    I love your mom’s gorgeous red bag. I hated it when my dad was in a big, dark-coloured wooden coffin at his funeral; a few months before I’d been at the funeral of a friend’ s mom whose coffin was basically a wicker basket with ribbons and flowers tucked into it – and the whole tone of the funeral was completely different because there wasn’t this big, dark object as the centre of attention. I was astonished when my strict-Catholic mom told me she’s not bothered what happens after she goes, that cremation’s not a problem. I wish I’d known that when my dad died, cause there’s dozens of places I would rather remember him in than the huge cemetery outside of NYC where he’s buried. Maybe she’s had a change of heart – but I will find some good places for my mom’s ashes to go – that is, if I outlive her – her mom lived to 102, and my mom lives a much healthier life than I do! ;-) PS as word-aficionado (aka OCD copy-editor), I have decided that ‘cremains’ is one of the most revolting word-salad-type utterances I have ever come across and must be banned from any dictionary anywhere, and any funeral director using the term must be at least incarcerated, if not something worse.

  58. 58
    GHayduke (formerly lojasmo) says:

    When I dropped my mother and grandmother’s ashes in the lake upon which the family cabin sits (they died in January and April respectively, and we scattered the ashes in June) the ashes were remarkable different in consistency and colour.

    Find peace, Betty.

  59. 59
    a hip hop artist from Idaho (fka Bella Q) says:

    Betty Cracker, you mother looks terrific in that shiny red bag. Humor is about all you can do, and you’ll get through it because you must, but damn. My thoughts are with you. It isn’t easy, and your grace is inspirational.

  60. 60
    PurpleGirl says:

    Betty — {{{HUGS))). I like the idea of a red bag. It is most auspicious and lucky to use red. (The Chinese use red envelopes and bags for gift giving.)

  61. 61
    kc says:

    Awww, Betty. {{{{{hugs}}}}

  62. 62
    Helen says:

    Betty I am late to this thread and was late to the thread when you told us your mom passed. But I hope you see this comment and take it the way I mean it.

    I am now 51 years old. My mother died when I was 12 and she got cancer when I was 6. So I have spent virtually my whole life momless (although that is kinda unfair. I have some very cool stories of her; as do you of your mom. I do remember her).

    But here’s my perspective; right or wrong. Whenever I hear about a woman who loses her mom at the age I am at the time, my first thought is “WOW, she’s so lucky – she had her mom for 51 years”

    I mean no disrespect and do not down-grade your pain. I am generally not a “glass is half full” person. But I hope this helps.

  63. 63
    Betty Cracker says:

    I tell ya folks, you find out what people are made of during hard times. I made a damn good choice when I married my husband almost 17 years ago.

    He’s been my knight, my rock, my bartender, my hankie and my best friend.

    My mom was wrong about him: She said he almost deserves me. He actually deserves someone way better.

  64. 64
    greenergood says:

    ‘He’s been my knight, my rock, my bartender, my hankie and my best friend.’
    Good golly Ms Cracker, that’s one of the the best descriptions of a mate I’ve ever seen … in fact, I’d need to flail around the literary universe to find another one as good – you’re in the zone … :-))

  65. 65
    mellowjohn says:

    one of my favorite scenes on the old “hill street blues” TV show (or any other TV show, for that matter) is the one where the cops are scattering the ashes of their recently departed desk sergeant around the precinct. mick belker, one of the most hard-nosed of the bunch, manages to take a handful and slip them in his pocket as he wipes his nose with his other hand.
    take care, betty. it will take time, but it does get better.

  66. 66
    Ferdzy says:

    Thinking of you, Betty.

  67. 67
    Avery Greynold says:

    Ashes are chemically caustic when moistened, so handle with care. A story is told of a family receiving their ashes by mail, and poking around in the vermiculite packing to find the urn. Until they realized there was no urn, and no vermiculite. It wasn’t their original mistake that bothered them. Their fingers burned afterwards and thought it meant something.

  68. 68
    hope says:

    so sorry Betty.
    I nominate inturnment for crappy word of the year

  69. 69

    @opiejeanne: No one ever, ever considers wind direction.

    Or, stated otherwise, the point in the AIDS epidemic at which I knew to consider wind direction was right before I decided to get a check up from the neck up…and dammit if that shrink didn’t say I have issues around death. Who’da thunk?

  70. 70

    @Betty Cracker: My dad wanted to be buried in a pine box, and so he was. We snuck the ashes of the kitty who almost lasted out his final summer in there, on his chest…in an enamel tin he used as his desk’s pencil cup back when he needed a pencil cup.

    That was 17.6 years ago. I miss him every day.

    We are never old enough to lose our parents.

  71. 71
    Elie says:

    @Mnemosyne: Soooo True!

  72. 72
    satby says:

    Holding you all in my thoughts, Betty.

  73. 73
    satby says:

    Keeping your family in my thoughts Betty.

  74. 74
    Ruckus says:

    @Betty Cracker:
    All you really need in a spouse is the last one, a best friend. The rest is just icing.

    You’ll get through it because you will. There really isn’t a choice in the matter. Keep the humor, cherish the good times but don’t forget the rest, they are important too.

  75. 75
    hamletta says:

    My thoughts are with you. My mom died in June, and we haven’t done anything with the ashes yet.

    Hang in there. My mom died suddenly, so I had the advantage of shock.

  76. 76
    Tehanu says:

    Hugs to you and your supportive husband. We’re having the VA cemetery committal service for my dad on Monday. I wrote an obituary for him, which was published in our hometown paper today, but that’s just facts … I haven’t been able to write anything that goes beyond facts. I just break down and cry. Your tributes to your mom here have been so heartfelt and I wish I could do that for Daddy. Maybe after some more time. Anyway, hang in there and know so many people wish you well.

  77. 77
    mai naem says:

    I think the red bag is a cool statement. I think your mom would have like it.
    We got a box from the funeral home when my dad died. We also traveled with the ashes and I happened to be the one who was carrying the box everywhere including on the airplane. The airline people offered to put the box with regular luggage but ofcourse, I was like “hell,no!” This was pre-9/11 so I have no idea what they do with people who travel with ashes now. Anyway, what surprised me was how heavy the ashes were and keep in mind my dad had lost a ton of weight before he died – he was about 100 lbs -5’8″ish.
    I have a friend who for a while sold funeral caskets. He says caskets are the highest funeral profit maker item for a funeral home and that the funeral home has to accept a casket you bought on your own. I wonder if the same goes for urns.

  78. 78
    c u n d gulag says:

    Hang tough, Betty!
    But who am I talking to? ;-)

    Btw – You gave me an idea.
    I’ll ask in my will to have my cremains put in Russian nesting dolls for anyone interested in having one.

    The rest I’ll ask to be put in a nesting doll, and set-afloat in the Hudson River, from Upstate NY where I now live, so I can drift down the river, and past the city I love so much, into the Atlantic.

  79. 79
    Talentless Hack says:

    A coffee can! At the risk of offending people, let me express that I think that’s brilliant! I might put that in my will. Imagine a bunch of people milling about the funeral home during visiting hours and I’m sitting there on The Table in a Maxwell House coffee can! TH gets the last word in, finally, and it’s a big middle-finger to the people who would suck a bunch of money out of my estate.

    Oh hell, if I’m going to specify the non-urn, I might as well specify what brand of coffee, right?

  80. 80
    StringOnAStick says:

    @Betty Cracker: Betty, that is the most loving and beautiful thing I’ve ever read about one’s spouse. How wonderful for both of you.

  81. 81
    everbluegreen says:

    Your mom raised a damned fine daughter.

    May her memory be a blessing.

  82. 82
    Lex says:

    Betty, my belated condolences for your loss, and what a wonderful piece of writing.

    When you feel up to it or maybe in need of some laughter through tears (“my favorite emotion,” they called it in “Steel Magnolias”), read this story. We had my dad cremated when he died nine years ago, but we placed the ashes in a columbarium at the church he and my stepmom attended. A few weeks later, when I was down helping her go through his possessions, I shared the link with her and we just roared through our tears. We also thought how every much Dad would have loved that story, too.

    I hope you take a great deal of comfort from your fans here. God knows you’ve earned it.

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