I’ll take “Macabre Family Humor” for $500, Alex.

As some of you (my two readers) may know, my grandfather passed away in January of this year.

His wish, for as long as I can remember, has been to be cremated.  (The only time he ever wavered from this was one night several years ago.  After returning home from an emergency trip to the hospital, my aunt started throwing blankets on him and in his weary state he muttered, “Just throw dirt on me.”)  Along with that cremation wish, he also requested that his ashes be put into a Maxwell House coffee can and buried in the backyard.

Alas, the cremation/burial laws don’t allow this.  I now know a lot about cremation.  More than I wanted to know.

Here are the things I learned:

  • you must be inside a casket of some type to be cremated

I know, right?  You thought you might save money.  Granted, you can buy what is essentially the equivalent of a cardboard box, but still..even that is a few hundred dollars.  FOR A CARDBOARD BOX.  (My aunt actually asked the funeral director if we could swing on down to Hannaford and pick one up there.)  And lest you think I am being disrespectful of the dead, may I remind you my grandfather wanted to be buried in a coffee can.  And that’s not because he loved Maxwell House with all his heart.  My mom is still not convinced he won’t come back and haunt us for buying one grade up on the cardboard box.

  • you must be in an urn

This is what you traditionally think of putting a loved one in.  It can be the vase shaped kind or a nice box.  We went with the nice carved wood box, even though we were ever mindful of how my grandfather would react to the exorbitant cost.  The dilemma was solved when my mom said, “Just because he was cheap doesn’t mean we have to be.”  Duly noted.

  • the urn must be in this larger sealed container called a vault and this is what actually gets buried

CHA-CHING!!  This container must be of a sturdy substance (like rare stone made from the center of a rock dug up by 18th century monks at the base of Mt Kilimanjaro on a full moon on a Tuesday or some shit like that), and the urn is sealed inside it prior to being buried.


Fast forward a little later.  Half of my grandfather’s ashes were set aside for my grandmother – and for whoever else in the family might want some.  (This all came about in a pressure ridden moment at the funeral parlor.)  This half was put inside a simple bronze urn – a LARGE one.  Like, it’s possible my grandfather can still protect his house if we throw that thing at an intruder.  And because my grandmother is still not ready for him to be “sitting out”, as it were, his urn is in the liquor cabinet.

That last bit is pretty awesome, by the way.


Due to the snap decision back in January to put half of my grandfather’s remains aside in this way, it poses a bit of a challenge in giving other members of the family some of his ashes.

We have small “keepsake” urns on the way as I type this – little 3 inch urns so we can all have our little bit of Grampop.  (And every time I think about this, I shudder because 1) it’s morbid, and 2) my grandfather would knuckle all of us in the back of the head and tell us we were a bunch of stupid peckerheads for spending all this money and divvying up his ashes like a bunch of goddammed fools.)


The challenge is this: How do we get the ashes from the big urn into the little tiny urns?


My mom and I sort of talked about it at one point, and my suggestion (after a brief discussion on what household tool might be sacrificed for this project) was that my mom ask the funeral director to do it for us.  She thought that might be a good idea.


Fast forward to today.  Tomorrow is the memorial service for my grandfather.  My grandmother is wary, upset, sad (as we all are) and is also not quite understanding that the urn she has is staying with her.  My mom has repeatedly explained that tomorrow we are only burying half of his ashes.  The urn my grandmother has is ours to do what we like.

So, I asked my mom if she had spoken to the funeral director.  She had not.  The subsequent conversation went like this:

Mom: “Well, if it’s not too dusty, I don’t mind using a spoon to get the ashes in the small urns.”

Me: “Dusty??  It’s ashes.”

Mom: “Well, I know…”

Me: “Furthermore…the dusty ashes?  It’s Grampop.”

Mom: “Yes, well…maybe we can get a small funnel.  That would help.”


Believe it or not, she would probably do this.  I might let her, if for no other reason than that I could tell stories that start with “Remember that time you were spooning Grampop into the small urns…?”

But I probably won’t let her.  She and I both have decided we probably won’t speak at his service because how do you explain how much someone meant to you without breaking down and weeping in front of them?  So, I can’t let my mom spoon the ashes because I am pretty sure they need to stay dry.  Plus, I love my mom.


And, Grampop?  Sorry about the ashes stuff.  And for not using a coffee can.  And for spending too much money on your casket.  And for having a memorial service you did not want.

And for the spoon jokes.  Even though I think they might make you laugh a little.


And, Grampop?  I still miss you.


Leave a comment


  1. Tori

     /  June 10, 2011

    I had to hold in a chuckle – not at the content, but at your conversation with your Mom. I could SO hear you in my head. Good to know all that by the by. My mom and I both want to be cremated and I had no idea it could be so complicated.

  1. Macabre family humor part 2… « Hormones on Parade
  2. Emily Post ain’t got nothing on my ma. « Hormones on Parade

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