My Father’s Ashes

me and dad


As I sat in my 29-year-old administrative assistant's funeral this past weekend and read the poem below in italics, I was reminded of how precious life is. And how little time we get – or choose – to spend with our loved ones.





by Unknown

Each morning when we awake
we know that you are gone.
And no one knows the heartache
As we try to carry on.


Wednesday marks the 5th anniversary of my father's death (the picture above was taken a year before he died). I don’t think of my father everyday – but often. Holidays, his birthday, the anniversary of his death, when random things or people remind me of him. And I miss him.


Our hearts still ache with sadness
and many tears still flow.
What it meant to lose you,

No one will ever know.


They say there is no pain greater than that of a parent who has lost a child. I get that – the loss of a life not fully lived. One could argue that at 62 – the age my father was when he passed – he had lived a full life and thus, I shouldn’t be as sad. That, like other platitudes we say to the grieving (He’s in heaven; at least he’s not in pain anymore), are not as helpful as they are meant to be. Losing a loved one – parent, child, sibling, spouse – sucks. No ifs ands or buts about it. Telling me to be grateful he lived a full life and that he’s not in pain anymore, while true, aren’t necessarily what I need to hear in my grief.


Our thoughts are always with you,
your place no one can fill.
In life we loved you dearly,
In death we love you still.


Love. Such a powerful emotion. Yes, my father had his faults – we all do – but I love him. I always will. Nothing can damper that – not even death.

There will always be a heartache,
and often a silent tear,
But always a precious memory
Of the days when you were here.


It does get easier with time. My heart no longer feels like it’s breaking as it did in the first few weeks after he died. Yet, it only takes a moment to be back there, for the grief to feel raw and fresh and new. Will that get better? Only time will tell.


If tears could make a staircase,
And heartaches make a lane,
We'd walk the path to heaven
And bring you home again.


I’ve certainly cried enough tears to make several staircases! Yet, I don’t want to bring him back. His time on this Earth was done. It’s not for me to say whether his life was cut short or not. I don’t get to decide when it’s been “time enough.” Instead, I cherish knowing he’s got my back – albeit from a different realm.


We hold you close within our hearts,
And there you will remain,
To walk with us throughout our lives
Until we meet again.


I know that some people believe that when you die, you die. End of story. I hold out hope that somewhere out there my father still keeps track of me and knows what I’m up to. And maybe, just maybe, as the veil thins as we approach All Hallow’s Eve, I might feel his presence.

Our family chain is broken now,
And nothing will be the same,
But as God calls us one by one,
The chain will link again.


Life is but a chain of events – a series of chains being crossed and cut, crossed and cut. Sometimes we choose to cut the chains and sometimes Universe does it for us. Although we may not always choose to cut the chains, we do get to choose how we react to that chain being cut.


When my father died, we did nothing to denote the cutting of the chain. After the cremation, his ashes sat in my mother’s house for nearly 5 years. But after attending my boyfriend's father's funeral last July, I decided that I needed to do something to mark my father’s passing – to commemorate the cutting of the chain. I needed closure. Attending my administrative assistant’s funeral this past weekend only reinforced that for me.


There are many reasons why we didn't do anything to commemorate his death when he died, but they matter little now. What matters is that I miss him and I need to do something – not for him, but for me. For death is really never about the one who died, but about the ones they left behind. While I don’t plan on hosting a memorial service 5 years later, I do need to hold some sort of ceremony – even if I am the only one in attendance.


It’s time to pause and reflect, to scatter my father’s ashes. To say my prayers and my goodbyes. To say my thank yous and I will always love yous.


I haven’t quite decided the when, where, and how of this ceremony yet. The original plan was to scatter his ashes in the Sawtooth Mountains and I may still do that; it's what he wanted. Although my life has changed tremendously since he died, the location we'd selected is still a beautiful and quite appropriate place. Whatever I do, I know it will be from the heart and just right for me and for him. That’s really all that matters.


What do you do to commemorate a loved one’s passing? How do you mark the anniversary of their death?



  • Virginia says:

    My Mom died 12 years ago at 74. Each year I send out a electronic greeting card to my brothers and sisters with something in them I know she would have liked.
    In between I remember her with fun memories, sometimes sadness and regret, but mostly remember her strengths and smiles and how well she influenced my life (and so many others).

  • lilli says:

    I kept my son’s ashes for many years in a box with a big card of a smiling Snoopy on top.
    Then one day I decided to let him go free. I went to the river he used to love and play and I entrusted his ashes to it.
    He went… but what he was and brought to me and life is still around.

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