Teach Us to Sit Still

Teach Us to Sit Still

Teach us to care and not to care
Teach us to sit still
Even among these rocks,
Our peace in His will
And even among these rocks
Sister, mother
And spirit of the river, spirit of the sea,
Suffer me not to be separated

And let my cry come unto Thee.
– T.S. Eliot

The reality of what has happened is slowly sinking in. One way to expedite that realization is to pick up your husband’s remains from the funeral home.

I took a half day off of work to do it, not sure how I would react. Ever since the memorial, I’ve been able to keep it together when I’m around people for the most part. I want to mourn alone, but am currently being smothered with love. I mostly let the smothering happen because intentions are good and the reality is I probably shouldn’t be alone a ton right now, but at night I let my guard down when it’s just me and the dogs in my room.

Anyway, I wasn’t sure what to expect when I walked into the funeral home. The last time I was there it was with my Dad and Tim’s closest family members. Upon arrival yesterday, I was walked into the same office as before and waited while they brought everything out to me. This time I was  alone by choice, so I waited.

Some details are almost funny. His ashes were in a box inside a green tote bag like you would get at Whole Foods for your groceries. It had the funeral home name printed on the side in white lettering. If you weren’t careful, you’d easily grab the tote to go to the store and pick up some dinner.

The funeral home director (not the old man, but still nice and calm and professional) carefully walked me through different line items to discuss. Early on in this process, he handed me an envelope and quietly said that it contained my husband’s wedding ring.

I burst into tears.

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Of course the funeral director wasn’t phased and just calmly and softly kept going over things while I tried to get my composure back. He explained there is documentation needed for traveling with remains, and I must carry them on a flight with this documentation because otherwise the TSA will ground planes for mysterious powder. While I dabbed my eyes with a Kleenex, he told me that more than one client had held up an entire flight because they tried to check luggage with their cremation ashes instead of carry on.

I cracked half a smile and said I had no plans of ever putting him in checked luggage.

Before he handed the tote bag over, he also warned me that it was heavier than people expected. About eight pounds. I took the bag, walked to my car and sobbed some more before driving home.

That night my friend and I had a fancy food party with groceries from Whole Foods, mostly nice cheese and bread and gourmet desserts. We watched Pitch Perfect and drank Prosecco. I pet my dog, and laughed some… but still these remains sat on my bed in their green grocery store tote bag.

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When I went to my room later, I knew I had to open it. The “minimum container” is a medium size white cardboard box which has a thick black, plastic box fit perfectly inside it. I knew from previous explanations that everything would be contained in an identified bag inside this black box, and I wanted to see it. I needed to see it.

Of course the damn thing was super difficult to get open, and I sat there struggling to pop the top with a bobby pin and a pair of pliers. I found myself thinking I should ask Tim to help me, which just made me sigh deeply.

The bobby pin ended up doing the trick, and I opened the top of the box. What I saw took my breath away. You always hear cremation remains referred to as ashes and I had pictures of soft, velvety dust that would gently blow off into the wind when it was time to spread his remains somewhere peaceful. The reality is an off white range of coarse gravel to soft sand. It looked like the “Beaches of the World” science project my elementary school teacher had, only mixed up in one bag.

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Looking at it is very final. This is the person you once shared your life with.

I’m not deeply religious, and Tim was an athiest, but I don’t believe that the only part left of him is that sand. To me, that bag does not contain his character or intelligence or memory in any way. I don’t know where his soul is, probably some of it with me, but I need to believe there is more than just organic life and death.

These are questions I won’t ever be able to answer. Even still, I stared at that bag for a long time last night and felt the different grains through the clear plastic.

31 thoughts on “Teach Us to Sit Still

  1. Death is weird. Seeing a body or ashes without the soul still ‘at home’ is weird. I’m glad you can write out your feelings about all the weirdness. Lots of love still coming to you.

  2. Absolutely his soul is with you, the love you shared was so obvious. That kind of love stays forever, death can’t stop it. Sending more virtual hugs <3

  3. Beautiful post. I’m not religious either, but I absolutely believe our energy stays out there long after we’ve passed on.

  4. Beautiful post.

    When my mom passed, I had to fly back to Texas from Wisconsin with her. I carried her in tote much like you are describing. The surely TSA agent growled at me to put the tote on the conveyor and I tearfully said “it’s my mom”. They changed their tune and treated me and mom with great respect.

    The airline even upgraded us when they heard.

    It feels like an impossible to lose someone and then little by little it gets a smidge easier. Much love to you

  5. It’s definitely strange … I felt the same way. And I agree: I don’t think the soul goes away. Energy can’t be destroyed, only changed.

  6. The beauty of life is that there are limitless possibilities after life. You don’t have to be religious to think there is more than just what we see here. I’m sure Tim was there helping you open that box. Sending love.

  7. Lauren, the strength that you have been handling this with, and the beauty with which you have written about it all is inspiring. Sending lots of love your way <3

  8. also not particularly religious but also agree that Tim is and will continue to be more than the contents of that box – your writing and sharing about him helps to keep him very present.

  9. He is with you now and always will be. That’s why there are pennies from heaven…. There are little things you will notice, small things you will find at odd times to let you know, he is still there for you and how much he will always love you. He watches over you, because he is now one of your guardian angels.
    (((((Hugs)))))

  10. When my grandmother received my grandfather’s remains, she wanted to be alone with them, too. Totally normal, I think, to want to share quiet time with a tangible piece of the person you love.

  11. I am still in awe of you and your ability to write through all of this. This piece was very moving and incredibly down to earth.

  12. Gorgeously written. You describe the elements of grief and this experience so well.

    When my grandfather passed recently, he too was cremated. His remains were placed in a beautiful wooden carved box, with deer and pine trees, because he loved the north woods. It also had a small brass nameplate with his name. It was one of the most beautiful things I had seen and memorialized him well.

    We buried the box of ashes, in a heart wrenching ceremony attended by close family. At my behest we saved some ashes in a beautiful tiny urn to sprinkle over the lake where he lived his life, which he loved so much. I had the honor of doing so and all the family members agreed I should keep the tiny urn. I had saved just the smallest amount of ash, so I was glad.

    Now my grandpa, one of the most unique, loving and wonderful men I have ever known, sits in that tiny urn on my bedside table. Nobody would ever know it was an urn. It just looks like a beautiful, expensive antique ornament, perhaps from Europe. It is heavy. I hold it nightly and think of my grandpa.

    Death is so difficult in so many ways, and I know the death of my grandpa comes nowhere near how you feel about Tim’s passing. But I do understand in some small way. For me, small things to remind me of him, like the tiny urn, are perfect. I felt so loved and honored by my family when they wanted me to keep part of him. I am the only one who did. Maybe it’s weird, but it makes me feel better to have him. I don’t know how you will feel about that.

    Biggest hugs, truly. ♥️

  13. In all the pain you’ve managed to find beauty in your words here, I can’t help but think that your writings will inspire and offer strength to people who come across it during their own struggles.

  14. When we received my brothers’ cremains, I noticed that his ashes weighed almost the same as the first time I held him in my arms as a baby. It was hard.
    Sincere condolences to you Lauren.

  15. Love and hugs to you. I really like that you are so real through all of this sharing your true feelings and experiences. You are such an amazing woman.

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