My mother’s ashes
My mother’s ashes
Video by Malcolm McKinnon
Contact Malcolm McKinnonCopyright
Do the cremated ashes of a loved one retain some essence of the departed person? And what are the responsibilities of a bereaved custodian in dealing with these ashes?
Here, Mary Smith contemplates the substance and meaning of the ashes of her deceased parents. Is the elaborate vessel she had crafted for her mother’s ashes capable of containing all of the associated spirit and emotions?
-When mum died, it was just assumed that she'd be cremated. There's something cleaner about a cremation rather than a slow disintegration underground, I guess, is the way I feel about it. I'm not a religious person, but I still sort of have this idea that even though it's just, I guess, some kind of carbon matter, these ashes, that there's still some semblance of essence of person in there somehow.
When I picked mum's ashes up from the funeral director, where I collected them, and to take them home, I put her in the backseat, and I put her seat belt on, and I talked to the container. And it was like, oh, are you all right then, mum?
The funeral director when we picked up the ashes, she was a lovely lady, and this was part of what she does every day, and it was very matter-of-fact for her to speak about, now, do you know what they're going to look like? No. And she said, well, people think they're a fine sort of ash like you get when you've had a fire in the fireplace, but it's not the case because some of the larger, heavier bones, they don't reduce into ashes, and there's lumpy bits. There's big lumpy bits.
So when you open this up, there might be some fine, ashy bits, and there might be some big, lumpy bits. And I'm thinking, this is mama she's talking about. But it wasn't my mum. It was material, sort of flakey, lumpy, material that's going to blow away in the wind.
I had this fantasy about taking my parents' ashes back to their home country. Maybe I could take a little piece of them. But then I really thought it was wrong to separate the ashes. What bit of their body would that be? Like would I just be taking my mother's big toe to Germany, and would she be missing something?
I really ultimately think that we will scatter my parents' ashes. I can't contain my mother in that mosaic utter that I've made because she'd too big to contain. But time will come, and I think the sea is a good place because perhaps ultimately, parts of my parents might even reach Europe. Who knows which way the tide's going.