A few months ago, my friend Marge sent me the ashes of both of her parents. Her father had died seven years earlier, and her mother had always intended to have some sort of funeral or memorial service and scatter the ashes, but somehow the box ended up in a back closet, forgotten in the rush of daily living. Then, Marge’s mother passed away, and now the six siblings had not one, but two boxes of ashes and were at odds as to what should be done.
A couple of the sisters felt that it was too soon to do anything, and wanted to wait a few months and think about it. One brother wanted to buy a cemetery plot and bury the urns. Another wanted to scatter the ashes at the beach. They talked and argued and tried to decide how to meet everyone’s needs, and wondered if they could ever come to a meeting of hearts and minds.
Marge, always big-hearted and loving, saw through them all. She realized that no matter what they chose, the real problem was that it was so final. Whether they chose interment or scattering, once the ashes were released, they were gone, and that would be that. No going back or changing minds. So, she sent me a few teaspoons of each of her parents and told me to be as creative as I wanted.
I did not know Marge’s parents, but had heard stories for years. Marge had also sent photos of the whole family over the course of many years. So I chose six different colors for each of parent. I lined up each set of ashes with a specific color and swirled them together in an endless dance. When all were finished, I sent six beautiful Memory Spheres, each one different from the others, to my friend. I also sent a note telling which parent matched which colors, so that each sibling could follow a specific color and know who is who. Then I waited to hear how the spheres were received.
Well, we had hit on the perfect keepsake for everyone, and Marge’s memorial gifts were received with surprise and joy. It seems that once each child had a bit of their mother and father to keep with them, to hold, and to have as part of their daily life, it was completely natural for them to divide the remaining ashes into their childhood sand buckets and head out to the water’s edge. Each sibling released their portion of ashes as they wished. One brother waded waist deep into the sea to fling his, and a sister stood at the tide line and sprinkled hers in the sand. Some wandered off alone to honor the private moment, and others gathered in the bond of shared childhood.
Marge tells me that afterward, they uncorked a bottle of wine at sunset and raised their glasses to their parents, who had enjoyed a long and loving marriage, and were together again in spirit and in their Memory Spheres. Never a reverent bunch, they call it the Toast and Toss.