I recently received a request for an interment of ashes for an old lady. The lady was estranged from her biological family so I spoke with the stepson, Stan.*
My heart went out to Stan as he spoke to the character of his stepmother, Joan. ‘She was nasty’, he repeated a few times. I spoke in a reflective manner what I understood to be pain and tiredness. Stan and his wife, Helen had cared for Joan during a long period of her health problems. I also heard the need for closure. I respectfully asked questions about Joan’s younger days, her work, her relationships with grandchildren, the care staff, and whether they would like a form of eulogy spoken. There were no stories forthcoming. There was a lot of pain from the many years of struggle.
There was one positive thread: the man’s father had loved and adored his stepmother.
Stan didn’t want a eulogy however Helen showed some interest and so I offered my support if she needed help writing a tribute. In closing, I asked if the grandchildren would like to speak since it is often true, that these relationships are where some light may shine through.
After the interview, I sat for a while and let this old lady and her family’s story touch me. I didn’t have a lot of her story to write to, just a few lines. Where do I start?
I’ve loved, I’ve laughed and cried
I’ve had my fill, my share of losing
And now, as tears subside
I find it all so amusing to think I did all that
And may I say, not in a shy way
Oh, no, oh, no, not me, I did it my way
For what is a man, what has he got?
If not himself, then he has not
To say the things he truly feels
And not the words of one who kneels
The record shows I took the blows
And did it my way
You come together as family to inter the ashes of Joan Smith*. Joan’s wish was to be interred with her late husband, Michael, who adored her greatly.
My name is Wendy Haynes and I am the celebrant for today’s ceremony.
Stan and Helen, you have taken care of Joan to the end, with great respect for the wishes of your late father, Michael. And now, you have fulfilled your duty and Joan is free from her suffering.
Joan was set in her ways and, sadly, created much discord throughout her family. I can only imagine there is mourning for this pain and the loss of connection that existed; and it is natural, given there was disaffection and estrangement with her family throughout her years, that there is some relief that she has died and that the suffering may cease. It can be hard to understand what brought her to such separation; how her life shaped who she became. There was one connection that she felt more at ease with and that was with her grandchildren. I’d like to invite her grandchildren to share a few words about their ‘little nanny’
The grandchildren spoke of some of their memories: the smile they would get at times and also the pain they witnessed. The granddaughter spoke of the love she saw in her nanna’s eyes when Joan met her new great great grandchild over Zoom not long before she died. The young woman read this quote by Winston Churchill in closing her tribute.
The stepdaughter in law, Helen, came forward with her tribute that named a few milestones from Joan’s life and Joan’s contributions to the community.
It is now time to inter Joan’s ashes.
The grave site had the plaque removed to one side; and a small hole had been dug in which the urn of ashes were placed. Everyone was invited to scatter a handful of soil on top and then Michael and his brother, took the spade and filled the remaining space. The grandchildren and great grandchildren placed flowers on the gravesite.
I know there are many mixed feelings here today, may you each find ease in your connection and care for each other. May Joan’s life, in its suffering and impact upon you as a family, highlight the importance of a kind word, gratitude and compassion. May peace be with you.
Thank you for your presence.
The music at the beginning of the ceremony, I Did It My Way by Frank Sinatra, evoked some laughter and also the tears of mourning a difficult life and personality. It also spoke to me of how our lives are a mix of so many emotions, twists and turns, love and loss, fate and choices.
When I emailed the family the first draft they were happy with how it read and didn’t request any changes. During the ceremony I did spontaneously affirm the love Joan was able to share with her grandchildren. After the ceremony, the family were very relieved and grateful for how the space was held.
*These are not the real names for privacy of individuals.