It was a beautiful thought, really.

My husband’s grandparents had died earlier this year (amazingly, they were born and then died eight days apart, both having lived exactly 95 years, 9 months and 28 days).

Our family decided that, as a tribute to their 73 years together, we should combine some of their ashes to spread around the outside of the home that they shared for their entire marriage. They would have liked that.

We wanted the whole family to be a part of this celebration of their lives, including the great-grandchildren.

It was a warm summer day.

Our family made our way over to Grandpa John and Grandma Bernita’s home.

Our daughter, who was 2, was trying desperately to keep up with the bigger kids. She began to run too fast and then fell and scraped her knee on the gravel road. She sat there and contemplated crying.

I yelled to her, “Great crash!”

Her father yelled to her, “Nice one, honey!”

Her brother, the nicest one of all of us, immediately stopped running, turned around and scooped his little sister up for a hug and even feigned astonishment at her barely reddened knee. My husband and I rolled our eyes at each other. He was making us look bad, again.

As we approached the house, I noticed that my son was looking a little nervous. He knew what was going on. Along with being a huge sucker for his sister, he is an introspective child, and had a lot of questions during his great-grandparents’ funeral. He had at least an idea that the strange powdery dust that his Papa carried was once his great grandparents. This was an idea that even I was having a hard time reconciling.



I admit I was nervous too. The occasion felt momentous. I tried to picture where I might want my own ashes to be spread someday. I thought of my own great-grandchildren reaching into a container and sprinkling me on my favorite hill, next to my favorite tree.

My daughter was not nervous. She obviously didn’t know what the heck was going on. But we thought it would be important for her to participate in this family celebration of life. And to document it.

Which may have been a mistake.

The big kids took their turns. Scooping the ash, gently scattering it through the grass and flowers and underneath the apple tree.

And then it was my daughter’s turn.

Here I am documenting this beautiful symbol of family. Of love. Of the passage of time. Of multiple generations of family.




She grabbed a great big handful of ashes.


And then she…




dumped the ashes on her head.


And she even rubbed it around a little.




I’m not really sure what she thought it was, but doesn’t she look absolutely gleeful?

“It’s like sunshine! And happiness! Right in my hair!”

There might have been some shrieking then. By me. By the bigger kids. I’m not really sure. But I think she finally figured out that something was wrong when everyone began to simultaneously shout at her that she needed to get into the bathtub. Right. Away.

It takes an incredible amount of soap to get human ash out of hair. Another fact that I never in a million years thought I would need to know.

I do know that my husband’s great grandparents were laughing.

And, eventually, we did too. After a couple bottles of shampoo and some serious scrubbing.

It was a beautiful thought, really.


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4 thoughts on “Ashes

  1. Becca Stowe says:

    Joelle, this is a wonderful story. I agree that Auntie Eta and Uncle John would have loved it. Especially, Uncle John. He had the best sense of humor. Very quite and hysterical. I still have some of his jokes that he mailed to me when I was in High School – late 1960’s. Loved them so much. Loved that idea of spreading some of the ashes around the house. That was such a special place to them and my family. Tons of memories. I am envious of Nora, I think that she knew exactly what she was doing. Keeping GGpa and GGma as close to her as possible. Love reading your stories. Some are so close to home. Becca

  2. The girl gives new meaning to the concept of “no-poo.” Hilarious as always. Nora is so lucky you are documenting all her shenanigans:)

  3. pjgngram says:

    Beautifully written, Joelle. I agree with Becca. Nora may have known exactly what she was doing. Glad to give up on the days of “Children should be seen and not heard.” It added depth and memory to our celebration.

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