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Who Gets the Ashes When Wishes and Religious Beliefs Clash?
A true story of wishes gone wrong
When I was in my teens, my uncle died.
He was a bit of a dick when he was alive.
Drank too much. Was known to be violent with my Aunt Marg. He was prone to shooting at the bats that came out of their attic when the sun went down. I remember, as a kid, lying underneath the picnic table so I’d be safe from whatever shenanigans the parents got up to with the guns.
He didn’t have a will, but he also didn’t own much. He left my aunt a house with a maxed-out mortgage, credit card bills, and funeral costs. No insurance of course.
She sold the house and, over time, paid the debts, cursing him all the while. It was a perfect solution for an unsolvable problem.
Aunt Marg was a tough character herself. She smoked, as most people did then, and knew her way around a truck engine as well as a rifle. Growing up on a farm taught her a lot of useful skills both inside and outside of the kitchen. I know she liked being outdoors more than being in the house.
She’d always stand up for herself and her kids when my uncle started drinking and more than once she left him. But she always returned. I never really understood why.
A few years later, Aunt Marg found a new love.
This guy was a much nicer man but she didn’t want to marry him. I suspect it was because she felt so trapped in her first marriage.
They lived together in a small house in the woods and were pretty happy. I always thought it was nice for my aunt to have finally found a man who loved her and treated her well.
They talked about what they wanted when they died. He was non-religious and adamant that the church shouldn’t be a part of his death. They both agreed that they wanted to be cremated, and their ashes scattered over the back 40 (That’s what they called the acreage they lived on).
Then he died, and something interesting happened.
An ex-wife came out of the woodwork. My aunt said she never knew the guy was married before, or maybe she knew, but thought they’d divorced. He didn’t own anything worth divorcing over at the time, so maybe that’s why they didn’t bother.
Aunt Marg had him cremated and was making plans to sprinkle the ashes in the back 40, just as he wished.
The ex-wife wasn’t having anything to do with that. A religious woman, she insisted that he had to have a proper burial, in a coffin, with a proper funeral service.
In a church, no less.
My aunt tried to fight it. She knew he didn’t want anything to do with the church, but the ex-wife had some money. And she was determined to redeem her ex’s soul.
The reason they split up was becoming more clear by the day.
After weeks of angry phone calls, my pragmatic aunt had had enough. She decided to let the woman have what she wanted.
She met with the ex-wife and handed over the urn with the ashes inside. The woman blessed her and left with a righteous smile on her face.
“What were you thinking?” we asked Aunt Marg. “You know he’d hate that.”
“There are more ways to solve a problem than you think.”
She opened a cupboard, took out three large coffee tins, and set them on the table.
“Just before you arrived, I emptied his ashes into these tins. Then went to the wood stove, and filled the urn with ashes.”
It was a perfect solution for an unsolvable problem.
Here’s to you, Aunt Marg, and all of the women in the world who are tough enough to handle most things, and smart enough to side-step things when that’s the only option for peace.
Update: My feisty Aunt died this morning. I think she decided she’d had enough of getting old and feeling shitty. Good for her.
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