Ashes to Ashes

Michael at Work

We buried my mother’s ashes on Saturday. They are now in the same plot as my father’s casket.

My family doesn’t always do things promptly. Jan/Taffy died in December 2011. We arranged for her name, dates, and epitaph (“Short and Full of Life”) to be added to my father’s stone the following year. The ashes have languished in the house ever since.

We were waiting until all four members of the immediate family could be in Massachusetts together long enough to accomplish the burial. When I learned that my brother David, my sister-in-law Leigh, and my nephew Michael planned to visit me this past weekend, I emailed our neighbor Paul, who coordinates burials for the Pudding Hollow Cemetery Association.

Paul asked me what time we would like the “ceremony” to take place. I laughed a little. We weren’t really envisioning a ceremony; we planned merely to pop the ashes into the ground and say a quick goodbye. We had held plenty of ceremonies in the year following her death.

In the end, the experience of burying the ashes did have a feeling of ceremony. Paul arranged for a hole of appropriate size to be dug at the grave site. He generously left us a shovel and the dirt that had been removed from the grave. The day was appropriately gray and drippy at the cemetery, a lovely serene place where I myself will be buried one day.

It was moving to be responsible for putting our mother into the ground ourselves and then covering her remains with dirt. I go to a lot of funerals and a lot of burials. This was the first I’ve attended at which no official was present at the actual interment. Having just the family there rendered the occasion intimate and sweet.

Placing the ashes in the grave and covering them ourselves felt like a final act of caring for Taffy, six and a half years after her death, an act that brought our family closer together. In tribute to our father’s Jewish roots, we ended our time at the grave by placing a few pebbles on the stone.

David Places a Stone

I wouldn’t recommend keeping ashes in the house for years as a general rule. Yet waiting did seem to help us. It made the death a little more remote and therefore less sad. We were touched, but we didn’t cry.

Waiting offered us a dividend: labor. Michael was 11 when his grandmother died. Today he is a strong 18 year old, and he did most of the shoveling and lifting.

I’ll be continuing to remember my mother in the next few weeks as we approach what would have been her 100th birthday on September 26. Next week, on Saturday, August 25, I’ll be singing a few of her favorite songs in a concert that salutes songs and people born in 1918.

I also evoked her memory this week on television when I prepared her favorite coffee cake, Blueberry Sally Lunn, and then showed off the recipe and video in a blog post.

I never feel that my mother is far away—but as I practice singing songs she loved, continue to nourish people with her recipes, and contemplate the headstone she shares with my father in the cemetery, I find new ways in which to celebrate her spirit and the gifts she left me.


17 comments on “Ashes to Ashes

  1. Ann Zagari says:

    Beautiful final tribute to Jan, Tinky. Well, it’s not final as she lives on through you with songs and cooking. Jan was one special lady.

  2. Jane Abel says:

    Thanks for sharing your beautiful thoughts.

  3. Martha Ackmann says:

    ❤️❤️❤️❤️ So beautifully written, Tinky. Your mother was “short, full of life,” and wonderful.

  4. Deborah Smith says:

    Thank you, Tinky. Your mother was a remarkable woman and we all (especially Mom) think of her often.

  5. Debbie Posmontier says:

    Tinky, We are still waiting to bury Aunt Lu’s ashes, (Lucia Cipolloni). She died in February just after her 100th birthday. She stayed at Singing Brook Farm with us in 2007 and talked about it forever after. I’ll never forget just after we arrived, she sat on the sofa in the Stables looking out over the lush landscape and exclaimed, “This is just beautiful!” She enjoyed every minute of her stay there. Please sing a song for Aunt Lu, too! My mother, Jo (Josephine) is living with us now. She is 98 and still talks about our time in Massachusetts. If we could get her there again, she’d brave the long ride and enjoy the view. Best wishes, Debbie & Dave Posmontier


  6. betsyanne says:

    Thank you so much for sharing. What a lovely post. I am glad you linked us to it.

  7. Sara Stone says:

    Tinky, as usual this is beautifully written. She would be so proud of you.

  8. I echo the others Tinky, wonderfully written, you managed to capture it all.

  9. rkh950 says:

    Enjoyed your post. I almost feel that I was there, as I was visiting my relatives Saturday for a Peters Family Picnic just above Heath at my cousin Dennis Annear’s place and we had a soggy day with the rain but still the fellowship among us was great. We were reminiscing the passing of my Uncle Cleon Peters who had passed earlier in the week. I toured Charlemont and took a picture of the church you will be singing at. When I was a child I attend church just across the street, St. Christophers. Charlemont is full of wonderful childhood memories for me and I always visit it whenever I am up that way. My roots go back to there, as I am a descendant of Moses Rice from my grandmothers side of my family, so guess that is why I am drawn to it. Again enjoyed your post.

  10. Jo-Ann Muir says:

    Well done and, as always, beautifully written. We buried my father this summer next to my mother and I went back last week to Massachusetts to plant perennials on their grave. My father planted annuals every year, but I am worried that I might not get back early enough in the spring to continue that tradition. It will be nice for you to have both your parents buried nearby.

  11. Gordon says:

    May she rest in peace. You are a great daughter.

  12. Leslie says:

    So sweet, Tinky. The ceremony, your post, and your mom.

  13. Tim says:

    Good thing Michael was there, wouldn’t want David to hurt himself wielding a shovel!

  14. Margo says:

    Beautiful post. I love all of the rituals of remembrance.

  15. Alan says:

    So nice to have the wonderful memory of my favorite aunt renewed in your post. I bet she never knew the impact she had on both my brothers and me in our irregular visits. She was a model of how a bright independent forceful thinker, and somewhat of an outsider could influence our extended family. And all with humor that made her even more effective. So glad we all reconnected. Loved Aunt Jan dearly.

  16. Ellen says:

    When John and I started doing the antique shows, we were in our twenties. At that point I don’t think there was another dealer under 50. We were met with a bit of skepticism, but your parents came to talk to us at the Morristown show, and in the end we were welcomed into the fold. The dealers all called us “the kids”. I loved both of your parents, and so enjoyed my conversations with them.

  17. Nancy says:

    One thing I remember about her… she drove really fast. Claire and I were visiting your folks one time, and for some reason, I had to follow Jan in the car somewhere. She sure had a lead foot. I could hardly keep up with her. She thought that was hysterical. (The details escape me now — it was a very long time ago.)

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