My Father’s Ashes Arrived Today
After wondering for so many months, I finally had the remains of my father and true closure after his death.
Last May, when my father was dying in a South Jersey nursing home, I wrote a piece titled Eulogy for a “Terrible” Father. It detailed his huge faults, but also how much he tried to be better towards the end of his life. I also talked about how he decided, when he was alive, to donate his body to science.
He died a few weeks after that post. I envisioned an ambulance coming from Philadelphia to retrieve his body. Not quite. A minivan came about an hour and a half after the nursing home called to say that he had died. The driver was straight out of Central Casting. A huge man with ill-fitting slacks and a face that likely frightened the young.
He had obviously retrieved a lot of bodies before because I needed a bathroom break when he arrived, and when I returned, my dad was already wrapped up in a sheet. I thought I’d have a little more time with him, but was too stunned to say anything. A few minutes later, my father was toe-tagged, body-bagged, and on a gurney.
I followed them out to the minivan, where upon opening the back, noticed there was another dead person already in there as well. The guy from the funeral home said she was an old lady who had just died that night too. He loaded my dad into the minivan and there he was, side-by-side with an anonymous woman. I laughed to myself thinking that he would be hitting on her by now if they were alive.
And that was it. My father was off to somewhere in Philadelphia to be a cadaver for medical students. It was his choice so I respected it, but I had trouble coming to terms with what they were going to do to his body. I get organ donation, but this just seemed too random, and I actually wondered how much of his cremated (also his request) remains I would get one day. I think I watched the movie Coma one too many times.
Today, FedEx delivered his remains:
At Thomas Jefferson Medical College, my father was no longer Frank Gray, he was #225-18. There were a lot more ashes than I expected. The whole thing was a lot to immediately process. But after wondering for so many months, I finally had the remains of my father and true closure after his death.
The college also sent a letter saying that they are grateful for donations like my father’s. I hope that his donation helps leads to a cure, or a drug, or a procedure that will help the lives of others in the future. Helps them live a life better than he lived himself.
Now as far as his ashes, I have to put them somewhere. My wife’s father died years ago and she has his ashes stored in the basement. Our parents never met, but now I get to “introduce” them to each other.
Love you pop.
Donations tax deductible
to the full extent allowed by law.
Cameron, this was a moving post — thank you for writing and sharing it. Your father’s decision to help medical students was a very generous one. I am glad that you are able to receive some peace and closure, now.
By the way, I read your original essay on Medium regarding your relationship with your father — it was very well-written. You have a natural ability as a raconteur. I’m looking forward to reading more of your work on LI.
Dad kept mom’s ashes in an urn next to his reclining chair until he was reunited with her a year ago. Per dad’s request, I had his ashes combined with mom’s. Last June, on what would have been their 65th wedding anniversary, I scattered their ashes in the sea near the lighthouse which can be seen from our home.
Wishing you peace, Cameron.
My father passed May 2000, his remains were donated to the local Medical School Hospital. His ashes were available about a year later. Each year the Med Students hold a group service for those people’s body’s were donated. I have a brass urn on a bookcase. Your story reminded me. Sorry for your loss.
Warning: graphic details based on my experience with willed body programs.
In the state of Virginia, the remains are legally defined as the head and torso and mostly the mineralized portions (bones) that will ash. (I do not know PA state law and they can be pretty different by state.)
Organs can be retained as well as limbs as long as donor records are maintained. Legally speaking, this is acceptable since many people live without their limbs. Further, the organs, if cremated, would vaporize and not leave behind any ash.
We are not just the sum of our no longer living bodies and I’d also posit that the information and furtherance of our society is a bonus value added to anyone’s legacy on this Earth. Preserved organ specimens are also immortalized remnants of that legacy.
Sorry if my info seems tone deaf and out of touch with the contents of your post. I just thought that those considering willed body donation might be interested to consider those details. I am sorry for your loss and hope that you gain comfort from his extra post-mortem contributions rather than sorrow or discomfort.
Last point: Willed body can be done as a backup to organ donation if the latter is inviable.
Cameron, bless you. You have so much compassion and love.
It’s a shame that you didnt have children.
Bless you, sir.
Bless you, sir.
Oops. Gotta get a handle on this submit button
Cameron, you wrote a lovely piece about your dad.
Thank you for sharing.
After reading this, I read Eulogy for a “Terrible” Father, having missed it originally. Cameron, I am sorry you didn’t have the relationship you deserved.
The one thing that is anything but terrible, however, is that without Frank Gray you would not be here. Please do not stop using your talent as a writer. I hope Prof. Jacobson gives you the chance to produce more here.
There’s another side of all this I’ve come to know over the years. My husband and I were at dinner with a neighbor who has lost three husbands and a son, and has no one left but one son who will probably not outlive her. She has a garage full of ashes, many of which are actually beloved former pets. Since we have three sets of ashes (only one of his parents and two of our former pets) she floated the idea of maybe just letting it all go, partly because she’s not really up for anything more with her two remaining older dogs since money is tight. The upshot is that we might all get together and drive out in our desert here and just let it all go. At first it seemed tragic, but we have no children and that’s where everything will end up anyway (and you have to wonder what kids will really do when the inherit a lot of ashes from various family members–I hear that kids don’t even want the china and silver anymore). I suppose most people aren’t in our situation and will think this sounds terrible.
When my mother died two years ago, I “inherited” the ashes of her two beloved dogs. I still have them (my mom’s ashes were buried per her request), and I am worrying about what to do with them. To respect her. To respect them for the love and companionship they provided.
I like this idea of letting them go, and I think that I will do just that . . . at my mom’s grave site. She would like that, and they would, too. Thanks for the suggestion!
Where we live our cemetaries, while owned by the Church or the city, are really viewed as the property of the families buried there. It’s not very unusual for the ashes of pets or a stray family member to be added to a family plot (you’d be surprised how many urns can be tucked in between Grandma & Grandpa). The only requirement is that the container is marked in someway for identification for some unexpected reason in the future and that it’s noted on the plot records. Adding a marker is completely up to the families.
Just part of living in flyover country. Cremation is becoming more common, but there is definitely a stigma to leaving Grandma on a shelf unless you’re planning to stir her in with Grandpa one day. The Church here is rather staunch about ashes being interred in blessed ground. Small town living does tend to solve some of the world’s bigger moral issues.
As for my family….. we’ve been buried together on the hill above the farm for 150 years now. There’s a lot of reassurance in knowing that no matter how far from home you roam, you know where you will eventually come back to some day. (And there are some really hysterical family jokes that come from that veiwpoint!)
do you mean me.
I can’t imagine why anyone would object
Lol, I’ve got a closet full of ashes of beloved pets and my daughter said, we need to let them go, and she is exactly right
Ashes to ashes, dust to dust
I have the ashes of three beloved pets who all died when I was renting (i.e. I had nowhere to bury them), but I, too, think that letting them go is the best thing. Having them just makes me sad, and letting them go, even if I end up burying them (as I would have if I could have when they first passed on), it will be a form of closure.
This is a beautiful, brave post, Cameron. Thank you for sharing it. I am so sorry for your loss (on all the levels that entails), but your strength through this, finding hope and light, is inspiring.
Why was this posted here? I’m not knocking the post itself, but it’s on the wrong site.
I have thought long and I have thought hard about how or if I should respond.
Anybody who corresponds with this site will know that any manner of thinking on my part is unusual. Fuzzy?
I have a fine selection of fire fighting axes. I have, in my living room, a toolbox full of first aid solutions. I learned this from my dad. He was a life taker and a love maker. I know the latter half because I’m here. He was a Coastie.
If your dad is still among the living respect him. Treasure him. But most importantly teach what he taught you to others. I mentioned the axes and first aid kits for a reason. It was largely due to him (although my uncle the battalion fire chief who also taught me to hunt played a role; everybody has a hunting uncle, right?) that I inherited a healthy fear of fire and the importance of the ability and means to render aid.
When I was part of training battle group, and was responsible for certifying deploying battle groups, excuse me they are now called carrier strike groups, ready for battle group operations I always worked in first aid and damage control questions. JTFEX (Joint Training Forces Exercise) and COMPTUEX (Composite Training Unit Exercise).
I tried to drill it into their heads that they were now members of crew. That they at least had to think about what they could contribute to that crew. Or else they would be on their own with the sharks.
Thanks, Dad, he says without any sense of irony.
Hi Cameron, I loved your story. Thank you for sharing. I loved especially the part about your father in the minivan with the anonymous woman and the thought that he would have hit on her. I get it! My father’s ashes were delivered by an African born Federal Express delivery man. When he asked for my signature as receipt, and placed the package on the ground, I explained that he was delivering my 94 year old father’s ashes to our doorstep. He immediately picked up the ashes and held them out to me in total respect. It was very moving. I so appreciate your piece on your father. Godspeed. And thank you!
Dear Sidney Kimmel
Medical College, Thomas Jefferson University.
Thank you very much for the lovely toughtful letter. Please look up the word “enormity.”