Taking the Urn Out of the Closet

A short story:

Mary spent that last 3 years of her life in an Alzheimer’s home. As the memory of her friends and family faded from her mind, so the number of her visitors dwindled down to just one; her daughter, Joan. Joan tried to check in every few months but the visits weren’t easy and usually she left feeling more guilt than when she had walked in. Mary and Joan had never had an easy relationship and for both of them, Alzheimer’s signaled the doom of their secret, but mutual hope that someday it might be easier.

When Mary died, Joan felt like keeping the event quiet. Close family and friends were told and plans were made to have Mary cremated without any ceremony.

When the funeral home called Joan to tell her that her mother’s urn was ready, it startled her. In her meeting with the arranger the week before the topic of a final resting place had come up, but Joan hadn’t given it much thought. She had planned to choose a cemetery but now it felt too late. Her week had been filled with phone calls from family & friends, trying to keep up with her family’s regular needs, packing her mom’s belongings, and making difficult decisions about what to keep and what to donate.

When she arrived at the funeral home and saw her mother’s urn, a shock settled over her as the reality of her mother in an urn set in. The questions, “Where do I put this? Where do I put my mom?” began pounding along with a deep guilt over having no plan in place. She took the urn home.

Walking from room to room, Joan searched throughout her home for a place for her mom but nothing seemed right. The urn was sad to look at, her mom was sad to think about, and she didn’t feel that sad. She made her way up the stairs onto the landing and stood looking into the spare bedroom. She had often prepared this room for her mother’s visits that were more often than not cancelled at the last minute – this room held hope and despair and it had a closet. She was beginning to feel angry, having to find a place for her mom in her house, a house that her mom had almost no knowledge of. She opened the door of the closet, it creaked loudly, and she tucked the urn up in the far back corner next to some old quilts from her grandmother and closed the door.

///

A few months passed. A friend was coming to visit and Joan remembered that her mother was in the guest room. She hadn’t really forgotten but she hadn’t had any need to really remember until now. Not wanting her friend to find an urn when she put her clothes away, Joan opened the door. It creaked deeply, and there was the urn. It hadn’t moved, it didn’t look different, but it now felt out of place, shoved back without carefulness and left to be alone. Tears and that tightening choke of deep sorrow began to overwhelm Joan. iStock_000012953981XSmallShe leaned against the door-frame of the closet and for the first time since the death, cried over her mom. There were so many things to grieve; their relationship that was rarely peaceful and then the chaos of the Alzheimer’s diagnosis. The fear, confusion and rage that was poured onto Joan in the wake of Mary learning that she was forgetting. The trauma of knowing there was so little Joan could do. And then the new losses that would appear with each visit to this person who was less and less her mother every day.

She felt a deep impulse to hold her mom, to cradle the vessel that now held her. Joan took down the urn and grabbed a couple of quilts. She gently wrapped her mother in one, herself in the other and laid down upon the bed holding onto her mom, letting the moment take from her everything it needed. She moved in and out of crying for what seemed like a wide, paused time. When it felt ok, she slowly sat up and carried her mother through the hall, down the stairs, and into her family room. Joan carefully cleared away a space on a table beneath a wide window overlooking her twilit street; she folded the quilt she had wrapped her mother in, placed it on the table and rested her mother on it with a tender touch that wants rest for those we love.

She stood back and stared at the table. There her mother was, resting at last, surrounded by pictures of Joan’s life, her family, her friends, people who had shaped and changed her life, generally, for the better. Somehow, her mother now seemed to belong among them. Joan felt a sense of peace, restoration, and rightness as she gazed at the table that now seemed complete, and her mother, who she now felt was at rest.

She sighed deeply, lit a candle, and was glad that she had taken the urn out of the closet.

 

A short story by Molly A. Keating

*All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

Molly Keating

About Molly Keating

Hi, I’m Molly and I write for the blog here at O’Connor. I grew up in a mortuary with a mortician for a father who’s deep respect for the profession inspired me to give working at a mortuary a try.
Work at O’Connor has brought together two of my deep passions, writing & grief awareness. In 2016 I earned Certification in the field of Thanatology, the study of Death, Dying and Bereavement. I am honored to be able to speak on these taboo topics with knowledge, compassion, and a unique perspective.
I want to sincerely thank you for following & reading the blog, I hope that this is a healing place for you.

This entry was posted in Inspiration, News, Perspective and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.
  • Fitz

    Molly,
    Great illustration of how complicated grief can be. What struck me was the fact that Joan did not have a service when Mary died which certainly how she was processing things. We see a very similar situation every year at our annual Remembrance Service. Many of our families choose not to have some kind of service for their loved one. This ends up leading to complicated grief. Each year without fail we have families who use the Remembrance Service as the service they never had.
    Thank you for sharing this unique perspective on grief.
    Fitz

    • Hey Fitz,
      What a great observation – I know I’ve heard families say that about the Remembrance Service but I didn’t tie that into this story or even our approach to the Remembrance Service.

      I’m glad you found the story illustrative of the grief that can happen after significant loss and no service to commemorate the significance. Thank you for reading & sharing!

      Molly

  • Jeff Turner

    Molly,
    What a touching story. The nature of our grief being a progressive revelation is as clear in the story as it is surprising in real life. I recall packing up the tools and bits and bobs on the work bench in our garage as we prepared to move from a home we had lived in for 17 years. It had been three years since my father’s death. As I picked up a particular tool the memory of my father who gave it to me came rushing back. The unexpectedness of the emotion that welled up so quickly and overtook me in that moment, was completely unexpected.

    This theme is as unique as each of us is and as different as the dynamic of the relationship. So the experience is unique to each and common to all at the same time. Well written. Touching, provoking and cathartic.

    Thank you so much for this sweet gift to us in your favorite month. Happy October Molly,

    Jeff

    • Thank you so much! I love that this story is stirring up memories for you and others.

      Thank you for what you said and the story you shared, we all have our own and when they need to be told, hopefully we have a safe place like this.

      Molly

  • Shayna Williams

    Molly,
    Wow a great heart tugging story. This story really shows steps of grief with this one daughter who just lost her mom. I understand how difficult it is to loose a loved one. I was happy in the end that she brought her mother out a closet and put her in her family room. She deserves to have the memory of her mother out with her family. I feel like that day she had a little more closure than she had before. Having a services which this family did not do would have given them a time to grieve and remember and honor their mother.
    Thank you for sharing Molly!

    Shayna

    • Shayna,
      You noticed so much and I’m so glad that you felt relief over the urn being taken down. You see what the differences are for this family having no services, and what families who do have services experience. Thank you for sharing Shayna,

      Molly

  • Becky Finch Lomaka

    Hi Molly,
    What a unique blog! I really enjoyed the short story format and it is beautifully written.

    Although a work of fiction, we can all see bits of ourselves and our own grief in the emotions Joan feels throughout this touching story.

    Thank you for being bold and sharing through short story some of the struggles families are experiencing in real life. I am sure this blog will provoke contemplation and reflection in many of our readers and hopefully will help to bring about the same healing that Joan found.

    Becky

  • Joe Lavoie

    Molly , Thanks for sharing a story that makes you think and remember. Although we know how tough a death can be on a family it is very important to remember our loved ones story and to celebrate their life and to gain peace by doing so. I always appreciate your blogs and to be able to stop and think how it relates to our own lives.
    Sincerely Joe Lavoie

  • Neil

    Molly –
    I love this story!! This plays out more than we would like to think. Life is just like death, when we do nothing we get stuck, when we do something, ritual or ceremony it allows us to move forward. Even if the forward movement is slow paced it is still progress. I wish more people would understand the value of rituals or ceremonies. We have an uphill battle to face everyday, and I am glad you are part of this team to help educate and guide our community. I am deeply grateful to you for all you do!! XOXO

  • Mark

    Molly…..Thank you for your insightful short story……having lost both of my parents last year, one with dementia, your story brought to me both sadness and joy…..thanks for your thought provoking words……Mark

  • Shasta Cola

    Wow, very moving! It may be made up, but I am sure it bears a lot of resemblance to some people’s lives. I liked how it started with shock and almost denial, and finally she was able to break down and experience the grief. Also how there was a lot of guilt involved that she wasn’t able to address at first that kind of pushed her away from the feelings of love and loss of her mom. I think a lot of people can’t handle all that emotion so quick, and it does happen like this…then one day when they’re ready, the flood gates open.

  • Amy

    Molly,

    Never would I have imagined that was a fictional story. It was so real as to what people really do. They are so overwhelmed with the moment that decisions are hard to bear. Your stories are always so inspirational and heartfelt. I always wonder what happens to the many moms, dads, aunts, uncles, grandparents and children that make there way home to the closet. Are they forever forgotten or are they recovered and remembered?

    Amy

  • Carrie Bayer

    Molly, what a great reminder that we aren’t truly dead until we are forgotten. I encourage the families that I serve to keep their urn in a place it can be seen & the person inside can be remembered daily. Thank you! Carrie

  • Erin Fodor

    A lot of emotions are involved with the final resting place for your loved one. Sometimes you’re not in the frame of mind to deal with a situation at that moment. So I can relate to the placing of the urn in the closet. Grief is a difficult thing, and everyone grieves differently. Sometimes time is the best medicine.

    -Erin

  • Lori

    Molly,
    What a touching story. I can definitely relate as my Grandma becomes less familiar with me and with reality with each visit. Further, I could relate to the feelings of a difficult relationship. My grandmother’s plans are made and she will be buried. I am sure I will still have that similar breakthrough that Joan had with regards to grief. Thank you for sharing this…….

  • Chuck Ricciardi

    Molly,
    Great story and one that plays out in this world way more than we think. I’m a firm believer that we all grief in our own ways and there is no one size fits all answer. Now that being said their is a universal truth when it comes to bereavement. You cannot hide grief behind a closet door. It may stay in there for a long time, sometimes a very long time but eventually it will come out and has to come out. We all will have to deal with the pain and sadness. But when we do the joys and happiness will be that much brighter.

    Chuck

  • Stacy

    Molly, very sad yet beautiful story. As I was reading it I really didn’t feel it to be fictitious because I know a lot of people out there can relate to it and maybe even someones experience out there is almost exact to this story. I made me feel sad but towards the end when Joan finally embraces her mothers urn and finds the perfect resting place brought warmth to my feelings. Grief is a very difficult journey. I am blessed I still have my immediate family and close friends alive but the day when death would reach a door close to home I know I will lose myself in my grief and not hold back any of my feelings. People grieve differently (no doubt about that) and this story is inspiring for people to accept death and grieve sooner or later…. it’s something that just can’t be ignored. Beautifully written Molly.

  • Anne

    Hi Molly
    Lovely idea, this format for the blog. Here’s what I see…
    The daughter wanted no service because while this is a real death and loss, she can list countless times that her mother never took time for her, over and over and over, and how much she stuffed the pain of that and yet it never changed, until one day there was no way it could ever change.
    In the end, pain must be dealt with. Grief must be expressed. Hiding it away in a closet only works for so long. One day the creaking closet door must be opened no matter how seldom it is used.
    I also saw in the quilts, the generational comfort which got her through what must be done. Wrapping herself and her mother in grandmother’s quilts brought a secure, apparently loving memorable 3rd party into the equation for comfort and safety.
    In this cocoon, the wrenching, pain and ultimate peace could occur.
    I love the symbolism of grandmother providing the safe foundation for the new place where her mother could rest in acceptance and yes, even honor.
    That’s what I saw, Molly. A lesson for all those who deal with death, involving less than perfect relationships. When we move on and deal with it honorably, we heal. And, after all, we are the ones stuck here. Might as well be moving forward with both feet firmly on the ground.
    Well done,
    Anne

  • Rosemary

    What a beautiful idea and story, Molly!
    I had to remind myself several times that this is fiction. Yet it illustrates what so many people experience so vividly. The takeaway for me is the reminder of how important a service or ceremony can be to the healing process. And the hope that it is never too late for the healing to begin!

    • Well said, Rosemary! It is never too late – that is such an important thing to remember. I’m so glad that you enjoyed the story. Thank you for sharing your thoughts!

      Molly

  • Lauren

    Great story! I can imagine that some families have these emotions when keeping an urn at their residence. This was a nice read and very touching when Joan wrapped herself in the blanket and held onto her mom.

    • Thank you, Lauren! I appreciate your kind words, thank you!

  • Jon

    Molly,

    What a great story I feel we all can relate to Joan in some way as we grieve. We get busy in our every day life and don’t take the time. I know in my own experience I’ll come across something that reminds me of a loved who has died and have that moment of grief. It’s important to take the time to grieve and have that service and the moments to remember and cherish the person we love.

    • Well said, Jon. Allowing and making way for these moments of grief to come over us, they are painful but they are so good for us.
      I’m glad you enjoyed the story, thanks for sharing!

      Molly

  • Christopher Iverson

    Molly,

    The story is so true for many individuals who hide urns in funny locations in their homes. I once had grandsons bring their grandfather’s urn to me that had been hidden in their parents home for 52 years. They cherished the fact that they were given permission to memorialize their grandfather in the way that suited their own personal needs. They buried him in the cemetery with the simple grave marker that spoke to their grandfather’s personality. We are funny people…

    • Chris,
      What a great story! Thank you for sharing that. We are yes, very interesting and funny people : )

      Molly