Cremains Issue . . . SWH

Updated on December 15, 2018
M.6. asks from Woodbridge, NJ
23 answers

I'm just wondering other's thoughts on this - I'm grieving for my dad's loss and haven't slept hardly at all between staying with him until the end, making the arrangements, taking care of my mom, etc. Mostly I'm checking in to make sure that this seems "fair"?

So my dad has two kids from a prior marriage - around 45 and 50 years old. The 45 yr old daughter lives about 2 hrs away, and 50 yr old son lives in another state (not a neighboring state). Although I refer to him as "dad", he is technically my step-dad but the only father I know and the only grandpa our kids know. My mom has been married to him for nearly 30 years.

Dad's two kids have never driven to see him in the nursing where he lived the last 5 years of his life. They never called my mom or the nursing home to see how he was doing. When my dad had his stroke 9 years ago and needed in home care for 4 years, the daughter said she couldn't come to help (to clarify - at the time of his stroke, mom and dad lived 20 min away from the daughter and son still lived out of state - when dad moved to a nursing home, we moved him and my mom near me so I could care for them both because in the 4 years time my mom did his home care and worked, she was diagnosed with cancer 4 times), because she said dad might scare her kids (he couldn't talk clearly), so we hired day help and my mom took over every night when she got home from work. The son came a few months before dad went into a nursing home to look at nursing homes with us (we invited both his kids). That's the last time we saw him. He would send pictures of his daughter to the nursing home once or twice a year (who dad never met - born while dad was in the nursing home) but that was it.

When dad passed, I reached out to the son, as his was the only number I had, to tell him of dad's passing. Today, I reached out to tell him that we would send them 1/2 of the cremains for them to have their own memorial service. Not only has my mother decided not to do a memorial right now - she wants to wait until his birthday next summer and do a picnic with dad where his favorite place was, she says they didn't care when he was alive, she isn't going to let them pretend to care now that he is dead. It was my idea to offer 1/2 of the cremains and I also said we would pay to ship them to wherever he wanted. However, now the son is demanding that we a) have a memorial service now and invite all their relatives and b) turn over the cremains to him.

Geez, I thought our offer was extremely fair . . . in fact, we are shocked that he is even investing this much effort into the situation. I had contacted this son two other times when dad was looking like he wouldn't make it through the night to tell him and his response was "thanks for letting me know" and then I never even received a follow up call on those occasions to see if dad was ok or not (clearly he survived because I never called and said he didn't - but still, not even a call to check on him?).

Isn't 1/2 fair? Personally, I think that zero is fair, but I think that dad might have been pleased for me to send them some since I know that no matter what they did, he loved them and because of his condition, he didn't know what asshats they turned out to be when the chips were down. Did I do this all wrong somehow?

Thanks for any advice . . . I'm exhausted.

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So What Happened?

Well, in the end I guess it all worked out. Honestly, I might have flipped my shit a little bit, but I sent him a note that basically said how dare he even - he never came, his sister never came, NO ONE from his family came in all the years he was sick and that our offer was out of a kindness, not obligation. I explained that he could have 1/2 or none, and either choice was completely fine with me, and there was a few days to make a decision on his part. I also reminded him that in addition to all of the moral ground my mother stood on entitling her to dad's remains, the laws in this state were on her side, and her side alone.

He sent me the address to send the 1/2 to. I told him that I would advise of the date of shipping and a tracking number to make sure family could meet the remains on his end.

Thanks goodness that there is no money to fight over. I wrote the ironclad will dealing with the assets, but the law in this state would be on my mother's side anyways as all assets revert to the surviving spouse here in every instance other than a will specifying differently (even then, the widow could contest and likely win). In any event, my dad's care for the last 5 years in a skilled nursing home took every last penny (he didn't have long term insurance) they had and he was private pay until the very end.

Thank you all so much for all the thought and care you put into your responses to me. And for the comforting wishes. It really means a lot.

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answers from Anchorage on

The cremains belong to his wife to do with as she pleases. If the son wants to have a big memorial tell him to go for it, plan it and pay for it himself and invite whoever he wants, but his wife gets to decide when and where he is laid to rest unless he left some final wishes. The idea of splitting was very nice of you, especially with as little as they seemed to care while he was alive, but you don't owe them any of their demands.

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Baton Rouge on

I would stick by my offer to share the cremains with him.
If HE wants to hold a service, invite family, etc., let him do it on his time and his dime.

3 moms found this helpful

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answers from Boston on

I think you have, once again, done too much for people, and I am concerned that you are not taking care of yourself.

Maybe this stepbrother feels guilty that he didn’t do more, and maybe he’s just been sitting around waiting for an inheritance. I don’t know. But you don’t have to feed into it.

I would direct him to the funeral home. They are professionals and they are experienced with the treatment of human remains, and the laws around transport. The cremains belong to your mother. If your mother is willing to share them, then it’s up to your stepbrother to arrange for (and pay for, frankly) an appropriate container of his choice and the shipment. I doubt he knows what the customary quantity is, and he will be content with what he receives. But let the funeral home handle it – they know how to deal with fractured families. Just text or email your stepbrother – don’t get into a long phone conversation which he will fill with demands and guilt. Tell him your responsibility is your grieving and elderly mother, cleaning out the nursing home room for the next resident, and much more.

I would also tell him he is free to set up whatever memorial service he would find meaningful, and to choose the date, location, clergy/officiant, music, public notice, invitations/notifications and other details. Say that you are dealing with your grieving mother who does not have the stamina right now. You also have a special needs son who is dealing with the loss of his grandfather.

Don’t worry about not notifying anyone else. Any kids who wanted to be involved would have left contact numbers with you or your mother or the nursing home. Period.

Now, be prepared that he will also start asking for possessions, and a portion of the estate. This happened to my MIL when my FIL died. It was awful. Direct your stepbrother to your father’s attorney (assume he knows the name – don’t volunteer it). And give the attorney a head’s up. Do not get involved in this. Say much less and do much less than you might.

I also would not engage in a discussion about what Dad would have wanted. Funerals and memorials are for the survivors - so your mother should do what she wants, when she wants. Your stepbrother can do what he wants, when he wants. Be kind, but don't get overly involved in his problems, his grief and perhaps his guilt for not being around.

You have to take care of yourself – it’s enough that you are taking care of your mother, your husband and your son. Stop and let the other grown-ups be grown-ups.

14 moms found this helpful


answers from San Antonio on

Death brings out the worst in people...sometimes out of grief or greed or guilt.

You were very generous and unfortunately he is acting out. Don't take it personally!!

Try and take care of YOU. Let yourself grieve and be there for your mom. You guys plan your service the way your mom wants, when she wants and where she wants...his remains are hers and she can do what she wants with them.

I would not each out again. If step-bro calls...tell him he can plan whatever he wants at his expense with who he wants and do it without the cremains or give him a small box of fireplace ashes (he wouldn't know the difference)...then again I am being pretty petty because well it ticks me off on your behalf.

I am sorry for your loss and even more sorry you are dealing with an jerk. Big hugs to you!!

7 moms found this helpful


answers from Norfolk on

People get funny about this sort of thing - all the baggage come out.
I would not have made the 1/2 half offer.
As his wife - your mom should have the ashes and she can do what ever when ever she wants with them.
Heck - he can stay on the mantle for a decade or be interred with your mom when her time comes.
I'd leave these decisions to your mom and back up what ever she wants to do in case other family members get nasty about it.
He can throw what ever memorial he wants with his own funds.
He's not in a position to be making demands.

7 moms found this helpful


answers from Denver on

I'm sorry for this added burden and sorrow that these two have heaped upon you.

My thoughts: let the son plan whatever service/memorial he wants to. He can plan it, host it, pay for it, invite whomever he wants. That's his right, his privilege, his choice. You don't have to attend. And now, let that go. Don't give it another thought, other than perhaps telling him that your mom will be planning an observation/memorial next summer and that you hope that whatever memorial he plans will be a source of comfort to him. Try to make it clear: "Mom (or whatever he calls your mom, Jeanette or whatever) will be honoring your dad with a memorial next summer at a date and place that was special to her and your dad. I hope that you will find comfort in planning a memorial to him in your own way, with friends that will support you at this difficult time".

As for the cremains, don't get sucked into a debate. Carefully pack half, have them professionally packed like at a UPS store, insure and track the package, and send them with a thoughtful note saying something simple like "Dad will be greatly missed by all who loved him. These cremains are yours to honor as you wish". Don't go into detail that these are only half of the cremains. Maybe you could purchase a small urn or box from the funeral home and put them in to that. Or maybe there's a small appropriate container online that you could purchase.

Then take your and your mother's half and carefully store them in a safe deposit box at a bank, and keep the key in a place where only you know. Next summer, give them to your mother for her lovely picnic memorial.

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answers from Atlanta on

Grief hits everyone differently. It doesn't sound like you did anything wrong; offering half is quite fair. For your own serenity, you can choose to chalk up his current reaction to grief (and probably guilt for not having done more for his father while he was alive) and don't engage emotionally. I liked Elena's suggestion of telling him that your side of the family will hold an memorial service in the summer and that if he would like to hold a memorial service now with his side of the family, he is welcome to do so. The emphasis is on HE is welcome to do so--he and his side can plan it, pay for it, and do whatever they need to honor his memory. Also, her idea of having the funeral home divide the cremains (that's a new word, isn't it?) and put half in a nice vase is a fine solution. Maybe they can even ship it properly to him with a kind message, or a card from you? I'm willing to bet that he won't care or know that you all retained half.

Good luck with it!

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answers from Dallas on

Oh my goodness I am so very sorry you are having to go through this. Your offer is very fair and if he wants to have a memorial for his relatives he's more that welcome to have one with half of the cremains. (There is no reason for him to get them all) Your mom was his wife and she has the right to do what ever type of memorial she chooses.

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answers from San Francisco on

Death often brings out the worst in people. This is 100% your mother's choice, no one else's. It's completely up to her when/if to do a service, who is invited and what is to be done with her husband's remains. Ask her what she wants and follow that. If the son complains just say, sorry that's what mom wants. Period. Remove yourself from making that decision.

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answers from Portland on

We have lost close family members, and these things never go well - unless it is planned out first and written down by the person beforehand. However, that seems to rarely happen (didn't in our case). Even so - who is going to haul that out and show people - it would seem tasteless.

I'm so sorry. This is very stressful for you. I feel for you.

We have not done services for family members before - and it went over badly but ultimately, it was our decision. We did what felt right and what we felt the person would have preferred. We held something else that felt more personal.

People will complain no matter what you do. I think offering half so they could have a service/memorial of their choice (that you could also attend if they/you felt like it) was totally considerate and fair.

I don't know if there's a legal aspect to this - is there? Does the son have some right? (would this be in a will somewhere?)

We had family (extended) get upset with us - but we decided to tune them out. They were grieving in their own way - we just chose to understand that. We just said this works for us. Left it at that.

I get your mom's wishes to have the service next summer. We deferred a ceremony until it made sense. Some people don't get that. Sometimes people are too upset to think clearly as well. I think the whole traditional ceremony aspect is falling by the wayside for some families/people and it's not necessarily happening every time these days.

What's more important is that you each get to grieve and honor the man as you see fit. I think you've allowed the son to do that - and he's just being difficult. He's grieving in his own way. Perhaps their relationship had issues (sounds like it) and he's grieving that sense of loss too. Who knows. That isn't really your concern though. You should just be concerned about your loss and comforting your family at this time. I think you've been fair.

Again - I am so sorry for your loss. Thinking of you

6 moms found this helpful


answers from Pittsburgh on

I am so sorry - somehow these situations seem to bring out the worst in some people. You definitely don't need this on top of your own grief.

As for what is "fair" - it doesn't matter what the son thinks. The ONLY opinion that matters in terms of what happens with the service and the remains is the widow's opinion. She was his wife, and if she doesn't want a service right now, then no service right now. Your offer was more than generous, and since the son declined to take half of the cremains, then the widow should keep all of them until she decides on their final resting place.

For what it's worth, several families I know, when a loved one is cremated, do exactly what your mom is doing - wait until the grief isn't so fresh to have a memorial service in a special place or at a special time that reflects the loved one's life. And I know some that held onto the cremains for a few years before deciding on their final resting place.

I'm sorry for your loss, and that you are dealing with this situation.

5 moms found this helpful


answers from Washington DC on

i'm so sorry. it's shocking how much death doesn't unify, but highlights a family's cracks.

i think you've been more than fair. i also think that your mother's wishes are the most important. i assume your father didn't express any strong preferences?

it sucks that you're getting pushback instead of support while you're flattened from grief. but you did nothing wrong, and your offer was generous and kind.

try not to dwell on the asshat too much.


5 moms found this helpful


answers from Washington DC on


Wow - death brings out the worst in us. I'm so glad when my mom passed we didn't have these issues and now that my dad died this year? We still don't have the drama - whew.

I'm truly sorry for your loss - may his memory be eternal.

I would totally support your mom on this one. he was HER husband and she was involved.

As to your brother? Tell him he can have his own memorial on his dime. His MOM is doing what she wants to do and respect your father's wishes.

DO NOT let them become a battle. Simply state - we are following HIS and Mom's wishes. PERIOD. He is free to do what he wants on HIS dime. I'd give him the remains - unless this means something to you? I have about 2 tablespoons in a small urn of my mom and dad on my dresser. that's all I wanted. I have all my memories. The ashes/remains are just that - remains - YOU have the memories. What more do you need?

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answers from Las Vegas on

I see you have already worked this out but just wanted to say how sorry I am for the loss of your dad. I hope you will have some time away from caring for everyone else so that you can allow yourself to grieve. Sincere condolences to you and your family.

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Appleton on

Was he a veteran? The VA will help with his arrangements is he is.
I would talk to the funeral director about the laws in the state your mom is in now. In Wisconsin you can use on grave to bury a body and then put the cremains in the same grave. You might also be able to put the urn in your mom's casket when the time comes. If this is against state law, simply tuck them in by her feet when no one is looking.

This your mom's decision, ask her what she wants.

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answers from Abilene on

Sweet Military Mom,

I am agreeing with the majority in letting you know you did NOTHING wrong. You were very generous and it's up to YOUR MOM what happens to those ashes. Please try to disconnect and consider the source. You've been there for them all along. You've taken care of BOTH your mom and dad. What he thinks or says...try to give his words the same stock you would a stranger because that's what he's been...disconnected and a stranger to his dad.

Honor your mother's wishes as you have. What she's doing makes perfect sense. Doesn't matter what anyone else thinks. I personally think that is so much better. It gives the loved ones a little bit of time to catch their breath. We had a memorial service for my brother in law (also cremated) about 4 months after he passed. It was so much better on everyone and very meaningful.

Please re-read Diane's post. If I could send her 100 flowers I would. Time for you to let the professionals handle it from here.

We had a bizarre situation when my mother-in-law died. If you can believe, a daughter SUED her dad for an inheritance she thought she was entitled to...these were not step parents and it didn't amount to a couple of thousand dollars. The worst part? She won! It makes my blood boil now as I type this.

Please don't speak to him further. There's no relationship worth having with him, so let the professionals deal with him. What a creep!

4 moms found this helpful


answers from San Francisco on

I agree with the others, this is your mother's decision. His son is free to have a memorial service as well, no one is stopping him from that. So sorry for your loss :-(

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Portland on

My cousin who had shared my home for 20 years died 5 years ago. My brother told me to have him buried in the VA cemetery. I told him I wouldn't
Do that but he could make those arrangements. He was angry for a long time and never made arrangements. Because I know my brother very well, I know that his pattern is to blame others when he doesn't get what he wants.

I encourage you to tell him no, using any words that you want, send it via the Internet then forget he asked. He does not have legal standing to force your mother to do anything unless his will says he wants certain things done. I hope he left a will but if he didn't his son still doesn't have legal standing.

I would assume that his son is grieving and asking you to do what would be helpful for him. My words would be respectful and sympathetic. Know that you and your mother have no obligation to him, thus you don't have to say why. Write to him from a position of strength.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Miami on

Well, don’t you think that he is acting the same way after your step-father’s death as he did during his life? Expecting YOU and your mom to be “Cinderella” for the family. You have done and done and done, given and given. And that’s what they EXPECT. So he continued with this asshat behavior.

And the gall of him demanding a service that you and your mom are to provide for him and the family... I will bet that the real reason he wants the service is to come to cart stuff away and try to force a money discussion and demand to see the will.

Good for you for standing up for yourself and your mother.

As soon as you get the death certificate, make 3 copies (copies only-they don’t want originals) and send them along with letters to the 3 credit reporting agencies. The last thing you want to have to deal with is one of these jerk family members trying to open up credit in his name and running up a bunch of bills.

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answers from Chicago on

I'm sorry you are dealing with this. I would ask your mother exactly what her wishes are. Then, as your gift to her, follow them. I know it means dealing with the unpleasant son, but just stay concise and keep repeating your mother's wishes as much as needed. It is her decisions that are going to determine what happens.

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answers from Fort Myers on

You can't just tell your dads son to suck it? I would. He hasn't been there for his dad. Dad clearly meant more to you than him. Mail him 1/2 the ashes and let him do what he wants. You are being more than generous.

Not to take sides but could the son and daughter still be bitter still about their dad marrying your mom?

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answers from Atlanta on

I read your SWH before I responded. I think you handled it correctly. Giving him an option.

I'm sorry for your loss.

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answers from Chicago on

So sorry for your loss. You have such a full plate, and now to add this to it ! I hope you are taking care of yourself.

I agree with some of the other’s who state this was really your mom’s decision to make and stand by. Everyone should have respected it, and not tried to alter it.

The other thing that stands out is that your step-father’s adult children may have had a completely different childhood with him then you did. Children raised in the same household have very different relationships with their parents and can have very different perceptions of their childhood. So your experience of being raised by your step father, may not have been their experience being raised by their father. They have their side of the story, and most of their story was written when they were children or young adults watching the behavior the adults modeled for them.

Parents teach their adult children how to treat them by how they modeled that behavior.

I’m sure everyone has a POV of their childhood, but the only one that matters is that between your step-father and his children. It seems whatever issues they had were not resolved before his death and while the loss of a parent is sad, it is even more tragic when the loss happens with a huge rift between the parent and child, that now will never be resolved. Made even worse when the people who got the benefit of the good part of that parent judge you.

You and your mom and family have the right to grieve this man that you knew as your father, but I think it takes a bigger person to extend his other children empathy and realize perhaps the man you are all grieving was not the same man they knew.

Wishing you strength at this time.

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