What Should I Do With These Mysterious Creams?
Not all advice needs to be professional. Sometimes your problems deserve honest honesty on the part of a dude who has nothing but a computer and a conscience. Lucky for you, I’m that guy. Welcome back to Tough Love.
Today we are discussing a strange dilemma that most people (probably) will never face: what to do with the ashen remains of someone or something that mysteriously ended up in your possession. How do you pay tribute? You should?
Note: I am a reviewer, not a therapist or certified healthcare professional. With this in mind, my advice should be heeded. If you have any problems with what I am saying, please file a complaint here. Now about today’s letter.
I have an ethical dilemma and perhaps you can solve it.
My husband and I recently moved. While unpacking and taking apart our household items, I found a plastic bag full of “creams”. The problem is, I don’t know whose they are. Many things were hidden as we had no place for them in our old house. As a result of this step, many things that we forgot about were recovered, including this ash. There are no identifying markers or labels among the ashes, so we cannot identify them, but there are three possibilities:
Years ago, we had our beloved dog cremated, and my children and I scattered the ashes on the top of the hill, where we used to go for family walks, but perhaps not all of them were scattered around. I vaguely remember promising to save a little for my ex-husband. But I remember I didn’t want him to have any part of the dog monument, so it makes sense that they wouldn’t be left of him.
My dear friend also gave me her husband’s ashes for safekeeping while her housing situation was unstable due to the fire and she lived with me so that they could also belong to him. I thought I once gave them all back to her, but I remember that there were two bags of ash as she planned to scatter them in different places. I would be ashamed to tell her, but she is quite calm and will probably find it funny and welcome the opportunity to remember her husband again.
Finally, my husband thinks they might have been his former military personnel. His ex-wife brought them home with her, but they hadn’t spoken for about 20 years.
So what do you do from a moral / ethical point of view? Will I take the trouble to test them (is it possible?) To determine if they are animals or humans? Given that we supposedly share 60% of our DNA with bananas, I don’t want to do what might be a completely sterile (sorry) exercise. Or will we keep this discovery to ourselves and just scatter it around our forest property and spend a quiet moment contemplating the transitory nature of human and animal life and any of the three creatures they might be?
You can probably say that we are not afraid of having unknown ash in the teapot in our kitchen, but we really want to do something with it, now that we have found it. But what?!
Ashes to ashes
Dear ashes to ashes,
Wow, what a predicament you have, uh, brewing. Usually people who have ashes know where they came from. You, however, are in an unenviable position when you have a mysterious ash: all that is left of someone (or something) who has been on Earth for a short time – but whose? It’s hard . Our loved ones can actually haunt us after they leave, or at least make us worry about strange ethical dilemmas.
The situation is amusing in the sense that it resembles the cast of Monty Python knocking over an urn that supposedly held the ashes of their accomplice Graham Chapman in front of a live audience (though that’s exactly what you don’t want to do). In a sense, what you stumble upon is partly wonderful: you own the symbol of a completed life – a life that has passed into a realm truly unknowable by humans. And from what I understood, whether human or animal, all the lives that could potentially belong to this ash heap really meant something to you and your husband. You’ve come to the point when you mentioned “the transitory nature of human and animal life,” and perhaps you are lucky in the sense that you have a capsule that symbolizes the universal mystery of life. Regardless of who / what is inside this vessel, it represents both the impermanence of life and the unknowable mystery of death, your own Tomb of the Unknown Soldier (in the teapot). The first thing to consider is whether you need to do anything at all. No death is more or less important than another, even if the deceased is anonymous. The possibility that you are holding onto a physical representation of one of the lives you mentioned certainly brings up memories of these beings. Maybe these memories are painful, or maybe they are nostalgic or make you laugh. Thus, storing remains in a container somewhere in your home can be a constant reminder of the fragility of life and the importance of savoring our experiences with others before (and after) their death. We all have so much time until we, too, turn to ash in the urn (metaphorically or literally).
In theory, you could pay for a DNA test , but the results may be unclear as sequencing the ashes is nowhere easier than doing a DNA test on an exhumed body, let alone a living person. (Opinions are divided online about DNA testing on cremated remains, so do your research if you really want to go that route.) Another option is to ask your friend or your husband’s ex-wife if they have more specific memories of these ashes, but this can also be fruitless.
Scattering them around in a beautiful location is always a good option, although in this case it may be more of a household act than a tribute to the life and legacy of the anonymous creature. Either way, think and do what will give you peace of mind.