Nothing drives home life’s futility like finding your dead uncle’s ashes in the trunk of your mom’s car.
And he wasn’t alone in there. His wife’s ashes were in the trunk, too. It was disturbing. Like catching your parents in flagrante.
I was curious as to why the ashes were in the trunk of the car. Even more curious as to why, knowing those ashes were in the trunk, and knowing she was sending me to that trunk, my mom didn’t warn me about the Billy Batts situation in her car.
“I need to scatter them in the ocean off Wildwood,” my mom said. Which didn’t explain anything. But I thought it was better not to dig too deeply into a trunk full of human cremains.
My aunt had been dead for 20 years by the time my uncle joined her. He died in March 2020, making his wish to combine his ashes with his wife’s for scattering on the Atlantic impossible to realize.
So for two years, my aunt and uncle’s ashes – enclosed in cardboard boxes and wrapped in butcher paper – have loitered in the trunk of my mom’s car. Waiting for their moment.
Yes. I’m the one bringing about their moment.
My mom recently stopped driving, tasking me with the disposal of her car. I emptied the car of her belongings. The tissues. The mints. The dead siblings.
I laid the contents of the car on my parents’ dining room table. “Behave yourselves,” I admonished my aunt and uncle. Because they rarely did so in life.
A week later my dad had pneumonia.
Now, I don’t really think my aunt and uncle gave my dad pneumonia.
But I kind of think my aunt and uncle gave my dad pneumonia.
I saw an opportunity to relocate the ashes when I had to go to Ocean City, N.J. “It’s not Wildwood,” I told my mom, “but it’s close enough.”
She agreed, so the ashes came home with me.
“My aunt and uncle are visiting,” I told my husband, nodding to the boxes nestled on the dining room table.
He grunted. Whether he didn’t want any part of this story or was afraid of pneumonia, I don’t know.
“Behave yourselves,” I admonished them again.
Four days later, my son lost $10.
I don’t think my aunt and uncle are responsible for the lost $10. But I do know they never met a dollar they didn’t lose.
Me? I combined my aunt and uncle’s ashes at the curb of my driveway at 6:00 on a Saturday morning.
Listen. I wanted my aunt and uncle together for our trip. But I was afraid of spilling them in my house. How does one respectfully clean that up? What if that spill condemned me to a lifetime of lost $10 bills? What if they haunted me?
Eh. That part might be livable. My uncle and I used to discuss books. Maybe I could finally get him to admit Tess of the d’Urbervilles is drudgery and not the compelling story he always maintained it to be.
“You’re together again,” I said as I mixed the ashes in a resealable plastic bag. And if mixing ashes into a plastic bag at the curb of your house at dawn on a Saturday doesn’t drive home both your mortality and your insignificance to the universe, you should go read Tess of the d’Urbervilles. You deserve each other.
But once I arrived in Ocean City, I wasn’t sure how to go about scattering the ashes. I left them in my backpack while I sat on the beach, pondering my dilemma.
When I felt a tickle at my foot, I assumed it was a crab. I looked down to find my aunt and uncle had escaped the confines of my backpack. There they were, sitting on the beach in their plastic baggie.
“Want some sunscreen?” I asked as I shifted them from behind my backpack. I figured they probably wanted to see the ocean they longed to be scattered in.
Something occurred to me then. Was what I was about to do legal? Would I create an ecological disaster by scattering dead people in the Atlantic? What about a paranormal crisis, like the ending of Ghostbusters? Would orange become my new black? Would the Keymaster seek out me, the Gatekeeper?
Thanks to the New Jersey State Funeral Directors Association, I discovered I was indeed putting myself in legal peril. To scatter ashes in New Jersey, I need to give the state 30 days’ notice and conduct my dispersal three nautical miles from shore.
Water depth doesn’t matter. Just so you know.
Water depth does matter if you’re dumping a whole body into the ocean. Which is perfectly legal with the proper paperwork.
And now I’m more afraid of encountering a dead body than encountering a shark.
I trudged home. “You didn’t do it,” my husband said as I walked through the door. It was a statement, not a question.
“They’re in the garage,” I said, figuring that was the best place to keep them from losing more of my $10 bills.
I have a plan, though. I do. It involves the Environmental Protection Agency, my cousin’s vacation, and a boat.
Let’s just hope I don’t get pneumonia in the meantime.