Leaving My Father’s Ashes In A Used Box

After my father passed away from lung cancer and the mortuary in Carmichael sent his ashes by mail in May, I drove over to the Willow Glen post office to pick up the package. The office manager had to unlock the package from a special cage as handling human remains was serious business. Everything else could be trampled, mutilated and/or lost in the mail. I waited a half-hour before I got the package, brought it home and put it in the back of my filing cabinet. I had no immediate plans for my father’s ashes as I was still grieving.

Summer came and went, life went on as usual.

One of my aunts in Idaho wrote me a letter requesting my father’s ashes to be sent to her for proper burial in the family plot. Another aunt wanted to get this business with my late father squared away before she too passed away from cancer. I wrote a hand-written letter—something that I haven’t done in 30 years—back to my aunt to inform her that I would be mailing my father’s ashes the following Saturday. I notified my immediate family by email as to what was going on. A nephew requested that I keep some ashes for the family in California.

I’ve always thought that cremated human remains would be like a finely-grained powder. Not my father’s ashes. The gritty composition of his ashes reminded me of concrete crushed into a coarsely grained powder. Of course, my father worked in masonry construction for 50 years. I wouldn’t be  surprised the concrete had seeped into his bones. After my father gave me his old car as a birthday present in 2007, I ripped out the old sheepskin seat covers that he had and the concrete dust kept them standing stiff on the ground. I saved a quarter-cup of ashes for my immediate family.

I went back to the Willow Glen post office with my father’s ashes.

The first problem was not finding a medium Priority Mail cardboard box. The sturdy plastic box that my father’s ashes came in fits that box with little space to spare. When I told the clerk, he disappeared for ten minutes and came back with a used cardboard box. I wasn’t pleased but went with it.

The second problem was the price. After I filled out all the various forms and the clerk rang up the postage, it came to $20.85 USD. The mortuary charged me $75 USD to mail my father’s ashes. Either I’m mailing this wrong or the mortuary markup was huge.

The third problem was no obvious lock and key treatment this time. The clerk reassured me that he was following all appropriate regulations for sending human remains through the mail. A bag of cement would have gotten better treatment.

Like my father who left my mother’s ashes in a pencil box at the cemetery in Idaho in 2004, I had a strong emotional reaction for leaving his ashes in a used box at the post office.