By 2040, they say more than 80% of Americans will be cremated. Also, more than 53% of us choose that over burial. And while for some this may seem normal and natural, for others, like my Southern Baptist family, this is a huge shift.
On July 2, 2015, my stepfather had a massive heart attack while driving back to work from his lunch break. He pulled over to the side of the road, and died. It would be hours until we could find him, given he’d chosen a route on a backcountry road rather than a highway.
His death sent shockwaves through my family. They were different shockwaves for everyone.
For my mom and my myself, we were devastated.
- Jay had been a man who showed my mother the goodness in a marriage and a husband, something she wasn’t used to with her previous marriage of 20 years to my father.
- For me, Jay had been the only family member who immediately accepted my coming out as gay –– and who helped my mom and the rest of my Southern Baptist family come to their own acceptance. He also brought back the smile to my mother’s face –– one I hadn’t seen since I was much younger.
For the rest of our family, his death was inconvenient. After all, he’d only been part of our family for a few years, and he was a relatively quiet man.
They were sad, but they weren’t sure how to act, because their grief wasn’t matched to mine or my mother’s.
Loss is difficult in so many ways, but each of us has different relationships with different people. Every person’s loss will feel different, and that’s ok. The rest of my family helped my mom and myself to plan the funeral, to get everything in order, and they just sat there with us quietly as we shook.
The Will to Not Be a Burden
Jay’s will was a surprise to my family. In it, he had requested to be cremated, with no funeral arrangements. This made my mother bawl. She couldn’t handle the idea of not having a service, and the rest of my family gawked at the cremation request.
Neither was a surprise to me.
Jay was the type of man who wanted to burden no one. To my mother, I said: “Have a service. If it’s easier to have one, then have one. If you need to have one, then have one. He only wrote this because he thought it’d be easier. If it isn’t, then disregard.”
Next, we had to face a new burial plan: the idea of not being buried at all.
I’ve known my whole life that I have a plot in Fort Worth, Texas along with the rest of my family besides my grandparents set aside for myself and my spouse.
My whole family has always assumed burial was their final resting place. Cremation was a weird thing other families did and that we didn’t know much about.
But, Jay had requested cremation, and we already weren’t following his wishes on a service –– so this one felt necessary to grant.
Cremation wasn’t any of our idea of a final destination. We’d been raised in the Baptist faith, and burying your loved ones for the future coming of Christ so they could be risen to live again –– that was our family normal.
But we sucked it up, and did was Jay wanted with his body. It was our final act of service to a man that help guide our family through so much change.
A New Normal with New Traditions
These days, my step-dad’s ashes sit in our study surrounded by a small memorial. It’s the right place for him. Surrounded by sunflowers in the room he loved the most, right next to the big screen TV where he used to watch The Big Bang Theory.
My mom began going to a grief group, where she found incredible support and some new best friends. One of those new best friends sent her on a blind date with the man who is now her fiance.
Back in 2015, days after Jay passed, I told my mom something so many people say in those early days to those who have lost someone.
“Mom, it’s going to be OK. Everything will be OK.”
She looked at me, a little disappointed it seemed, and then said in a moment of teaching:
“I know, I know everything will be OK. Eventually. But it’s not right now. And I want to be upset about it –– right now.”
And she was. And I was. Then, and now. But we’ve found joy in so many other things, too. New friends. New families. All of whom to share the old memories as well as our new traditions with.