Getting Used To The Weirdness

While I’ve always loved a morbid joke or two, my wry humor was pushed to its limits in the wake of my husband’s death. There are just some things you can’t possibly anticipate and have no choice but to accept.

The day I went to pick up my husband’s ashes I was forced into yet another encounter with one such awkward moment. The urn weighs far more than you’d expect and it was a struggle just to get it to the car. At that point I pushed it onto the front seat and headed for my side of the vehicle.

Oh wait.

If I take off, is it going to roll right off the seat? Round marble might make one heck of a projectile in the event I slam on the brakes. Visions of the urn flying through the windshield and striking down some sweet little old lady pushed everything else out of my mind. I had no choice. I’d have to buckle it in.

I start up and pull away but damned if I could focus on anything other than the strapped-in ashes sitting next to me. Now I’m not one of those widows who thinks of my husband’s ashes as my husband. In fact, when others refer to the ashes as “him” I get a little weirded out. Can he see out of that urn?  Feel?  Think? If so, I’m in big trouble. Especially considering what happened next.

The urn was far too distracting and I couldn’t stop the impulse to constantly reach out and put my hand on it. Only two blocks into my drive I pulled over, stepped out of the car, and fought off a full-blown breakdown. I couldn’t put it in the back seat because I knew it would be just as distracting and my recent desire to cleanse my house had left next to no room between the boxes of clothes for donation, picture frames, and recyclables. It would only roll around on the floor.

That left just one place.

The trunk.

Right up next to the spare tire was the perfect little spot to wedge the urn into and, as I rightly guessed, out of sight, out of mind. I drove home at peace, without a second thought.

Until two days later when I headed to work and kept hearing a clunking sound I was sure meant big trouble and an expensive trip to the mechanic.  It was only when I popped the trunk to investigate I realized I’d left them in there.  I’ll never forget the reaction from the first family member I told: “You put Craig in the trunk!?!”

I guess I never thought of it that way.

The was only one of the many new weird situations I found myself growing accustomed to when I was widowed. Situations that would have made my stomach churn with apprehension over the awkwardness mere months before. Situations that friends and family (and random strangers) cringed over when they were forced to share them with me.

Having to explain to the DMV that my husband, in fact, could not renew or cancel his vehicle registration, no matter how many times they asked.  Going with my new husband to the accident site. Accidentally setting that extra seat at the table.  Crying in public.  Crying to police officers when I get pulled over. Wearing my old wedding rings remade at my wedding.  Sitting on the floor amidst the spilled cheerios, picking at what I can for breakfast. Correcting my husband’s coworkers for the third time about how to spell his name.

The longer you are widowed the more the taboo around death diminishes for you, and the more you can take a step back and just shake your head or laugh when caught up in these weird moments. Sometimes the hardest part is remembering that while it’s your new normal, it is still weird to everyone else.

But I try to face each day with my sense of humor intact, laughing when I can, worrying less and less about what others might think, all while keeping my crying outbursts to the safety of my own home.  Or car… or grocery store… or church… Ok, I confess, I cry wherever I feel like it.  That’s just part of this new weirdness I guess.

Our thanks to guest author Emily Clark for sharing her story here with us.  You can read more of Emily’s journey through young widowhood on her blog.

Photo credit.


  1. Marianne Zinkewicz said on October 30, 2012 at 2:52 pm ... #

    I totally identified with your comments. When I picked up my husband’s ashes, the urn was set in a heavy, velvet box, so there was no need to worry that it would tip over (or become a projectile) while driving.
    My daughter and I talked about strewing his ashes over the water where we used to live; however, the urn is solidly shut and there is no way it will open.
    So it’s placed on my bureau with his picture beneath, forever in my heart. This is my new normal.

  2. Terri said on October 30, 2012 at 3:27 pm ... #

    Thanks Emily.
    My husband is dying of a brain tumor, and humor is one of the things that keeps us from being engulfed by the grief. I hope to be able to keep my sense of humor intact as you have.

    Thanks for sharing your story.

  3. amy cavanaugh said on October 30, 2012 at 3:31 pm ... #

    you are a better woman than I -when I pulled into the funeral home to pick him up, I heard a blasting furnace as if it were a cold winter night (we lived in South Florida). I had to get back in the car, call the lady, pop the trunk and tell her to put him in the truck. Just put the body in the bag, close the trunk. I went to his friend’s and said Keith is in a bag in the trunk, please get him out and hide him till the funeral.

  4. Lisa Halle said on October 30, 2012 at 8:02 pm ... #

    Thanks Emily for your article. I can so relate to some of your comments. I am disappointed when friends and co-workers don’t remember that my husband’s name was spelled Jon, not John. Also, I never actually put my husband’s ashes in an urn, because it was not something I particularly felt the need to do, or that he would have much wanted. Instead, I left them in a cardboard box in the closet, and one day several months after he died woke up suddenly, and could not remember where they were. Were they under the bed, in my closet, or down the hall. I panicked until I found them. Looking back now, I can laugh, and I also laugh at other’s reaction to the location of the ashes. For me, the ashes don’t equate to Jon at all. They are some strange tradition that is customary to do, but don’t hold much meaning for me. However, with that being said, I have to of course always keep them.

  5. K Schindler said on October 30, 2012 at 9:09 pm ... #

    I can totally relate to this…my best friend was with me when we went to pick up my husband’s ashes. She was visiting from out of town, so I drove, and we both assumed I’d drive home as well. But as you pointed out, there is no good place to put ashes in a car, so I told her she’d have to hold the urn in her lap. We joked that my husband might enjoy it, but then I decided that the only lap my husband was going to be sitting in was mine, and my friend drive us home. It might seem crass to joke about such things, but humor was the spark in my marriage, and I try to let it in to sustain me during the hard times of loss.

    (Terri, I am so sorry to hear about your husband. My husband had a brain tumor as well. My heart goes out to both of you.)

  6. Paul R said on November 19, 2012 at 4:28 pm ... #

    My wife’s ashes were placed in an urn that she had commented that it was nice and maybe we should by a pair for the future. Unfortunately, her future was cut short in an accident.

    I had her urn on a shelf in the dining area next to a picture of her for four and a half months. Laura was always smiling and loved to see other happy people. She also enjoyed carousels. So her urn is now in the wall of a building that houses a carousel which was built/renovated by a Vietnam vet as therapy through his grief.

    About 30 family and friends gathered to ride the carousel, tell stories, and seal her urn into the wall.

    Some people I talk to think that is kind of weird but everyone who attended thought it was a perfect place for Laura’s ashes.

  7. John said on November 22, 2012 at 6:15 pm ... #

    My wife said that she wanted her ashes to go up in fireworks over the sea.

    When we got the ashes from the funeral director I opened them up at home. Inside a velvet bag was a cardboard box. Inside this was a sealed plastic box. I could not open it and had to get tools from the garage to drill and saw into it. I was scared that she might end up all over the dining room table and what our sons might think!

    Inside that was a sealed plastic bag. Did they think she would try to escape or something, was my weird thought.

    As for getting her ashes into the fireworks, I think we broke all regulations about pyrotechnics, but I was so determined to follow her wishes that we felt a huge achievement when we managed it. Now I know why we didn’t use all the fireworks from last year (we celebrate Guy Fawkes in New Zealand). We had a ceremony on the beach in a gale in freezing temperatures but boy did she have a send off!

    All I need to do now is figure out what to do with the rest of her ashes…

  8. Laura said on December 16, 2012 at 12:13 am ... #

    Three years later my husband’s ashes are on the shelf in the closet of his home office. I can’t figure out what to do with them. My weird moment occurred about a year ago when I saw the box they are in and couldn’t remember what it was. I was started to open the sealed box when it dawned on me that I was opening the box of ashes. Talk about feeling odd and out of touch!

  9. vivien said on February 15, 2013 at 3:55 pm ... #

    Can someone please help me come to terms with having mu husbands ashes in the house. My husband of 41 years died last week of cancer and brain tumour, we were devastated. To-day my 2 sons brought my husband Raymond home. When my eldest son was going home I got very agitated. My son asked me would you like me to take my Dad’s ashes home to our house, I immediately said yes, why, I loved him so much.

  10. Pat said on February 17, 2013 at 1:18 pm ... #

    To Vivien:
    My husband died 2 years ago and when I received his ashes a year later (he donated his body to an area teaching hospital), I found them hard to deal with. I would suggest that you give your self time. After talking with other widows/widowers I learned that everyone deals with grief in their own way and there is no right way to do it. Be gentle with yourself.

  11. susan said on February 20, 2013 at 10:08 pm ... #

    My husband died a year ago. I m having nighmares tht he is back and how to expalin what I have done this past year. I loved him and was afraid of him at the same time. I need someone or something to help me make it all real. The legalities have stopped; the families are carying on; but I am not. If you have any thoughts or places to go, please let me know.

  12. Dana said on April 5, 2013 at 12:47 am ... #

    Why couldn’t I have found this site last July?! Since my fiancee passed, I have had some of the most awkward conversations of my life. Starting with a battle over funeral arrangements with his mother-since we weren’t married yet, she felt I should have no say so–even though her son and I had been together 7 years–and the questions people ask!! Is nothing off-limits anymore? Sorry, just had to rant for a minute.

    On a different note, some days I feel like I am losing my mind. I wake up and think maybe the past nine months have been a dream and he is still alive and I am just having a complete meltdown. I can’t stop wearing my ring, I can’t delete the last texts I got from him off my phone, I can’t take him off my speed dial. It’s hard to be around our friends-who have been wonderful, I just find myself thinking about the times we shared and can’t be in the moment.

    Also, I have lost two close friends to cancer in the last 16 months and another close friend has just been diagnosed. I feel like my coping skills are wearing out and I don’t know how to deal anymore.

  13. Mimi said on April 17, 2013 at 10:35 pm ... #

    My husband Joe passed on April 8, 2013. Now I have his ashes. He requested they be buried immediately; I feel like I would like to keep them for a while, but also feel unconfortable knowing he wanted them buried almost immediately. Don’t really like to leave them around, don’t know what to tell my 6 year old grandson, what do I say, “oh, well, that’s Grandpop…” You know how kids get into everything. Really miss Joe, cry a lot, went back to work. He had it rough, 13 years with Parkinson’s disease, last 9 months with dementia, he had to be institutionalized. Broke my heart. I really miss my Joe, he was a great man. Don’t know how I can live the rest of my life without him. Fortunately, I have lots of family nearby to keep an eye on me, but I still miss him and his companionship and the great life we had together.

  14. cristina said on April 29, 2013 at 9:55 am ... #

    My husband died on 2/28/13 of a rare neurological disease caled CJD. His name was Joe and I really miss him too. My thoughts are with you and your family. My Joe was a great man and father to a 5 and 7 year old (boys). We struggle daily in coming to terms with such a loss.

  15. Angel said on May 6, 2013 at 1:03 am ... #

    I got this key necklace with some of his ashes in it. I wear it everyday, along with my wedding ring. It’s only been 2 1/2 months. I cry a lot. Not as much as I used to. More at home because I keep waiting for him to walk through the door. I’ve had a couple of meltdowns at work. I, too, set a place for him at the table about 2 weeks ago and started sobbing. Some days are good and some just plain suck. People keep telling me how proud they are and how strong I am. It makes me feel bad when I smile. Like I’m forgetting what happened to him. When people say how proud, I feel angry because I want to yell at them “Well, I shouldn’t have to be so strong! I shouldn’t have to do this alone!” It is so hard sometimes.

  16. Cricket said on June 17, 2013 at 1:42 pm ... #

    My 16 yo son died of suicide after a lengthy custody battle his Dad started so he could get out of child support–his own words. I have the hardest time being open about what happened for obvious reasons to me–his little brother is only 9 and doesn’t know what really happened. I dread that day more than I’ve dreaded the question of what the ashes look like. It’s only been 6 months, but I haven’t opened the box to transfer them to the urn I bought. Even then, it seems wrong to keep them confined. Yet, every day seems to be a day further into our new normal and I feel “ok” most of the time. Father’s day…choked through the day on my resentment of what his Dad’s greed cost us all. I expected Mother’s day to be hard, Father’s day just seemed hollow and unjustified…weird in that I don’t feel like this jerk should be celebrated. Glad, at least and at such an incredibly high price, I never have to see that jerk again.

  17. Petunia said on June 21, 2013 at 2:18 am ... #

    I asked my husband when it was inevitable that he would pass soon…I am an RN and we both knew what would be the outcome of stage IV cancer. I asked him if he wanted me to spread his ashes in the valley where he was the happiest in NM. He said “no..just put me in a jar on the shelf next to Chico (our chihuahua passed)I found the most beautiful ginger jar which is sealed with swans in pairs on it. I saved a small jar of ashes for a website named “Heartsong Memory Beads” I spoke to the artist in CA and she was wonderful. My young work study employees where I work say it’s bad JuJu, bad Feng Shui, and that I could take on all of the bad karma of my Husband of 23 years. All I want is 1 bead for an ankle bracelet. Help!

  18. Marta said on August 17, 2013 at 10:54 am ... #

    Emily and Amy, you are both better women than I. I left the state and had my parents pick up my husband’s ashes for me. They are now in a box in his bedside table next to our bed. I had a dream recently in which he asked me to dispose of them at sea so that he could return to the universe…all part of the weirdness.

    I guess whatever we need to do with the remains is ok. Petunia, I think you should do as you please with your husband’s ashes. You can’t take on someone else’s bad karma and who can know better than you what you need?

    We have all been through so much. I feel for each of you, and am glad to know you through this venue. Thanks, Comfort Zone.

  19. Susan said on January 16, 2014 at 9:04 pm ... #

    The man I called my husband died eight months ago. Everyone we knew thought we were married. True is, we were just living together, and never took the legal step to be married. We lived together 4 years out of our six year relationship. Question….am I a widow? Even now. Whe I talk a out him, I call him my husband…but legally, I didn’t have any rights at the hospital or the funeral. I don’t want to collect any insurance or pension. I just want to know,, am I right to call myself a widow? Because it feels like I am.

  20. Janice said on February 14, 2014 at 12:11 pm ... #


    Yes, you are a widow. You called him your husband. You thought of him as your husband. He probably thought of you as his wife. If was YOUR life. You know what it was about.

    My husband and I were married 28 years. I say it was 30 because we lived together before we were married. I knew I was his wife almost from the moment we met. He felt the same about me. Everyone tries to discount those two years, but it was our life, MY LIFE, and who knows it better than I do?

  21. Wendy said on August 16, 2014 at 6:12 am ... #

    It’s been a month today that I came home from work and found my husband. He died of sudden cardiac arrest, according to the autopsy. I have a much different attitude towards his ashes. I wrapped the plastic bag of ashes in one of his T-shirts, and I sleep with them like a child with their teddy bear.
    My employer pays for 6 therapy visits per year when you have a crisis, so I’m seeing a therapist. The only person I’ve told about my new sleeping arrangement is the therapist. She said that whatever gives me comfort is okay. Everyone grieves in their own way. I was widowed before at the tender age of 25. This time my reaction is different, because I’m not terrified of the future. I found a wonderful man to share 30 years of my life with, and I’ll live the rest of my life remembering him and missing him. And when I need to cry, I’ll cry.

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