“My Dad Won’t Tell Me Where My Mom’s Ashes Are”

My mom passed away on Christmas Eve, 16 years ago. I was only 20 years old and my son was three and a half months. My dad handled the service and my mom was cremated. The only thing is I don’t have her ashes nor does my father. I don’t know what happened to my mom. It’s been almost 16 years and my dad won’t talk about it. He just says everything was paid for. So this year I called the funeral home. I need to know. Unfortunately, with my dad as next of kin, they can’t tell me much. The kind woman on the phone told me they have been trying to reach my dad, and I’m not sure why if everything was taken care of. She did say she wants my dad and me to have closure and my mom to finally be at rest. I think my mom’s ashes may have just been left there and it’s killing me inside.

I need to talk to my dad and I don’t know how. We haven’t always had a great relationship. I feel now I’m choosing between my parents. I desperately need to know what happened to my mom. I feel that if I bring it up, it could potentially ruin the relationship I have with my dad. What do I do? How do I find the answers I need? My mom was my best friend and I feel like I failed her. I can’t think clearly and being pregnant isn’t helping. Is there any way to bring this up without losing my dad? My heart just hurts all the time and I need answers. I always think you give the best advice and any help or suggestions would be so appreciated. — Missing Mom

I’m really sorry for the loss of your mom, and even though it’s been 16 years, time only goes so far in healing broken hearts (especially if you feel you haven’t gotten closure). I imagine that pregnancy might also bring up emotions, not just because of hormonal surges, but also because it’s natural to think of our own mothers as we prepare to mother a new child. It’s important to remember that even though there are some unanswered questions – which I hope you’ll get some clarity on – there is still a lot you already know. You know your mother loved you and you loved her, you know all the lessons she taught you, and you know her legacy lives on in you, in your children, in all that she influenced when she was alive (and continues to influence in her death).

For clarity about what has happened to your mom’s ashes, I think that asking your dad explicitly about them is the only way you’re going to find out, and if you approach the question firmly but with sensitivity and compassion, you are more likely to get an answer without harming your relationship with your dad. Here’s a script you can use:

“Dad, as we get close again to the anniversary of Mom’s death, my feelings of grief and of missing her are resurfacing. One of the hurdles in my healing is not knowing where her ashes are and not having the closure I think I need to move on in the way I know she’d want for me. I know her death is a difficult chapter for you to revisit, and I don’t want to cause you pain, but you’re the only person who can help me get the information I desperately need. The funeral home won’t tell me where her ashes are, but they say they want me to have closure and that they’ve been trying to reach you, which only makes me conclude that Mom’s ashes must be in their care. If that’s true, it would mean everything to me to be able to retrieve them. Can you please help me and share whatever information you have?”

If he is still resistant to talking with you, your relationship may suffer, but it won’t be your fault. Nothing in the script above is offensive or inflammatory or disrespectful. If he refuses to help you locate your mom’s ashes, and the funeral home won’t give you information without his consent, you have to accept that the closure you’re seeking will have to come another way. I think the closure you want is about honoring your mom – and it doesn’t feel honorable leaving her ashes on a shelf in some funeral home – so I would advise doing something – maybe on her birthday and/or the anniversary of her death – that honors her memory. You could also think about how a name for your baby might honor her memory. Ultimately, the best way to honor your mom is to keep her memory alive, which you can do by sharing stories and photos with your kids and by thinking of her often. If doing so causes more pain than joy at this point after her death, I would suggest seeking the support of a counselor – especially one who specializes in grief counseling.

I have my work Christmas lunch next week. I’ve been with the company for two months and haven’t even met my colleagues. We’ve only spoken on Zoom during our weekly meetings. This is a good opportunity to get to know them, but I feel awkward because it’s most likely they’re all married with kids while I’m not. I’m happily single and enjoy my freedom. At 52 years old, I am not likely to have a relationship happen because I’m too set in my ways. Having said that, I do enjoy dating women. Is it normal to feel awkward at work gatherings because of this? I sometimes feel like a loser and a failure. — Feeling Awkward

It’s normal to feel awkward at work gatherings, period. Whether you’re married, single, with kids or without, gathering in a social context with people you aren’t typically social with – and certainly with people you only know through Zoom – can be awkward. Your colleagues are probably a little nervous, too. Because this is a lunch, there will be a clear end time (and the whole thing shouldn’t last too long as opposed to an evening party that could go on for several hours). Here are a few tips that will help you navigate your holiday work party.

And, look, if you really can’t stand the idea of going, I’d say that you have a very valid excuse to sit this one out: There’s a super contagious Covid variant spreading at an alarming rate, and dining indoors with people from multiple households really isn’t the best idea right now.

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If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, you can send me your letters at wendy(AT)dearwendy.com.


  1. Wendy, you really do give the best advice. Just had to say it.

  2. anonymousse says:

    I would also advise letter writer #1 to go in person to the funeral home if possible. I can’t imagine anyone wants unclaimed remains to sit when a bereaved daughter desperately wants them. I’m so sorry.

    Also, I can assure letter writer #2 that those married with children also often feel likes losers and failures, as I assume most humans do from time to time. Feel confident that you’ve made the best choices for you and try to have fun.

  3. CanadaGoose says:

    The situation with LW 1 is really odd. Funeral costs can be really jarring and sometimes families balk when it’s time to pay the bill. Burial plots and even spots for urns in columbariums really skyrocketed about the time this lady would have passed, and I am aware of several people whose remains did not advance to burial over cost disputes. The funeral home will not release the ashes if they haven’t been paid but they’re businesses and should welcome a settling of an outstanding account even if it was previously written off. I’d ask the father very pointedly. If she gets nowhere, I would contact either the funeral home owner (if it’s small) or the managing director if it’s a franchise and say she believes there is a balance owing to complete her mother’s arrangements and she wishes to settle the account. She will learn something from that. It’s not like she is a stranger. She is legal kin. Funeral homes usually won’t stores ashes for decades, so she should prepare for unwelcome news. (It’s also possible some parts of the account were paid but not others, as there are multiple providers involved. It is possible her mother is interred but that the resting place in unmarked due to disputes over plaque/headstone costs. I am aware of this happening too.)

  4. I think it’s very telling that when he was asked what happened to the LW’s mom’s ashes, her father’s only response was “everything is paid for.” The question wasn’t “were all funeral arrangements paid for?” so the fact that his mind jumped there tells me he did not settle the bill.

    Wendy’s advice is great, as usual, but I really like the recommendations from Anonymousse and CanadaGoose and hope the LW can use them to claim the ashes.

  5. Bittergaymark says:

    LW1) this letter baffled me. Until I read the comments. Yeah. I think CanadaGoose is onto something. The ashes are probably being held due to lack of payment…

  6. LW1) It’s possible he paid but never picked them up for some reason. At the very least i’d call the funeral home again and ask them what they need so that they can converse with you as you are legal kin. Maybe they just need him to give his consent, and you can tell him, “all you need to do is call them and give your ok for them to speak to me” then you can take the phone and handle it from there…

    I’m also so sorry for your loss. My mother has been gone since 2013, i’m now 35, and we’ve decided for the first time to hold Christmas at my brother’s…i wasn’t prepared for the sadness i feel of having Christmas not surrounded by her. Her ashes are at my father’s, her ornaments, the stockings she hand embroidered with our names… Grief has a way of resurfacing when you thought you were done with the hard parts. So much love your way.

    1. You MIGHT want to get any very special memories out of your dad’s house and into your home. You never know when he might get remarried or something happen that causes him to get rid of a bunch of stuff.

  7. HeartsMum says:

    LW2) WWS. At your age, people who are parents are largely over the idea that having children is an accomplishment or an exclusive club that only lets them talk to other parents (sob into margaritas with is another matter). Many formerly married people will by now have been divorced (> 1x). They may well be pleased to converse with someone skilled at choosing other topics.

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