“Should We Give My Stepson His Mother’s Ashes?”

My husband and I have been married for eleven years. We got married six months after his wife died from a brain aneurysm. It had been a loveless marriage for years, but still no one on his side understands why he got married so quickly and, for most, without notice. They had one son together who is now in his 30s and who moved five hours away for a job right after college. This son was always a mother’s boy, to the point that she had him convinced he suffered from every ailment on the planet.

Just recently, he has tried to take his life for the second time. My husband got him to stay with us for a few weeks after being released from the hospital. He seems to be ok and will return home and to work in a few weeks after going to visit his sister for a few weeks (which is another big issue because he is fighting moving closer to family because he says he cannot get out of his lease although his job would allow for this).

My question is this: His mom’s ashes are at our house and the anniversary of her death is coming up while he will be at his sister’s. Should we encourage him to take the ashes to either do something with them or have some type of family memorial service? — Concerned Stepmom

I’m assuming your stepson’s sister must be an older half-sister his mother had before she married your now-husband, so my advice is with that in mind. That said, I do believe their mother’s ashes should be given to them at some point, but now isn’t the right time. Death anniversaries can bring up a lot of emotions even among the most emotionally-healthy and stable. Your stepson is neither of those things right now, having just tried to take his life for a second time only recently. He may “seem to be ok,” at the moment, but giving him his dead mom’s ashes to transport on his own to his sister’s, days before the anniversary of the death and only a few weeks after he experiences the most emotional low point a person can live through, is such a big risk to whatever tenuous emotional stability he might be presenting that it makes no sense to take it.

At some point, when there’s a little more distance from both this emotional low point as well as the anniversary of their mom’s death and the feelings it is bound to bring up, your husband should reach out to the more emotionally stable sibling – likely your stepson’s sister – and remind her that he is still in possession of the ashes and ask if she would like to discuss with her brother, when it feels right, whether they might want to take the ashes to memorialize her in some way. The siblings are adults and can make this decision between themselves, but given the sensitivity of the situation, your husband should underscore that there’s no rush to make a decision and he’s happy to hold on to the ashes until they’re ready to take them.

As for where your adult stepson chooses to live, I think that’s his business and he might be using his lease as an excuse to stay where he feels most comfortable at the moment. You and your husband can remind him from time to time how much you enjoy his company and having him nearby and that you’re always happy to have him visit and you’d be thrilled to help facilitate a move close to you in whatever way you can, should he ever choose to relocate. Beyond that, it really is his life and his choice – much like it was his father’s choice to re-marry so quickly.

We don’t always understand loved one’s personal decisions, and it can be easy sometimes to make other’s decisions about ourselves or attach meaning to the decisions that don’t reflect reality. It’s best to try not to take things personally, and to respect others’ right to live their lives in a way that best supports their needs and their pursuit of peace and happiness.

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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. I don’t understand this answer. It’s been almost twelve years since LW’s husband’s first wife died. The time for a family memorial service with the ashes, including LW’s husband, seems far overdue. If LW is correct that. from her husband’s perspective, this was a loveless marriage, then it doesn’t seem like he is the proper custodian of the ashes. The deceased’s two children, who presumably loved their mother, should get to decide the fate of the ashes and plan an appropriate memorial event — even if this is as simple as the two children and LW’s husband spreading the ashes at a site that was significant for the deceased. I can see this being a positive event for the son.

    1. I think Wendy’s answer is compassionate and sensible. My mum and her siblings only just decided where and when they were going to take my grandparents ashes. My grandad died over 20 years ago, and they had been at the funeral directors all that time, and my Grandma’s around 10 years. Some people are not good with death and reminders of it. There never seemed a good time for them to deal with it as life and other events took precedence.
      Big life changes and anniversaries are not a good time to bring up that LW and her husband want the children to deal with the ashes. By all means suggest it, but at a different time and in a ‘by the way we still have the ashes, would you like to do something with them’ kind of way.
      It’s also a really good reminder to let loved ones know what you want for after death, though the mothers death was sudden and unexpected it makes things harder. For me I want the minimum of fuss, with the cheapest box and cremation and no funeral. In my adopted country people put themselves into horrendous debt paying for a multi day funeral and an expensive headstone with a later unveiling, but that’s part of their culture and way of respecting family.

  2. Anonymousse says:

    This seems incredibly heartless. He just attempted suicide for the second time, and this “momma’s boy” is “pretty okay now” and you think now is the time to gift him his dear mother’s remains? Are you sure she was overly sympathetic to the boy, or are you and your husband incredibly cold? This is one of those questions that I wonder how you ever hit send on this. Is this your idea and have you discussed it with your husband? What’s the intent here?

    1. Yes!! You say what I felt much more succinctly!

  3. HeartsMum says:

    Extremely compassionate advice from Wendy! Not just towards the stepson, the husband, and the sister, but towards LW. LW, read the room! The ashes are not the issue, but if you continue to focus on them, you will put yourself squarely in wicked stepmother territory. If you think decluttering the ashes will get your husband’s family out of your life, talk to him about paying to lodge the ashes safely (with bills paid for years upfront) with a funeral director. (P.S. it’s not about the ashes)

  4. Great advice from Wendy, but this whole letter reads as so odd to me.

    Reading between the lines, it sounds like the LW may have been involved with her husband before his wife died? (“Loveless marriage” being the biggest clue. They always are.) In any event, within the span of six months, the son (who was close to his mom) and his sister’s mother died, her husband (the son’s father) got remarried, and apparently they never had a service for the mom. The son is obviously emotionally unstable, to the tune of having twice attempted suicide, and the LW is concerned about ashes? Ashes that they’ve held onto for over a decade? What? Something’s off here.

    Why wouldn’t they have given them to the daughter or son years ago? Why have they not had a memorial? Why are these ashes the LW’s chief concern given the other glaring problems here and where is the husband and father in all of this?

    Anyway, I suppose all of that is beside the point, and Wendy is right- LW, no, do not give an emotionally volatile and recently suicidal person who was close to his mother her ashes on the date of her sudden passing to courier to his sister alone. How is this even a question?

    (P.S. The lease isn’t why the son refuses to move closer to you and his father, LW.)

  5. Agree with Anonymousse. This LW could not care less about her stepson. She sounds like a horrible person. I think she’s just sick of having the ashes of Wife One in her house and looking for a way to get rid of them. Bizarre how she felt it was relevant to her question to bring in the “loveless” marraige (Miss M J nailed this one), her unkind views on the son’s relationship with his mom, and what she considers his hypocondria (gaslight much? He might actually be physically ill!). Amazed that the answer treats the LW as if she is a normal person. Feel bad for the husband.

  6. Anonymous says:

    I totally agree with you. It feels like the letter writer is tired of the son, tired of being questioned about the quick remarriage, and is taking it out on the ashes. She wants to be done with them and everything associated with her husband’s past life. A little kindness could go a long way here, even to her husband who might not actually agree about the loveless first marriage but feels he has no choice.

  7. Something about the LW and her letter seems off to me. Why did she need to bring up that her husband’s first marriage was supposedly loveless and that people were surprised when LW and husband got married so quickly. Reading between the lines it sounds like LW was involved with the husband while he was married? Also I dislike the way she describes the son who recently attempted suicide for the 2nd time…. “mama’s boy” and “pretty okay”….okay? Where is the compassion here? Don’t give the ashes to the poor guy after he freshly tried to kill himself, good grief. What are you trying to do here LW? I think there’s other ways to support your stepson who almost died for the 2nd time.

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