Where do I go to see or talk to my Mum or Dad if they don’t have a grave?

Where do I go to see or talk to my Mum or Dad if they don’t have a grave?

This blog post was inspired by a friend of mine who mentioned, as the anniversary of her mum’s death approached, that she felt she had nowhere to go to see her mum.  This was because, as her mother had been cremated, there was no grave.  And also because the ashes had been…well…lost somewhere along the way.

Now she is far from the only person to ever misplace, throw away, never pick up, or accidentally vacuum up (yes, it happens) ashes.  For me, having ashes or spreading ashes is more a symbolic thing that anything, rather than still the person you have lost.

We are human.  We lose things, throw things away, ignore things, forget things. This is nothing to feel guilty about.

What if you don’t have a grave or place where ashes were spread to visit?

What are ashes anyway? If you’ve ever been to the viewing of the body of someone you have lost you’ll know that while often very traumatic, or sometimes very calming, it can also be a little…odd.  I remember going to see my dad’s body after he died.   I remember looking at him and thinking I was supposed to talk to him….but wondering where to direct my words.  This body looked like my dad….and it was dressed like my dad…..but whatever made my dad my dad wasn’t in there anymore.  I wasn’t exactly sure where it had gone…but it sure wasn’t there. I tried talking to this body…but I’ll admit it felt like talking to any other inanimate object.  He wasn’t there.  So I tried just talking out loud to the room, which still wasn’t quite right for me so I left.

We spread his ashes on a beach that he and my mum liked to walk on, taking care not to have the Wellington wind blow any of it back in our eyes, mouths, and faces. (We have learnt our lessons from previous experiences with other ashes!).  But that didn’t really feel like him either.

That beach is not somewhere I would usually go (Makara for those that know it)…and – having lived away all of the time since – I’ve never been back.  Even when I was back in NZ over a year ago it didn’t even occur to me to go to the beach.  Why?

Because you don’t need a physical place to go to think about someone you love.

 Let’s just remove the idea of death from the conversation for a minute.  Think about a family member or friend that lives in a different country to you.  When you want to think about them, or remember something about them, or love them, do you need to go to a certain place or a particular room, or see a certain thing to be able to do that?  Of course you don’t.  You just do it – you think about them and remember.  You have conversations with them in your head.  You think about the things you want to say to them.

Why does it need to be any different with someone you have lost?  You don’t need a physical place to think about and remember them.  You think and remember in your brain which, luckily, goes everywhere with you.  You don’t need a physical place to love them.  You love them in your heart which, again fortunately, does the same thing your brain does.

If you want to talk to them do what you do with anyone else you can’t immediately see and have that conversation in your head.  Close your eyes, see them in front of you, and think or say out loud what you want to say.  If it’s easier to have a photo to look at or speak to then do that.  You don’t need to go where a particular piece of them is buried or stored or spread.  You are a piece of them. You are more a piece of them than any grave or ashes could offer.  You are a living breathing place to think about and remember them.  Ashes and graves don’t hold memories and love.  But you do.

As always I’m here if you have any questions, anything you’d like to see me blog about, or want to find out about working with me.




About Kristie West

I'm a Grief Specialist and I help adults who have lost a parent. I am known for positively changing people's experience of the loss of a parent in less than 4 hours.
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2 Responses to Where do I go to see or talk to my Mum or Dad if they don’t have a grave?

  1. H says:

    As someone who lives abroad and travels I wanted to make sure I didn’t associate my dad with his grave or any location. I couldn’t during the time he was ill and I didn’t plan to after his passing. After explaining to my mother why I didn’t want to go to his grave for a while after the funeral, she understood and I’m quite glad that now when I think about my dad, I think about my dad and our family and not about wanting to see his grave, which is a very different association. We know people who go to their partners or childrens graves daily and well somewhat obsessively and perhaps culturally it’s their way of showing others their devotion to that person, but that’s just no way to live on. We have a beautiful gravestone and we’re glad for the site, but it’s not the memory we have of him, definitely not his grave, where he himself has never been alive.

    • Kristie West says:

      That’s such a good point that especially for travellers/expats it would be a real disservice to people who’ve lost their mum or dad if their memory was tied to a place they couldn’t get to. Also that a grave is really only a link to their death, not their life. Many years ago I had I had a client who had lost both parents to old age and couldn’t move a step beyond that, even years lateer.According to her culture she still wore black, but she took this to her own extreme by visiting their graves every single day. It affected her ability to have friendships/relationships, to work, and to live her own life. And, very importantly it also focused on her ability to remember her parents properly as all she could focus on were their deaths, the loss of them. Not actually on the people they were.
      You’re right that while having a grave can be a beautiful thing and of great value, this it is not where our memories are kept.
      Thanks for sharing. xx

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