Father of four Steve Dempsey recently lost his wife to cancer. He writes about life after saying goodbye
It’s almost nine months since Kate died and I just got her ashes last week. Is this sort of delay normal? I don’t know. What do you do with them? I don’t know that either. I’ve put them in a wardrobe for now.
They’re in an ugly green plastic container. It looks like packaging for something you’d buy in a garden centre. But instead of slug pellets or weedkiller, it’s marked with a label that says “Kate Dempsey 4091”. It’s heavy. And if you looked inside, you’d find that the ashes themselves are grainy. More like sand than ashes you’d clean out of a fire. My first reaction when I saw them was to worry about Keith Richards’ nasal passage: he claims to have snorted his father’s ashes.
So, as I said, they’re currently in the back of a wardrobe. I know what I’ll do with them long-term — Kate was never one to leave things to chance. She asked for her ashes to be buried under a tree. But she didn’t specify any particular tree.
She was also clear about being cremated rather than buried. Her body was taken to the crematorium straight after the funeral but I didn’t accompany it. I was told the crematorium was in an industrial estate near the airport — not a pretty place, and one that may upset my four boys. So I stayed with them, while her body was taken to the crematorium.
Then life took over and I forgot about Kate’s remains. They weren’t something I felt a strong attachment to. Graves, burial plots, ashes; these weren’t urgent things. They were abstract — or so it seemed to me. There were enough immediate challenges. I needed to look after the living before figuring out what to do with the dead.
On her birthday in May, we had a party. It was a tame affair, cake and crisps and sugary drinks. But one of my six-year-old twins got upset and angry with me. Where’s Mum’s body, he asked. Why doesn’t she have a gravestone? Why isn’t she in a graveyard where we can visit her? They were good questions.
I started looking for answers. Fingal County Council has a page on its website detailing options for burials. It starts by telling you all the graveyards where you can’t bury people anymore in north county Dublin and goes downhill from there. User friendly, it ain’t.
For the most part, it reads like a rate card — detailing all the fees, costs and permits needed. A grave space without a foundation for a headstone costs one amount. One with a foundation for a headstone costs more — except in one burial ground, where VAT is applied. A permit for a gravestone is needed and that costs too. The cost of storing urns in burial plots varies depending on how big the urn is. Even in death, size matters.
It wasn’t helpful. There were no answers to the questions I had. Just a bureaucratic shakedown. Google told me of one place in Wexford that buries ashes and plants a tree. But Kate wanted somewhere closer to home, where the boys could remember her.
You can bury or disperse ashes on your own land freely. But burying them in my garden is a risky business. The dog tears up anything I plant and is currently working his way through some raspberry bushes. He would undoubtedly dig up anything we planted.
This research went on hold when the summer holidays arrived. But now school is back, I’ve time to figure it out. So I collected the ashes and stored them in the wardrobe.
I’ll discuss it with the boys and give them a say in where her remains end up. Wherever they go, it’ll mostly be for them. I don’t really feel an attachment to the remains. I’ve looked into the plastic urn a few times, wondering if the ashes will spark any feeling. But they don’t. They’re just ash. They’re not her. Not anymore.
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