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  • Writer's pictureMary Balistreri

Dashing for Ashes - Grief Blog Is Back

I have always been an energetic person whose list overflowed with to do's and appointments. It was important to me to be the first in line for any endeavor - farmer's market, the art museum, the zoo, supermarket. "What time do they open?" was my favorite phrase next to, "Let's get in and get out before the crowds start to make it harder to enjoy."


This year, racing around in my usual fashion ended with me holding a velvet bag filled with remnants of someone I love. What a strange feeling? And what will we do with all of these ashes?


Soon after I ended the grief blog and embarked on life noticing the little things, my mom fell, had surgery, seemed like she might recover, did not recover, moved to hospice, and died. All this happened in one week. Audrey Balistreri (nee Eidenberger) died October 19, 2023. Just like that, she was gone leaving another giant hole in my life.


The enormity of losing a sister (Ann Howard, passed on February 18, 2023) and a mother in the same year hit me on the Saturday where my primary activity for the day was, once again, picking up ashes. I picked up my sister's ashes, too, back in early March. I hugged the box now and then before lovingly and carefully emptying it into the urn she provided to us.


My sister possessed a beautiful urn filled her beloved husband, Vernon, who died of brain cancer in 2016, and hers was a perfect match to his. Two urns representing two souls now together in heaven. I used to think cremation was the best move to take care of end-of-life business, but had not thought about who inherits those precious embers. What are we to do with Vernon? And my sister, now, too?


When my husband's mother, Lynn, died in 2014, it was decided her ashes would be divided among all four of her children. Steve, my husband, and I gladly accepted our Lynn cinders and planned to buy a rose bush in her honor and pour the majority of the ashes in the hole with the flowering bush. I asked my husband if we should keep some in the house, and he said, yes, he would shop for an urn.

Instead of an urn, he brought home this beautiful hanging lantern. He bought a small plastic vial with a stopper to put ashes into and hung it inside the lantern. We light the candle inside on Mother's Day and other days when we miss Lynn.


Now, as we prepare to have Audrey join Lynn in the lantern, I think, "Shouldn't Ann be there, too? Why didn't we put Ann with that beautiful light and with the luminous Lynn in the first place.


I started shopping for some kind of pretty vials for ashes on Amazon, of course (instant gratification), and found an enormous variety of options. Things had changed since Lynn left us.


My heart was in my throat as I searched for the right solution to this problem with the ashes. I was in some kind of panic. I was moving hyperfast and in slow motion at the same time. Another face of grief - the desperate, gut-churning feeling of trying to do the right thing while having no clue what is right for the person who cannot tell you because they are no longer here.


I settled on the three ash-carrying necklaces pictured. Lynn is the rainbow lotus flower representing her strength and resilience; Ann is the dark wings reflecting how she embraced her slightly wicked nature; mom is the vial decorated with butterflies and flowers.


The hardest of these three to choose was the representation of my mom. Now, reflecting on this difficulty, I realize I knew my mom yet did not really know her. How did she feel on her wedding day? I never heard about it until a few days before she died when she said, "My wedding makes me happy." She wrote poetry. Who knew? She mentioned it to my sister, Chris, a few times after she entered assisted living for dementia. We found some of the poetry among her things and shared it during her memorial.


My mother was a very private person, this much I knew throughout my life. She kept things hidden. Where did she go when she played the piano? An Audreyworld definitely existed somewhere in her mind. Where was it? Did she prefer a mountain view? the beach? the cliffs of Ireland? None of us know the answer.


There is an exercise I use with my coaching clients called Who Am I? The purpose of it is to help people get in touch with their values so that they can make decisions based on who they are at their core. This leads to greater happiness. The tricky part of it lies in finding five words to identify oneself without including any roles. So, the list must not contain mother, wife, sister, husband, father - not even a career-identifier is allowed. What five words would Audrey Balistreri (nee Eidenberger) choose?


Life-long learner. Musician. Reader. Rule follower. Lover of animals and nature. Ahh, there she is. That's her.


The Saturday when I picked up my mom's ashes, I did not race to my destination, the funeral home. What was the hurry? In fact, I know longer feel the pressure and stress to arrive at the moment an event begins or when the store opens. There are no more emergencies. No more leaping from bed in the middle of the night and racing to the hospital. There is no reason to hurry. She's gone. They are both gone.



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