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Crazy Cemetery Stories: Ashes to Ashes

Updated on October 12, 2012
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WARNING to my Readers

Disclaimer : These anecdotes are written based on my years working at a large cemetery. They are written in fun with no disrespect intended. This particular set of stories deals with events concerning cremated remains. This may be disturbing to some readers. Others will find the stories interesting, even amusing.

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Connoisseur of Cremains

After not too long at the cemetery, I became what you might consider a connoisseur of cremains. And what are cremains? Plainly put, it is the industry term for cremated remains; what most would refer to as “ashes”. To be correct, they are not ashes as most think. What is left after cremation is mostly bone fragments. These fragments are pulverized and the result looks like anything from dust to very chunky kitty litter. Which one all depends on the particular crematory. And it also seems which state. Certain states tend to produce a finer product. It got to the point where, just by looking at the remnants of a particular deceased, I could narrow down pretty closely where they were from.

Containers can be just as telling. I am not referring to urns, those speak volumes as well, but to the temporary container provided by the crematory. This ranges from a cardboard box containing Aunt Sally in a plastic bag, to the oh so popular black box, to what I refer to as the cookie tin.

We allowed the plain, plastic black box to be used as the permanent burial receptacle. I used to think it was sad. But if Dad was a plain, no frills kinda guy, then I suppose he would laugh at the thought of spending hundreds on an urn only to bury it or stick it in a niche. Just be sure you put him in something at least as nice as he selected for the dog.

The cookie tin looked just like it sounds. An aluminum tin, bronze in color. This was mostly used by the local teaching hospital that accepted those who wished to be anatomical gifts. A nice way of saying they donated their body to science. I always thought it considerate of them to use such a nice looking receptacle rather than the baggy in the cardboard. The hospital also designated several cemeteries where these generous individuals could be buried for free. We were not one of them. Gift to science or medicine or education or not, we charged.


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Who Came In The Mail Today??

Yes. I said who. We often received loved ones in the mail. Cremains of course. Whole folks were allowed only with the accompaniment of a licensed funeral director. But not urns, or boxes, or cookie tins. You can just pop those in the mail. Postal regulations apply, though I found few actually follow them.

So now and again our mail carrier would show up with a box of the telltale size and shape, leading me to ask, “Who came in the mail today?” He was always a good sport about it. Having been delivering there for years he knew what was what – paychecks, bills, Uncle Bill.

The same could not be said for one poor UPS guy. Not the “regular” guy. He must have been filling in. He arrived one afternoon with a box of that certain size and shape. In this case I was expecting someone. As I signed for the package I said out loud, “This must be Mr. Smith. It’s about time!” He sort of laughed, like I was joking. Not thinking about it, I looked up at him and said “Oh. There really are ashes in that box. It’s Mr. Smith. I’ve been expecting him for a week.” Poor kid turned stark white. Guess he hadn’t delivered to many cemeteries yet! I wonder how long it was before that UPS kid could look at a box of that certain size without recalling that day.

Sometimes the arrival was anticipated, as in the case above. Family or funeral home would call to tell us that Mrs. Jones was on her way. And sometimes not. You would not believe the detective work I had to do on several occasions when the deceased and I were not properly introduced. I mean, seriously, if you are mailing me a person, don’t you think it would be a good idea to pop in a little note?

Don’t worry. Aside from minor incidents, like when the delivery went to the wrong post office, everyone arrived safely and always ended up just where they belonged. Eventually.


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Mr. Smith's New Suit. Or Urn.

There were times at the cemetery when we were charged with transferring cremains from the plain cremation container to an urn. Many family members were uncomfortable with doing it themselves and we were more than happy to take care of it. I fondly referred to it as putting Mr. Smith in his new suit or Mrs. Smith in her new dress.

Usually the process went very smoothly. It was often as simple as opening the urn and placing a bag from the container into the urn. Done. If the opening of the urn was too small for this method, then it involved pouring… well, you get this idea.

Sometimes things happened. Like the time the bag got stuck half way into the new urn and wouldn’t budge in or out. And the memorial advisor and I started laughing so hard at the predicament we could hardly breathe. I was sure we would never figure out how to solve it. Or worse, that we would rip the bag in the process, as it had become hung up on the opening of the urn!

After some careful massaging of the gentleman, laughing and shaking my head the entire time as my coworker looked at me in amazement, I was able to finally get him in his new suit. The family having no idea what had transpired. I am sure some would have thought it just as funny as I did, others not. So best to keep it to myself. Until now.


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Mr. Smith, meet Mr. Hoover

And then there is that incident in the copy room. Every time I think of it I cannot believe I did what I did. But for goodness sake someone had to do it.

It started out as a completely reasonable request to have this particular Mr. Smith changed into his new suit. Well this particular Mr. Smith had been nearly seven feet tall! Let me just say he even required a special urn. I suppose it would be the equivalent of a Big and Tall suit.

I was not initially involved with Mr. Smith’s change of dress. Had I been, I am sure it would have went much more smoothly. As noted above, I have skills! But in this case it was one of the memorial advisors. She was new and the nervous type. We will call her Nancy for the purpose of this story.

Nancy, not having the first clue what she was doing, decided to change Mr. Smith in the copy room. OK. Good enough. There was a large table in there. I was busy with other things and let Nancy work. I told her to recruit whoever she needed for help.

The next thing I know there is all sorts of commotion in the copy room. I think it was the superintendent who was there with her, or maybe another advisor. That detail isn’t important. All I know is they were discussing the mess she made. In her shaky efforts to put Mr. Smith in his suit, she spilled some of him! Mostly it was on the table and they just swept him into the urn. The issue was what to do with the portion she spilled on the floor. The carpeted floor.

As usual, all eyes turned to me to fix it. Seems that one of my unwritten job assignments was to clean up other’s messes. To this day I do not know why I didn’t just walk out of the room and pretend I never saw it. But I didn’t. I stood there with them staring at the tiny sprinkling of Mr. Smith at our feet. There was no way we could sweep him up. That only would have ground him into the carpet. There was only one option. The vacuum cleaner.

Everyone looked at the vacuum and said “No Way!” So I did it. I vacuumed up the tiny sprinkling of Mr. Smith. Along with the dust and dirt of the copy room floor. Even now I am shaking my head in a combination of disgust and bewilderment. As horrible as it was, I just have to laugh. Nothing like that ever happened again. The director and I made sure of it. Though that is not to say things always went smoothly!



And that, dear readers, is a sprinkling of the crazy things that happen with cremains. I hope you enjoyed it. For those of you that are wishing you had stopped reading at the disclaimer, I did warn you!

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    • Daisy Mariposa profile image

      Daisy Mariposa 4 years ago from Orange County (Southern California)

      Dana,

      By the time I got to the copy room incident, I was laughing so much, I was crying.

      Please keep these stories coming, my friend. I love your cemetery series!

    • Nell Rose profile image

      Nell Rose 4 years ago from England

      I suppose they would call this dark humor! lol! seriously though its not something people think about, but of course its an everyday job, and like any job things can go wrong, fascinating to read the inside stories!

    • Sunshine625 profile image

      Linda Bilyeu 4 years ago from Orlando, FL

      Another fascinating installment of your cemetery stories gets a thumbs up from me!!! LOL! That poor UPS driver. Poor Mr Smith. Oh, and Nancy! And Dana! :)

    • DanaTeresa profile image
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      Dana Strang 4 years ago from Ohio

      Daisy - Thank you so much for laughing along with me. I still cannot believe I vacuumed up a "person"!!! I apprciate the encouragement. There are many more stories to tell. I better start jotting them down before I forget them!

    • DanaTeresa profile image
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      Dana Strang 4 years ago from Ohio

      Nell - This sort of thing is definitely something I never thought of. And the weird thing is that we never got used to it. We all said every day that it was like working in a sitcom! You are right. Things go wrong at every job. And after six years I have quite collection of funny ones. I am glad I have friends like you to share them with.

    • DanaTeresa profile image
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      Dana Strang 4 years ago from Ohio

      Linda (Sunshine) - LOL! Yes, what an "unfortunate" bunch. So glad that it makes for good humor. Thanks for reading, AND for enjoying. Hugs!

    • rcrumple profile image

      Rich 4 years ago from Kentucky

      Dana,

      Did you ever wonder what part was vacuumed up? Hand, foo, leg, arm, or another appendage? I guess it depends on how much was on the floor, unless he was a big...... anyway. lol Interesting stories! Up & Interesting!

    • Docmo profile image

      Mohan Kumar 4 years ago from UK

      This is way too funny to stop now. I'm sure you've got lot more of these stories. These are funny especially because they make us laugh at the rituals and absurdity of human existence ... awesome! voted up/tweeted.

    • Becky Katz profile image

      Becky Katz 4 years ago from Hereford, AZ

      This is weirdly humorous, or maybe I should say morbidly humorous. Anyway, I laughed a lot and my husband thinks I'm strange. I thought he was strange with some of his cop stories too.

    • diogenes profile image

      diogenes 4 years ago from UK and Mexico

      Amusing and interesting...by the way, in 2009 my uncle died and was cremated in the UK...yes, it was Uncle Bill of course..

      Real name David Alexander (Bill) Mercer...he was called "Silly Billy" as a kid and the name stuck all his 101 years of life!

      Voted up

      Bob

    • Mike Robbers profile image

      Mike Robbers 4 years ago from London

      Fascinating! I wish there are more stories to follow. Interesting and daring. Voted up and shared.

    • Jools99 profile image

      Jools99 4 years ago from North-East UK

      Dana, Ha Ha so pleased to read this latest instalment of your cemetery stories which have kept me tittering over the last half year - more please!

    • marcoujor profile image

      Maria Jordan 4 years ago from Jeffersonville PA

      Wow, and they say nurses have dark humor...

      Keep em coming...this series is one of my favorites.

      Voted UP and FA. Hugs, Maria

    • Pamela99 profile image

      Pamela Oglesby 4 years ago from United States

      Yes, dark humor for sure. I can see your problem, however, in getting Mr. Smith off the floor. This was really a very amusing hub.

    • DanaTeresa profile image
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      Dana Strang 4 years ago from Ohio

      rcrumple - hahaha! wasn't very much. maybe a little toe. or a little... well... thanks for the great comment and for voting

    • DanaTeresa profile image
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      Dana Strang 4 years ago from Ohio

      Docmo - Oh there are many many more. Some silly, some strange, and some a little morbid. I do enjoy laughing at life (and death). You just have to or else sometimes how can you face it! ... thanks for the vote and shares!

    • DanaTeresa profile image
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      Dana Strang 4 years ago from Ohio

      cky Katz - Yes. Weirdly, morbidly, and wonderfully humerous. I am glad you laughed. Stuff happens and sometimes it is funny. Or just so darn outrageous that you can't doanything but laugh.... Glad you liked it.

    • DanaTeresa profile image
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      Dana Strang 4 years ago from Ohio

      Mike Robbers - don't worry. there will be more! i could write volumes. thanks a bunch for sharing and voting.

    • DanaTeresa profile image
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      Dana Strang 4 years ago from Ohio

      Jools99 - I am so insanely thrilled that you are such a devoted fan of this series. It makes it so much more fun to write knowing that there are folks like you out there enjoying it. thanks bunches! xx :)

    • DanaTeresa profile image
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      Dana Strang 4 years ago from Ohio

      Maria - Thanks a billion for the votes. I am so glad you like this series. I was a but hesitnt when I started it. As you say, it's dark humor. I am walking the fine line between funny and disturbing. So far I am liking it, and even better. so are you!

    • DanaTeresa profile image
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      Dana Strang 4 years ago from Ohio

      Pamela99 - I am pleased that you can see the humor in it. To this day, and forever after, I will be plagued with the memory of vacuuming up that gentleman. I am so glad I can find humor in it, and that others like you can too.

    • DanaTeresa profile image
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      Dana Strang 4 years ago from Ohio

      digenes - Hi Bob! Good to see you! So you had an Uncle Bill. Great nickname, and kudos to him onthe long life. Hope it was a good one! Thanks for stopping by. :)

    • vocalcoach profile image

      Audrey Hunt 4 years ago from Nashville Tn.

      I blame you, Dana, for my aching stomach. That only happens when I laugh too hard and too long.

      I just finished reading your bathtub poem and I ended up in my own bathtub. And now, I will begin vacuuming:)

    • RunningDeer profile image

      RunningDeer 4 years ago from Iowa

      Your humor seems like your greatest ally at your job. Great hub!

    • tillsontitan profile image

      Mary Craig 4 years ago from New York

      Not only was this interesting but your descriptions and humor made it fun. If we can't laugh at life (or cremains) what can we laugh at? I can't wait to read more of your stories!

      Voted up, funny, and interesting.

    • DanaTeresa profile image
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      Dana Strang 4 years ago from Ohio

      RunningDeer - You are right. Humor was a cecessity at that job. There were plenty of moments for sadness and seriousness, so if you cound't snag a laugh now and then it would have been a miserble place to work. Thanks for taking the time to comment. :)

    • DanaTeresa profile image
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      Dana Strang 4 years ago from Ohio

      vocalcoach - glad to cause you some pain of the good kind! Careful with that vacum. You never know what, or who, might get sucked up! :P

    • DanaTeresa profile image
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      Dana Strang 4 years ago from Ohio

      tillsontitan - Thankyou for stopping by another one of my hubs.... I am a total nerd and I love learning about everything. And I love to share with everyoneI can. So of course I could not resist sharing these stories. I am one that tries to see the humor wheverer I can. Why not laugh as much as possible. It sure beats the alternatives.

      I hope you guve the others in the series a read. I plan on churning out many more too!

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      IntegrityYes 4 years ago

      That is so good and I voted up for sure.

    • DanaTeresa profile image
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      Dana Strang 4 years ago from Ohio

      IntegrityYes - thanks as always!

      I am so morbidly happy that so many people are enjoying reading about ashes and the wakythings that happen!

    • TToombs08 profile image

      Terrye Toombs 4 years ago from Somewhere between Heaven and Hell without a road map.

      Dana, I can honestly say, I am really happy you are no longer tending to the dearly departed. :) Great stories!

    • DanaTeresa profile image
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      Dana Strang 4 years ago from Ohio

      TT - Really? But I was soooo good at it! Hey, I wasn't the one that spilled the guy!! I had a great time working there, but I am also glad that I have moved on.... :)

    • Daisy Mariposa profile image

      Daisy Mariposa 4 years ago from Orange County (Southern California)

      Dana,

      I had to come back and read your article a second time. What a fantastic series!

    • DanaTeresa profile image
      Author

      Dana Strang 4 years ago from Ohio

      Daisy - nice to see you again. I am writing another installment at this very moment. I am starting to gain enough confidence to consider making it into an ebook. Right now I think it is my best shot at getting omething unique out there. ... thanks for the revisit. hugs!

    • mary615 profile image

      Mary Hyatt 4 years ago from Florida

      I have a dear girl friend who is a mortician. She loves her work. I don't think I would enjoy this line of work, but someone has to do it, right?

    • DanaTeresa profile image
      Author

      Dana Strang 4 years ago from Ohio

      mary615 - It does take a certain kind of person to handle working un the death care industry. I met som really great folksin the six years, and some not so great ones.... Guess that goes for any job though. I don't think I could ever work in retail. The few jobs I had (one of them at the GAP) in the industy were just awful. I would rather sell a grave than a pair of jeans :)

    • D.Juris Stetser profile image

      D.Juris Stetser 3 years ago from South Dakota

      Laughed till I cried. What a subject...fascinating

      and funny as heck... Just had to share this one...funny, voted up, awesome!!!

    • DanaTeresa profile image
      Author

      Dana Strang 3 years ago from Ohio

      D.Juris Stetser - hi dotti! I really like this series. I should work on some more of them. I almost didn't write this one because I was concerned about offending people, I am so glad that you find it funny. It really is..... so happy to hear form you. hugs!

    • Pamela99 profile image

      Pamela Oglesby 3 years ago from United States

      I never thought about the inner workings of a cemetery, particularly with cremation ashes. The idea that you could just drop them in the mail is so funny. I mean to disrespect. This hub is really funny for what some might consider a grusome topic. Voted up!

    • DanaTeresa profile image
      Author

      Dana Strang 3 years ago from Ohio

      Pamela99 - Thanks for leaving this comment. and for the vote. I was especially nervous about writing this one because it might be offensive. I am so glad you found the humor in it. It makes me glad that I stuck my neck out a little. I have a few more great stories on the way. As soon as I can figure out how to get them down properly.... :)

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