This is my uncle on the left, and my dad, at about age 10, on the right.

This is my uncle on the left, and my dad, at about age 10, on the right.

Life comes down to a box of ashes. I know this because I held the box. It was a box that contained my father’s cremains.

My father accomplished a lot of things in his life. He helped raise five children and six stepchildren. He married three different women. All three were difficult women to live with, but he managed not to kill any of them.

He was a crackerjack at his line of work. He made good money and was in high demand. Even after he retired he continued to work part-time, because no one wanted to let him go.

He was well-liked by just about everyone. Even his ex-wives liked him. Especially when he sent in his alimony checks. He had a great sense of humor, was generous to a fault, and was honest to everyone except the IRS.

I spoke with him on a Sunday, and he was doing great. By Thursday he was in the hospital with pneumonia. I called him on Friday, and by that time he was going out of his mind. That’s because he was an alcoholic, and they don’t serve alcohol in hospitals. Twelve days later he was dead, succumbing to a combination of pneumonia and the DT’s.

Shortly after that his body was reduced to a box of ashes. And that’s what his life came down to.

It’s easy to get nihilistic when holding a box of someone’s ashes. What a metamorphosis cremation causes! It drives home the idea that everything we’ve ever accomplished can quickly turn to dust.

But nihilism is not for me. There are good Christians and good atheists. And there are lousy Christians and lousy atheists. I’m a lousy atheist. I don’t believe in nihilism.

Instead I make the assumption that there is life after death. It’s an assumption, and not an absolute belief. But to assume or believe the opposite is too depressing for me. I hope I’m not disillusioning any of my fellow atheists when I say this.

My dad was a good man, and I like to assume he’s enjoying an afterlife. For one thing, he has no more ex-wives to pay alimony to. And I doubt that IRS agents are allowed into heaven. And instead of alcohol, he has something better to drink. Ambrosia.

Actually I have no idea what any afterlife is like. But my best guess is that it’s nothing special. My guess is that nothing really changes on a fundamental level when we change worlds. Perhaps our joys will come from basically the same things. Maybe we’ll continue to enjoy friendships and romances and close relationships. And maybe we’ll continue to take pride in whatever work we do. And perhaps we’ll still love to laugh, make other people smile, and pursue games of cat and mouse with the equivalent of IRS agents.

So my guess is that life really doesn’t come down to a box of ashes. Life doesn’t come down to anything. It remains where it’s at and continues on and on in its own special, non-special way.

Life is all about the moment-to-moment joy of simply living, regardless of what world we live in.

Categories: Opinion

16 replies »

  1. Thought provoking piece.

    I’m not sure what life comes down to, when it comes down to it, either. And while I’m not at all spiritual or religious, I guess I do think that I’ll some day see the folks I’ve lost. Because relationships in this life are so fleeting in the complete context of time. Why go to the trouble of loving someone if they are gone in a flash, never to be seen again?

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m thinking there’s a passageway–like a very brightly lit Platform 9 3/4– leading to the parallel world of “the other side.” The only cremains I have are from pets (for Catholics, cremation of people is kind of a no-no, but no worries, Pope Francis will set things straight!) and I dearly hope wherever we go after this life, our pets will be there waiting for us. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

      • I understand. Coming up on 21 years for me. Kinda’ wish he could have stayed around a little longer. I was just reaching the point where I was starting to understand him. But I was lucky to have had him around as much as I did… and I try not to forget that.

        Liked by 1 person

          • I was in my early thirties, just old enough not to be “young” anymore. I hadn’t seen him for several years due to leaving the US when I was 29. But my last words to him during a phone call the week before he died (while in Japan) were that I loved him… something I didn’t often express. Glad that I had the courage to tell him.

            Harder on my mom, I think. I was able to battle through the cross-cultural family crap. I think she just held it in and endured.

            Liked by 1 person

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