CREEPY CORNER: That Time We Lost My Grandfather's Ashes

And where we found them...
Publish date:
January 15, 2015
death, creepy corner, cremation

More creepy tales from the Louise family vault!

Alright, I don't know if this is your typical Creepy Corner fare, but it has to do with a funeral, ashes, my grandfather, and all the hijinks that ensue when my family gets together. So where's it going to go? xoFood? (There's a bit of a connection, you'll see.)

I'd like to add real quick, that this is a favorite story to tell in my family, and my mom has asked me repeatedly why I haven't told my grandfather's story "in your Corner."

"We're so weird! Your uncle thinks you should tell everyone! He does!"

My mother, ladies and gentlemen.

So in case you haven't already heard it from my uncle, here is the unusual story of how my grandfather came to rest.

When I was 13 my grandfather died. It was after a long illness, and my family had long been making preparations for his passing. The whole US contingent of my mom's side of the family hopped on a plane and flew to Hong Kong just days after his death to attend his funeral and help with the care of my grandmother.

I should note that my now deceased grandmother was, at this time, in the middle to late stages of what her doctor called "senile dementia." My uncle, a doctor, believes she actually had Alzheimer's Disease, despite her doctor's unwillingness to give a specific diagnosis.

Either way, grandmother was relatively happy toward the end of her life. She had her home, two of her daughters with her, her dog, and some grandchildren nearby. My aunt, her primary caregiver, always said it was a blessing that she wasn't fully aware that her husband had passed.

Anyway, the whole clan arrived in Hong Kong and within a day or so we attended his funeral. Much like I remember my grandfather, it was a no-nonsense affair -- just family, readings from a couple passages of his beloved books, and the cremation of his body. My aunt was given his ashes to later be scattered in the harbour.

A couple nights after the funeral and cremation (I should note that the whole family stood in respect as his coffin was rolled into the cremation kiln, a really amazing experience), my uncle, my aunts, my dad, and the us kids were back at my dad's family's house, when the phone rang. My dad answered it. It was my mom.

I remember not really caring what my dad was saying on the phone. I was watching my 100th episode of "Mr. Belvedere" on Hong Kong TV, one of the few English language sitcoms that Hong Kong showed at the time. "Mr. Belvedere" is still synonymous with Hong Kong for me.

My ears didn't perk up until I heard my typically mild mannered dad exclaim, "WHAT?! You can't find them?!"

That's when we all turned toward my dad on the phone.

He continued speaking to whoever was on the end of the line in a mix of Cantonese and English, all of us deducing that something was wrong at my grandmother's apartment. When he hung up the phone, he turned to us with an incredulous look on his face. Of course we pounced on him.

"They can't find your grandfather's ashes."

Come again?

"Your mom and her sister were in the living room, eating dinner with grandma, when they noticed the urn wasn't in it's spot. They thought maybe someone had moved it to the bedroom or kitchen, but now they've looked all over the apartment and it's nowhere to be found."

Immediately my uncle and my aunt sprung up and headed over to my grandmother's apartment to help look.

My oldest cousin turned to me and said in classic 90s-teen style, "Only this family could lose someone's ashes."

My mom, aunts, and uncle were up until 5 am looking for my grandfather's ashes. Around midnight, it came to light that my grandmother had moved them earlier that day, unbeknownst to my mom and aunt.

When asked where she had moved them, she just laughed and said, "Father has to eat something" or "Time for father to go to bed". She went placidly about her business, completely at a loss for where "father" went.

As the sun came up my family was exhausted and frustrated. Today was the day they had planned to scatter my grandfather's ashes. So much for those plans.

At one point, my aunt decided to clean up the house a little, as everyone sat around the kitchen table like zombies.

She gathered up the plates and cups scattered around the apartment, and started to fill the dishwasher. As she was filling the racks she stopped. I don't know if she gasped or exclaimed, but the siblings turned to look at her standing over the open dishwasher.

"Ai-ya...I found dad."

Peering into the dishwasher, it seemed that my grandmother had tried to do the dishes. With my grandfather. WITH my grandfather.

We were just happy she hadn't run the machine.

The urn was nowhere to be found, so my uncle found a cookie tin and the siblings scooped my grandfather's ashes into a bright blue tin that once held shortbread biscuits. They were his favorite.

Everyone was relieved to find most of my grandfather's ashes. You read that right, MOST.

The urn and a small amount of ashes were never recovered. Even after my grandmother passed away, and her apartment was emptied, the urn and ashes never reappeared. Needless to say there was a period of time when everyone opened tupperware, cleaning supply containers, and boxes rather tentatively.

The rest of our trip was surprisingly pleasant. We got on a ferry going out into Hong Kong Harbour, and said our last goodbyes to my grandfather's earthly remains. It was actually quite lovely. While the trip had taken a somewhat morbid turn, something about it didn't feel entirely wrong to us.

When I've asked my mom and uncle about the whole fiasco, what grandfather would have thought of it all, they laugh.

"He would have loved it!" My mom says. "He would have thought we were all being so ridiculous. If he was around for it all somehow, I'm sure he had a good laugh."

I never really knew my grandfather all that well. I know he was an honest, forthright man, with a love for words and learning, and an unwavering belief that there is more to this world than we can always see. It feels fitting that so much of what I know about his "pre-grandfather" life is from the books he loved and the stories he told.

Call it superstition, suggestion, or maybe a tap on the shoulder from beyond, but I've been toying with writing this story for a while, and today just seemed right. The same day my mom emailed me some pictures she scanned of my grandparents in their younger days.

Anyway, I hope you enjoyed one more peek into my family, or "why I am the way I am." We can be a bunch of "weirdos" as my mom calls us, but we mean well.

At the very least, I think my grandfather would be happy that his time on earth ended with a little mystery story.