We recently received this question on our site:
My father-in-law passed away recently. He and my mother-in-law lived together for 41 years (I guess you would call it common law). Here is the problem: My mother-in-law paid for the burial and he was cremated, but when she went to the funeral home to pick up his ashes, they would not release them to her. [Apparently they said the next-of-kin should receive them.] Now his adult daughter who had no relationship with him wants half of his ashes. My mother-in-law is heartbroken and does not want to separate his ashes.
What can we say to his daughter in a nice way to get her to understand how my mother-in-law feels and how she should have all his ashes?
Answer by: Brenda**
When I read your question in our inbox, I was dumbfounded. I had no idea how to answer. As time passed, a Bible story kept pushing itself forward to the front of my consciousness. I could feel your anxiety through your words, and it reminded me of the anxiety felt by the disciples of Jesus Christ at His death.
When even was come, there came a rich man of Arimathaea, named Joseph, who also himself was Jesus’ disciple; He went to Pilate, and begged the body of Jesus. Then Pilate commanded the body to be delivered. And when Joseph had taken the body, he wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, And laid it in his own tomb, which he had hewn out in the rock: and he rolled a great stone to the door of the sepulcher, and departed. (emphasis added) (Matthew 27:57)
And the women also, which came with him from Galilee, followed after, and beheld the sepulcher, and how his body was laid. And they returned, and prepared spices and ointments: and rested the Sabbath day according to the commandment. (Luke 23:55)
As I thought about these verses, I thought how natural it is for all of us to care how and where the bodies of our loved ones are laid. In their diligence and lack of fear of being associated with Jesus Christ, Joseph and the women of Galilee proved their love and devotion. Likewise your mother-in-law showed her love and devotion to a man she adored by paying for his funeral and cremation.
But in the Bible, Christ’s burial was far from the end of the story. In fact, it was a beginning.
Now upon the first day of the week, very early in the morning, they came unto the sepulcher, bringing the spices which they had prepared, and certain others with them. And they found the stone rolled away from the sepulcher. And they entered in, and found not the body of the Lord Jesus. And it came to pass, as they were much perplexed thereabout, behold, two men stood by them in shining garments; And as they were afraid, and bowed down their faces to the earth, they said unto them, Why seek ye the living among the dead? He is not here, but is risen. (Luke 24:1)
I have been taught the story of the resurrection of Jesus Christ since my infancy, and the significance of Jesus conquering death was not lost on me. I believe that through Jesus Christ all men and women will live again. Not only do our spirits live on after we pass from this world, but we will also regain our bodies as part of the resurrection that Jesus made possible. This belief has given me so much peace. I hope your mother-in-law also has this belief.
I am no expert on how to handle issues related to death. In fact, when my father-in-law died seven years ago, I proved to be an insufficient place of solace for my husband. I was seven months pregnant at the time, and I told my husband that it would be unwise for me to travel by plane or car to his father’s funeral, which was over 700 miles away. He accepted my decline, but in our hearts we knew I was trying to avoid a heightened and charged emotional experience with his family. I had the chance to mourn with those that mourn, to enlarge my soul in Christlike love, but instead I chose to stay away and stew in the misery and regret of an unwise choice. Looking back, I feel in that situation, I failed my husband, his family and myself miserably.
In the years since, I think I have improved as a person. I’m positive that if I could travel back in time and be the person I am now, I could have better aided my husband and his family in the grief process. Sometimes I wish I could do just that. From this experience, I now see death is an opportunity to exercise generosity of spirit toward the deceased and all associated. It is that experience that influences my response to you.
In your question, you indicated that your father-in-law’s daughter had no relationship to him, but still wants half of his ashes. I cannot give you a solution to what to do with your father-in-law’s ashes, but if you were my friend and we were talking face-to-face, I would encourage you to be more wise than I was, and make a choice that would leave no room for regrets.
Your father-in-law is not in the ashes. His spirit lives! As the angel said to the women of Galilee, “Why seek ye the living among the dead?” Your mother-in-law has 41 years of living memories. In my view, there may be room yet for her to show her love for her sweetheart, and God, by enlarging her soul to include a woman who has nothing left of her father but regrets that she didn’t seek him out while he was alive.
Please know that in saying that, I understand your mother-in-law’s desire to have the ashes close to her. We all want tangible, physical objects that remind us of our deceased loved ones.
I also understand that it may, at the core, feel grossly unfair to have the daughter lay claim to something this personal and significant when she was not involved in your father-in-law’s life. But here’s where I think about how the Savior’s grace works, and how He often invites us to give love and forgiveness even when it’s not necessarily deserved — not only for what it does for the person, but what it can do for us. I believe the healing power found in extending that kind of love is real.
In Mormon or LDS culture there is a beloved quote by Camilla Kimball, wife of former Church president Spencer W. Kimball, that says,
“Never suppress a generous thought.”
Just one last scripture:
Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid. (John 14:27)
I hope you and your family obtain peace in this matter. There may yet be solutions that you have not considered in all of this. Pray for an answer and when you follow it, your peace will come.
And in all of this, know that I believe that your father-in-law lives on, and you and your mother-in-law can see him again one day. I hope you can find peace in that truth.
**Please note: The answers in “Ask a Mormon Woman” and (other content on this site) reflect the thoughts and perspectives of the administrators at Mormon Women. Although we strive to have our content consistent with the Church’s doctrine and teachings, we do not speak officially for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. For official information about or from the Church, please visit www.mormon.org or www.lds.org.
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Great answer. I love the reminder that the people we loves are not in the ashes or the coffins – but they are in our hearts.
This is a beautiful, inspired, well-thought out and spiritually rich response. I hope that it will be taken in the spirit it was given.
Thank you so much for your prayers and response. I will share this with my family it brought tears to my eyes, for I know there is no greather love than the love of Christ and that is what we must show even in times like these.
May God continue to bless this ministry!
Let the funeral home director arrange a face to face meeting with the mother in law, the daughter and the
mother in law’s clergy person. Let the issue be placed upon the table opnely; all views heard and acknowledged and prayer time granted. Those present must be mentally prepared to accept certain outcomes; surely emotions will play a significant part, and this process may prove to be a fine education for all. What were the departed’ s wishes as to disposition must trump all other plans. Be faithful, loving and courteous and then know that you have done all that is within your power to do so. Sadly, this may foretell the scenario of the will; however in that instance greater legal restrictions govern”wishes”.
Best wishes for a blessed solution.
We hope everything works out for the best for you and your family. And we hope you can feel God’s love and direction at this difficult time.
Thank you, too, for sharing your feelings of faith here.
~the MW team