My wife sent me a text message shortly after one in the afternoon to let me know that the ashes had arrived at the house. I replied and asked her if they had been delivered via FedEx and she told me they weren’t.

When I got home from the office I found a plain brown cardboard box wrapped in brown paper. It was sealed completely with clear packing tape and the shipping label showed that someone had paid $22.50 to the United States Postal Service on Friday, September 21 to send it to me.

Before I had a chance to open it — as I was standing in my kitchen, staring at the box, actually — I got a phone call from my little sister. She had also received some of the ashes.

Note: I had asked Dr. Allen Cusack at Cusack Mortuary if he could send them to us in four separate containers, and he said that was very common and wouldn’t be a problem at all. We wanted to disperse some of them in the Atlantic Ocean near Daytona Beach, Florida where we had placed both of my maternal grandparents. My sister wanted to put some in the Puget Sound, I wanted to scatter some in the Pacific Ocean, and I wanted to save some forever.

My sister asked me if I’d opened the box I’d received yet. I told her I hadn’t. She told me that hers contained, inexplicably, what appeared to be a discarded surgical dust mask. She also told me that the ashes were in a poorly-sealed plastic bag which seemed to have released some of its contents into the box. She was quite upset.

Fearing the worst, I carefully opened the box I’d been sent. A puff of dust greeted me. Inside were three separate plastic bags loosely held together by zip ties. I couldn’t tell — and didn’t investigate — whether any had actually opened, but it was clear that very little care had gone into the packaging of my mother’s remains. There was also a small envelope inside labeled Tri County Cremation Service, Deland, FL, which contained a sort of receipt.

Disgusted, I called the customer service line on the back of the Bank of America MasterCard which I had used to pay Cusack Mortuary. It took me over thirty minutes of being on hold and being bounced between departments, but eventually I was connected to someone who listened to my story. I explained that I wasn’t upset about the three-week delay between my mother’s death and her cremation, because that was entirely the fault of the doctor and the medical examiner and the fact that I wanted an autopsy performed. I said that I was upset about the three-week delay between the cremation and when I was delivered the ashes, and the repeated phone calls and emails and broken promises, and the apparent total lack of respect for my mother’s remains.

I said that I realized that all of this might be the fault of Tri County Cremation Service, but that was not my fault and it shouldn’t be my problem. The Bank of America representative said that he would reverse the $1621.00 charge and open an investigation. He said they would aggressively research what I was promised and that he and everyone in his office offered me their condolences.

I received this email from Allen at 7:51 AM on Tuesday, September 25th, the morning after the ashes arrived:

Hello Mr. Gagne,

This is Allen. I am sorry it was somewhat confusing for a few days. I was out and asked [name redacted] to send the email knowing I’d promised to make contact with you. For the most clear answer I can give, your mother should have arrived Monday, the 24th and she was shipped United States Postal Service. Our plan was to use FedEx knowing it would have been much faster. I since learned the problem with her being returned to us was that FedEx does not wish to take human remains/cremains any more; having had an issue with that. My hope is by now you and your sister have received your mother’s cremains and are now able to move forward.

I also thank you for your concerns. My blood pressure and migrane headaches have been a major issue for me lately. I do thank you for that. I will be out of town Thursday afternoon – Saturday night teaching in a music workshop. If you need me then, just tell the office you need to speak to me.

Take care!!

I haven’t decided whether I should reply to Allen.