Family can help in process of cremation

Q. My dad wants to be cremated, and I really want to be involved with the process. What is legal for a loved one to do when working with a funeral home?

A. No legal impediments exist to stop you from assisting with your dad’s cremation, said Jim Asper, manager of Hennessey Funeral Homes and Crematories in Spokane.

“We let the family do as much as they want,” Asper told EndNotes.

No one has ever asked Asper to actually remove the cremated remains from the crematory, but he said: “We would allow people to do that and prepare them for what they would see. But most people don’t want to be involved.”

However, Roseann Martinez, of Tacoma, wanted to witness her dad’s cremation when he died in California.

While no law prevented her from participating in the cremation process, a California funeral director resisted her request – three times – saying, “We really don’t recommend it.”

When Martinez persisted, the director charged a $200 fee, citing her presence as a “work space issue.” She knew the fee was only another unnecessary barrier. She paid it.

“We have so truncated the process (of death) as if there is something only the professional can do. It’s not true,” Martinez said.

When she arrived, Martinez was forced to wait hours as the mortuary staff searched for the death certificate.

Two women escorted her to the crematory – a room with chairs and a viewing area – where she identified her dad’s body. She pushed the gurney into the room that housed the oven, which was already turned on.

She pushed her dad’s boxed body onto the rollers and into the crematory. She pushed the button that closed the door. Another button increased the heat. Then she sat down and waited.

“This was my opportunity to have my time,” Martinez said. “It was meaningful, but not wrenching.”

Q. I’ve been involved with a widower who has four adult children. They are attractive and successful but have no companions themselves. Their ages are 22, 27, 31 and 33. They all suffered through their mother’s six-year battle with breast cancer. She passed away seven years ago. They all seem stuck, including dad, who still has his late wife’s clothes in the closet. Can watching a loved one suffer make a person reluctant to ever again merge with another human being?

A. The family sounds stuck in an unhealthy grief dynamic, said Tracy McGee, author of “Hurry Before the Snow Flies: My Journey Through Grief and Help for Yours.”

“Keeping a few items – maybe a special dress Mom wore – but the whole closet? That’s pretty stuck,” said McGee, a Grand Rapids, Mich., grief counselor.

The grown children’s emotional injuries might be quite deep, considering they were adolescents when their mom got sick, and they may be unable, or unwilling, to get close to others, because it would require risking a big loss again.

The children, or the widower, likely haven’t reached what McGee calls “loving detachment.”

“It’s the final place where the anger is gone, the deep heartache and sorrow is gone,” she told EndNotes. “We’ve made peace with the fact ‘I am not going to have them here for Christmas ever again.’ We can light a candle for them on Christmas, but we don’t cry all day on Christmas.”

Loving detachment is acceptance that the loved one has left, but “we are still here and will continue on with our life,” McGee said.

You may want to move on from this family, instead of hoping for a committed relationship with the dad or hoping to become a stepmother to these grown children. No one in this family appears ready to welcome you in.

Catherine Johnston, a health care professional from Olympia, and Rebecca Nappi, Spokesman-Review features writer, welcome your questions about what to do in times of illness, dying, death and grief. Contact them through their EndNotes blog at