Memory is a strange beast.  Especially, it seems, during shock, or trauma.

 My brother was killed suddenly in 1989 and the images of the event and its aftermath run through my mind in a sort of slideshow or scrapbook.   Some memories are filled with moments of horror, others with kindness and tenderness.  At a time like this, some very small details seem to matter a great deal, perhaps more than one might imagine.

 Together my mom and dad and my husband and I decided on cremation for Randy and then a service to be held at the funeral home.  Snapshots of moments of those days will remain with me always.  The service ran smoothly and had some lovely moments, I remember that the funeral home did a good job taking care of us that day.

 But perhaps one of the hardest memories for me was many days later while our family was still sick with grief, when my dad brought home Randy’s remains.  He walked through the door and with utter sadness handed me a brown tin can.  “Here is your brother.”

 Now it had been decided already, primarily by me, to not purchase an urn of any kind from the funeral home or anywhere else, because as an artist and his sister, I wanted to create a special container for Randy’s remains, and I did do exactly that.

 But it was still quite disconcerting to be handed the tin can.  I guess it was better than a cardboard box, but this can seemed no better than the old tin coffee cans that held the bird seed or the mismatched nuts and bolts in the garage.

 I understand that funeral homes and crematoriums are businesses which by their very nature exist to make a profit for their owners.  So, no, I did not and would not expect a fancy, expensive container, especially since I know an urn sale was offered and also declined.  That did not make the vision of my brother’s remains in a “coffee can” any easier to accept.

 When dad came home with that ugly brown can, it was just one little detail of that horrible time, but it was also one more blow to my already broken heart and remains one of my clearest memories of the funeral home and that most terrible time of my life.

 What would have been nice is a container that, even if very inexpensive in material or construction, would have been more thoughtful.  The tin can could have still been used but maybe it could have been wrapped in a gossamer fabric, or the ashes perhaps put in a small velveteen bag?  A simple wooden box would have been acceptable, even paper can be elegant given enough thought.  It was the lack of thought that struck me.

This?  This is how my brother comes home for the very last time?


Candace Craw-Goldman is a photographer, artist and mother of teenagers.   

Her website,, offers elegant multimedia Online Memorials, services to help you record your Last Wishes, and a comprehensive, interactive information Resource Forum where one can learn about end-of-life issues. InRepose Blog and the Resource Forum offer a unique online community for learning and sharing.