Where do you visit a loved one when there is no grave?

My father died Christmas Eve 2009. He was cremated. I do not know where his ashes are. My step mother would not want me to know. My Dad was raised a Catholic and once read the Sunday sermons at mass, but he was not a practicing Catholic at the end of his life. I don’t believe a person’s spirit stays in one place, but I would have liked a place to lay flowers and to sit and talk with him.

Instead, I visit our 3 homes in Northern New Jersey, the places where we were once were so happy as a family.  I start at the home where we first lived when my Dad got custody of us in 1976. The house looks the same, with the boardwalk to the front door. I study the yard to the side of the house, where he taught me how to throw a softball. I ring the doorbell to ask permission to walk around back, but instead, the present home owner invites me in.

He is my age and says his family is fourth generation from the town, Oakland, New Jersey. I walk up the stairs to the family room. Some things have changed (the hardwood floors). Some things have stayed the same (the mirrors my father hung on the cathedral ceiling). We walk onto the back deck that has since been rebuilt. I look into the back yard where my brother and step mother once crawled with our cat’s bell, trying to catch our mean neighbor. We think the neighbor hit our cat with a baseball bat. I share this story with the present owner, and he laughs. The nasty neighbors are still there, and he’s had his own run-ins with them.

I didn’t know if the neighbor on the other side would still live there, but I baked him cookies just in case. His wife, deceased 10 years at least, had once taught me how to soften the butter when making chocolate chip cookies. Her cookies were the best. I still follow her technique, and my children do the same. I see him outside, and I step over the little rock wall that I had once stumbled over when I was 12.

He remembers our family. He remembers my brother, who had once been his son’s best friend. He knows my Dad passed away. We laugh about the party my brother once had when Dad was at work. The woods were littered with beer cans. My Dad got mad at our neighbor for not having noticed, for not having stopped it somehow.

It felt good to remember those times. It felt good to visit a place where my Dad was just my Dad and not somebody famous. It felt good to talk to someone who remembered I was his daughter.


6 thoughts on “Where do you visit a loved one when there is no grave?

  1. Hello-
    I have spent the better portion of the last two nights googling any blogs or helpful sites for adults who have been disowned. Like you had written, normally when you hear “disowned by parents” you think the worst kinds of people. I do not fall into that category. I may not be perfect but I do know that I didn’t/don’t deserve this.
    I am so sorry for your loss; not just of your father’s passing but your loss of ever having the chance to reconcile. What has happened to you is one of my biggest fears.
    I see that you haven’t updated your blog in a while and while I would love to follow your story, I hope the reason why you haven’t added to it is because you are moving on with your life in a good direction. Just by your three posts, I have felt a sort of relief in seeing someone else just like me succeed. I too have been disowned by my father and my older sister has followed in his footsteps. They are not bad people but they have made me feel like I am the lowest of low. I am somewhat inspired by what you have written and only hope that while I may never have the reconciliation with my father, I may have a chance at living a great life and creating a family that it stronger and more loving.
    Your story has touched my heart and I thank you so very much for sharing it.


  2. Hi, there. I am so sorry to hear that you have gone through something similar.
    I have not updated the blog for awhile, mainly because I have been working on a full length book/memoir so it’s hard for me to be that prolific. I do hope to return to updating the blog shortly though.
    I have not found too much helpful on the interenet on this issue. However, some books I would highly recommend:
    The Narcissistic Family
    Children of the Self-Absorbed
    Healing from a Family Rift
    The Emperors New Clothes (yes, seriously, but it’s a view of why anyone who thinks differently will initially be made to be the outcast and black sheep).
    While the story with my father had a tragic ending, for now, I still think it was right to keep my heart open. I would be a different person if I hadn’t held onto that hope. I also still have a sister and brother out there. I have lost a lot of hope with them, just because I have since read so much about the permanent and lasting damage our family dynamics has caused on all of us. I am very focused on healing, but that means taking hard looks at painful things. I don’t think my brother and sister can do that, at least not yet.
    Good luck to you!


  3. Hi, sorry to read about your experience. I was disowned by my mom last month and it can be tough, as there’s that little part inside me where I can imagine her being back in my life again; yet it will not be. I’ve made mistakes in my life but whereas I’m a Christian and know forgiveness and God’s infinite love, she is Atheist and just cannot let go of things and move on. She’s troubled by 40 years of family problems, adheres to the “Old English” way of not discussing problems but rather pretend everything’s fine; I love her, but strangely it’s also a relief too, as she would tell me from a child that I was a failure when I’ve actually done all right! She hates that I live in a different country, she detests that I’m a Christian, so out of the blue she wrote me off…
    Anyway, instead of getting affected by it, I rather want to offer words of comfort to those who have been disowned by their parents. My link (with testimony + offering of comfort) is: http://deanministries.page.tl/Disowned-f–Do-Not-Despair-ar-.htm
    Greetings from South Africa,


  4. Hi, Matt, I am sorry to hear that you have experienced a similar pain. Thank you for sharing your link and story. I can only hope that your mother will realize the loss before she passes.


  5. Hi, I was searching for a site on how to help my cousin grieve the loss of his father without closure or mainly even a grave to visit. Your stories are similar in which his father passed and was creamted and his stepmother or sister will not tell him where his Dads ashes are. It has been almost three years now and he is very much still agonizing over this daily. He had no closure with his Dad. He was out of the country when his father passed and his stepmother and sister would not wait for him to return to the USA to attend his Dads funeral. Visiting his childhood home would not be any comfort to him and that was “hell” to him. Any other advice? Thank you, Pam


  6. I think you should build a cache. Find a few things of your father’s, some personal things, a memento or a photograph, and choose a little place. Make a shallow depression, put the things in a sealing plastic bag, cover them over, and build a small cairn of little rocks over it. Say a prayer or just speak your mind. Then you will always have a place to go, and part of his spirit will be there. I hope this helps. I understand the situation. Take care, Kit.


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