This Is Us

Ashes, Ashes Everywhere

On losing, and finding, my son

Carrie Thompson
Human Parts
Published in
6 min readDec 15, 2020
Ben’s hat, Mt. Garfield Summit

The first days after my son’s suicide were punctuated with question marks. Words uttered in library whispers by well-meaning relatives or friends hinted at the questions that always swirl around suicide. None of them were answerable, except to say that my son was fiercely private about his inner struggles. He didn’t want to burden anyone by sharing his darkness, so he hid it all behind smiles and laughter.

I preferred the questions I could answer, the simpler ones related to the business of death.

Who is writing the obituary?
I am, with input from my family.

Where do you want to publish it?
Online and in our home newspaper.

Burial or cremation?
Cremation, please.

We have a range of options for the body, from an unadorned box to the fanciest of caskets. What do you prefer?
The box suits him; he used to keep his clothes together with duct tape.

Do you want remembrance jewelry?
Jewelry? Oh, with ashes in them?

What kind of container do you want for the ashes? Where do you want to put them?

These last two questions stumped me.

One of Ben’s professors in college deemed him a “force of nature,” a description so apt we used it in the obituary. Ben was elemental, connected to the natural world he loved, and he was impossible to contain in life. His spirit seemed too large for any container to hold him in death.

Ben never stayed anywhere for long. His grandmother called him her will-o’-the-wisp, an element that drifted in and out of her life, dropping by without notice to share an order of crab rangoon or raid her refrigerator for leftovers. A sudden invitation to spend a week at a friend’s slope-side cabin coupled with an impending snowstorm saw him depart a family visit — right after dinner, on Christmas Eve — to drive north. He never could resist the siren’s song of fresh snow.

Unannounced, last-minute adventures were his signature. He existed in so many places to me: How could we confine…



Carrie Thompson
Human Parts

A mother, a wife, a high school English teacher, and a suicide loss survivor on a quest for understanding and healing.