A small Hero jam jar with an apricot lid sits on the shelf above our kitchen sink. The bottom third of the jar is filled with the light grey, chippy ashes of Magnolia’s body. There is a mangled white twist tie in the jar attached to a round metal tag engraved with “Woodlawn Cemetery Bronx, NY 37842”. Some of the chips are big enough that you can see the porous structure of trabecular bone.
We have lived with these ashes above the sink for 2 years and 8 months.
I glance at them often and sometimes take them down from the shelf, turning the jar over and around to see all the little bits and chips and dust that is all that is left of the round, soft, vibrant body of our little girl.
They are such radically different things: the living body and these cold jagged ashes.
2 years and 9 months ago, I’m not sure what I would have thought about someone with their dead child’s ashes in a see-through jar on a shelf above the kitchen sink. I am pretty sure I would have thought it was strange.
In my life now it is entirely normal. There is nothing shocking about it anymore. Those white and grey shards are simply set dressing for this new world where our heartache has become ordinary.
For many months we had more than one set of ashes sitting around the house. We euthanized our dog, Calliope, a week and a half before Magnolia died. The day after Magnolia’s death, the vet’s office called to tell us that Calliope’s ashes were ready to be picked up and that they were sorry for our loss. In one of many surreal moments, I explained that our daughter had died and asked if they could hold the ashes for a while.
Days after we saw Magnolia’s body for the last time, my cousin went to the funeral home and returned with a small white plastic box filled with Magnolia’s ashes. A few weeks later, Sasha and I drove to Yonkers and brought home a metal tin box decorated with flowers holding Calliope’s ashes.
The boxes were the same size and sat on the mantel in our living room for a few months. So many days I would wander restlessly around our house, stopping to look at a picture of Magnolia on our fridge and then the two boxes on the mantel. Saying to myself over and over again, “How is it possible that you are gone?”
I would sometimes stare at the two boxes—one somber white plastic, the other a riot of pink flowers—and think that the two boxes of ashes would be the perfect beginning for a really sad country song.
The reality of the dusty particles in that small white box was impossible to comprehend. It didn’t make any sense that Magnolia’s lithe body with strong muscles covered in soft smooth skin was now contained in a plastic bag closed with a twist tie holding a metal tag with a number stamped on it in a plain white plastic box. How could the lively, bigness of her fit into such a tiny space?
That spring, family gathered with us on a cold day in April to bury Magnolia’s placenta and ashes under a magnolia tree we were planting in our backyard. As we were each taking handfuls of our daughter to scatter in the bottom of the tree pit, my mother stopped us suddenly and with real alarm said, “You need to keep some! What if you move?”
So someone went to the kitchen and returned with a jam jar where we poured some of the ashes and put the tag from the bag. The jar came back inside with us and I put it on the shelf while I washed my hands, watching the water rinse the Magnolia dust down the drain.
The jar still sits in that spot.
They haven’t moved since and I’m not sure they ever will. They are a really solid (maybe morbid) reminder that Magnolia existed.
Her pictures on the fridge sometimes seem unreal. It feels like such a long time ago that she was here. Surrounded by the busy fullness of our life now, it sometimes feels like a strange dream world that we lived in for awhile in the before.
But the bone remnants are proof that she was a living thing in our arms and in our life in so many wonderful ways. That jam jar of ashes sits there, a graphic and silent sentinel, protecting the physical realness of our little girl. Reminding us of her lived presence in our family.
Because these ashes are real, our life together was real.
She was real.