Monday, August 14, 2017

Remembering Ben and Reflecting on Cremation

On Saturday, August 5, 2017, I received an Earth shattering call from Cousin Peter that his cousin Ben had passed away. Since that day I have burst into tears at least once per day.

Ben was like a cousin to me. I didn't see him often but then again, I did see him more frequently then some of my own first cousins. I think of him as family. He was. And there was a time when we were close; a brief period when we called one another just to chat.

Ben was my age...or just about. I was born in June of 1974, Ben in November. However, I will always be 28. And well, now I suppose Ben will always be 42.

He and I seemed to have very similar emotional responses to the circumstances and situations around us. Ben, however, like so many I have loved, struggled with addiction. Recently, it had seemed he had gotten a handle on his demons; that he was sober and finally in a good place. Sadly, though, it was  indeed an overdose that took him from us.

His funeral was like no other that I have experienced. I thought my grandfather's wake had a huge turn out; the procession from the mass to the cemetery comprised about 75 cars of family and friends. Ben's wake, though, was so crowded that you couldn't move. People were packed into the double room shoulder to shoulder, out the door, filled the foyer, out the building, and down the block. And I had never been to a service where I had seen more people visibly shaken and unable to compose themselves; including me.

That is because Ben was awesome; funny beyond measure, generous beyond belief. He taunted everyone equally and no one was spared.

When I read his obituary I learned that his remains would be cremated and it made me a little sad. I shouldn't have been surprised and I really wasn't. Cousin Peter's family had chosen cremation for both of his grandparents on his mother's side. Of course Ben would be cremated. However, it made me flash back to when I was working on Mr. Boller's scrapbook.

I was about a semester into working on Mr. Boller's scrapbook, my capstone project for my Masters in Public History, when I finally obtained Mr. Boller's obituary which stated that he too had been cremated. It made me sad then that I had no place to go to pay my respects to Mr. Boller whom I had never met. Ben I at least knew and can sense around me since his passing.

However, Cousin Peter has assured me that Ben's cremains will be interred in a columbarium or outdoor memorial wall of some sort so I will indeed have a place to visit Ben. For researchers, however, who read such obituaries, one does not know if those person's ashes are interred somewhere or simply scattered about the deceased's favorite park or body of water or ballfield, what-have-you.  I hate obituaries like that. However, Ben's obituary is really quite beautiful, informative about familial connections (like all genealogist want to see), and very fitting.

If you have someone close to your heart who has struggled with and succumbed to the pain of addiction, or even if they are presently struggling, I encourage you to consider making a donation to Hope House Ministries of Port Jefferson, NY ( They are an organization that ministers to individuals and families in crisis and a place that has provided much love and support to Ben's family. Once you click on the "Submit Information" button on this page (, whether you fill in any information or not, you will be brought to a paypal site through which you can make an online contribution.


  1. So sorry for your loss, Cousin April - losing someone too soon is always heartbreaking. But lovely post that raises a great genealogical question. When my cousin was cremated, his ashes were scattered in the ocean he so dearly loved. When my friend was cremated, his ashes were buried in a cemetery, so there's an actual memorial to visit for him, but how would someone 100 years from now know which might be the case for their person? Food for sorry that it was such a sad loss that made you write about it :(

  2. Thanks Cousin Mary. Cemeteries can hold such a wealth of information and obituaries can lead one right to those treasures but I suppose what matters most is the life lived, the story, the family history. In genealogy research though most researchers are caught up in the names, dates, and connections we sometimes lose sight of the story, the dash as it were, the life that goes on between the birth and the death. Thanks as always for your kind, supportive words. Love you - Cousin

  3. This is a very sad story. Again I can relate because I have lost many young friends from addiction and still have very close friends and relatives that are struggling with addiction. I do not believe in cremation either. I’m selfish I want to grieve at the Cemetery. I feel like when the ashes are sprinkled, their totally gone like they never existed at all. I’ve had lunch and long conversations at many a tombstone and felt much better for it.

  4. Thanks Barbara. Ben's ashes were actually placed in a memorial wall so I go to visit him every opportunity that I have to get out of my office for lunch. Pinelawn is a 2 minute drive from my job. :)