Dear Sarah: April-May 2024

Image of an urn with candles

Compassionate Guidance from a Death Doula

By Dr. Sarah Kerr, PhD Death Doula The Centre for Sacred Deathcare

Hello Friends. Welcome to the first edition of Dear Sarah, an advice column where I answer your questions about how to meet mortality well.

As a Death Doula, I’ve helped hundreds of people to face their own death, to support a dying loved one, or to heal through grief and loss. I know how hard these experiences can be, and how hard they can be to talk about. I’m here to hold space for conversations about death, and to inspire people to see it as an important, meaningful, and natural part of life.

I look forward to hearing from you, and to helping you meet death and loss with grace and confidence.

With much love, Sarah.

“I’ve had my wife’s ashes for months, and I don’t want to let them go.”

Dear Sarah: My wife Susan died 10 months ago and, following her instructions, we had her body cremated. Now I have her ashes, and I’m struggling about what to do with them. Susan chose a niche at the cemetery, and part of me knows that I should place her ashes there. But another part of me doesn’t want to let go of the last physical connection I have with the woman I loved. Right now, Susan’s ashes are sitting on my bedside table, and I talk to them like I would talk to her when she was alive. When I travel, I bring the ashes with me. I know people might think this is odd, but I just can’t bear to be away from her. Is this normal? Should I take the ashes to the cemetery, or is it OK to keep them close?

—Holding On in Houston

Dear Holding On:

You’ve been through an enormous loss, and it’s not surprising that the path forward is unclear. Please be patient and gentle with yourself.

I can’t tell you what to do with Susan’s ashes. Only you will know what’s right for you. My best advice is to follow your own internal compass. Grief is deeply personal, and everyone’s needs and timing are different.

Having said that, I can offer some observations and suggestions. Perhaps they will resonate for you.

When someone dies, one of the biggest healing tasks for the living is to accept that our loved one is physically gone. You had a relationship with Susan, here in the physical world, but that ended when she died. Now the task is to build a new relationship with her, one that’s based on memories, or how you carry her in your heart, or even how you connect with her energetically or spiritually. It’s no longer a relationship in the physical world, but it’s a real and important relationship nonetheless.

It sounds like you may still be in the very natural and normal stage of grieving, where you haven’t quite made the transition to this new kind of relationship with Susan. That’s OK. It can take time.

Ashes are important. But Susan’s ashes are not Susan. They are her physical remains. Letting go of her ashes does not mean you’re letting go of Susan. Susan will always be in your heart, regardless of where her ashes are.

If you’re holding Susan’s ashes and not sure if it’s healthy for you or not, I encourage you to reach out for support. A therapist, clergy person, or other skilled mental health practitioner can provide the emotional and spiritual help you need to integrate Susan’s death and move forward on your healing journey. From there, you may still end up keeping Susan’s ashes, but you’ll be doing it from a more resolved place.

With much love, Sarah. ISI

Dr. Sarah Kerr, PhD, teaches Death Doulas and others to meet mortality in a soul-based way. Learn more, and download free guides at Do you have a question about death or loss?

Please visit and let me know what you’re struggling with. I personally read each submission, and if I choose yours, I’ll answer as fully and thoughtfully as I can. Thank you in advance for sharing your important story.

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