Traditionally, we think about death as an end, which in many ways it is. It’s the end of an individual life, an ending of that person’s agency, action, and story as a human being. However, as the saying goes, “what is remembered, lives” and so in many ways death can also be a transition, from life as a human being, to life in the memory of our loved ones.
For Chris Linn, who lost her son, Tom Poteet, in 2018, that transition has been a tangible and meaningful one. Chris chose to have her portion of Tom’s cremated remains solidified into a new form of remains that resembles a collection of stones. Chris chose solidified remains for her son because she wanted a continued connection with him after his death. Chris said having something tangible to hold and touch has helped keep her connection to her son rich and alive:
"[ I've found it so much more meaningful to actually be able to hold something and have it for a long time. To me it is just so personal, so intimate. [...] Ashes are a mess, handling them, trying to do something with them is a messy job [...] The stones are amazing. They are something you can hold on to, you can leave them in special places, and give them to people who will keep them. Parting Stone was just something I had to do. I didn't want to sit here with a box of ashes. I wanted something more substantial and beautiful. He was a beautiful man. I wanted something beautiful to remember him with."
Chris also explained that solidified remains have allowed all of Tom’s friends and family to remember him in their own unique ways. Instead of having one “spreading” event, or even letting traditional cremated remains sit in a basement or attic for years without knowing what to do with them, Chris has memorialized Tom in a few ways that are just as special and unique as he was:
"My son was brain damaged during the birth process. He was not capable of much physically as he got older, he was unable to feed or dress himself, so he ran a computer and power wheelchair with a stick in his mouth. He had people who were his caregivers. Tom was amazingly strong willed and bright and went to school at Southern Illinois University, independently. He earned a bachelor's degree in psychology. He was funny, and loyal, and he actually had the same caregiver for over 20 years which is rare in that industry. He was best man at that caregivers wedding. They became best friends. His [other close friend], Molly, became dependent on a wheelchair because of a debilitating disease and Tom was her "tough love" friend, getting her out and about in a wheelchair when she was reluctant. He was a good fiend who pushed her to test herself. He lived longer than anyone thought he would.[Tom] was 48 when he died.
One of his life plans was to take the "Southwest Chief" route on Amtrak from Chicago to LA across the country, but he died before he could. One of my goals is to leave one of his ‘stones’ in various depots along the route of the Southwest Chief. We have done Winslow, AZ, Lamy, NM, and a few others. We've also left stones in Wisconsin where he used to live in a suburb of Milwaukee. Another thing I’m doing with the ‘stones’ is I'm making little bags [for the stones to go in] that I'm beading around the edges so I'll give those to his friends in Illinois and one to his dad."
Chris has been able to create new rituals around death and loss, like leaving “stones” along the train route that Tom wanted to take across the country, and sharing his solidified remains with friends and family who can remember and memorialize him in ways that reflect their own unique relationships. Solidified remains have helped keep the memories and connections felt by Tom’s loved ones alive.
"Leaving the stones along the route of the Southwest Chief might have been part of the choice to do Parting Stone. The train route might take us a few years to complete. We are also leaving them in other places that he loved.
The stones are lovely grey-white with a little blue, and they are smooth. When I hold the one on the dining room table, it’s warm. They never feel cold to me. There is an energy coming from them.
[When Tom passed] I knew that it was time for him to go, it’s not like a car crash and all of a sudden I lost someone. I watched him and I knew that the son I knew was gone [...] and the stones keep him alive for me in a sense.[...] of course I miss him everyday and that is grief, but with the stones, I mean, he sits on the dinner table and I talk to him everyday. I just continue to feel his presence with the stones and all of the projects like leaving them places and making the bags to give them away in. It’s not just a picture of him on the wall it’s something to hold, an object to do something with, and that way it can be ongoing."