Etched in Ashes and Close to the Heart

“Actually, I really like Celtic symbols,” my niece, Shawna, informed me.

“Since I don’t know anything about the Celts, I’ll check them out and get back to you.”  I replied.

Get the ashes; sort out the details later

I had decided I wanted a piece of jewellery with a storage place for some of the ashes of my two brothers who had both died in 2015. Murray – my 56-year old brother and Shawna’s father – dropped from a heart attack on 3 September.

Murray at 56.
Murray at 56

Then three months and three days later my 48-year old brother Chris — who was bigger than life — did the same thing on November 3rd.

Chris at 48, an hour before he died.
Chris at 48, an hour before he died.

While I didn’t know exactly what I wanted or how I would get it made, the online jewellery pieces were unimaginative at best and totally boring at worst.

Shawna gave me a bag with some of Murray’s ashes. Then I went to see Kathy, my sister-in-law.

“I keep Chris’s ashes in the gun safe,” Kathy quipped as she twirled the combination lock on the massive walk-in that would withstand a nuclear fall-out. “That way, if the house burns down they are safe.”

Find the design

A few hours later I called Shawna again. “Interesting. I always thought the Celts were based in Ireland. As it turns out, they were there but also went further afield. More importantly, they migrated into Wales and northern Scotland. Now, it so happens that my great-grandmother – your great-great – was a Fraser and the clan fought with Bonnie Prince Charlie forever ago.”

“Really? I didn’t know that.”

“Probably not as you don’t have much of an interested in family history. But translated, that means we have legitimate claim to use the Celtic symbols, not that it matters. But don’t bother with the Fraser tartans as they are truly boring. The hunting one isn’t too bad, but the rest are definite no-wears.”

“The Celts aligned their birthdays to tree symbols.” I continued, “Your father was an ivy Ivy_-_Murray



and Chris was a willow.” Willow_-_Chris



And I flicked her the links.

“Really? How interesting. And what am I?” Shawna asked as the images landed on her phone.

“A willow, the same as Chris.”

“Okay, I can see that as we had some of the same traits.” We checked out a few more family members and decided that the Celtic horoscope was almost mysteriously accurate. Curious? Check the link at

Decide on the pieces

Back in Medellin, Colombia I set off on the quest of finding a manufacturing jeweler. My formula is simple: ask the locals and they will know. And, sure enough, my 26-year old friend, Tatiana – the ex-girlfriend of my late high school English teacher’s son – had a friend, Lina, who taught jewellery classes at a local university.

Tatiana was already there when I arrived at Lina’s. She downloaded the symbols I had found on the Internet onto Lina´s computer. Then Lina went to work and a couple of weeks later she had created a stunningly beautiful unique piece. Exactly what I wanted.

Infusing the ashes was scheduled for a Saturday morning.

IMG_0002Lina put the respective fragments on a piece of paper and reverently packed them into the hollow parts of the tree symbols.

Then she capped the cylinder with a top held in place with epoxy.


As I watched Lina work a tear slid down my cheek. I bit the inside of my cheek until it bled and stared out the window at the horizon until the wave of grief passed. Then I sniffed, touched my eyes with my Cambodian scarf that I always wear for unexpected situations and composed myself.

I absolutely adore the massive necklace that makes a statement about my brothers. IMG_0012

I’ve also had a delicate piece made for Shawna, but she won’t see it until I get to Canada in August as she wants it to be a surprise.

The curious sentiment that I hadn’t expected was that I actually feel closer to my brothers when I’m wearing the necklace, which I frequently do. It generates a soothing feeling. Just an illusion or a quirk? Who cares? It works.

Lina and J
Lina and J

close up