Eggers’s quest to track down his parents’ remains comes to stand for the ways in which people process loss. For most of the book, Eggers is unsure about the whereabouts of his parents’ ashes. This is because he and Beth have moved multiple times since their parents were cremated, making it hard for the cremation company to track them down. To a certain extent, they both seem content to simply leave things like this, with their parents’ remains existing somewhere out there in the world. However, Beth eventually receives a call from the cremation company, and she tells them they don’t want to claim the ashes. When Eggers hears this, he’s upset. “I loved how vague it was before,” he notes, admitting that he liked not knowing where his parents’ remains ended up. This “vague[ness]” at least allowed him to think that he might someday find the ashes. Beth, on the other hand, just wants to wash her hands of the entire experience. By highlighting this difference, Eggers uses his parents’ remains to symbolize the different ways people mourn the loss of a loved one. For him, his parents’ ashes represent the idea of possibility, since the prospect of tracking them down comforts him. For Beth, the ashes only remind her of her grief.
Heidi and John Eggers’s Ashes Quotes in A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius
I had loved how vague it was before. Where are they? Well, that’s a good question. Where were they buried? Another interesting question. That was the beauty of my father’s way. We knew that he had been diagnosed, but not how sick he was. We knew that he was in the hospital, but then not how close he was. It had always felt strangely appropriate, and his departure was made complete, as was hers, by the fact that the ashes never found us in California, that we had moved, and moved again, and again, dodging, weaving.