A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius

Heidi and John Eggers’s Ashes Symbol Analysis

Heidi and John Eggers’s Ashes Symbol Icon

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

The A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius quotes below all refer to the symbol of Heidi and John Eggers’s Ashes. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Self-Consciousness and Meta-Narration Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Vintage edition of A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius published in 2001.
Chapter 10 Quotes

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.

Page Number: 374
Explanation and Analysis:
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Heidi and John Eggers’s Ashes Symbol Timeline in A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius

The timeline below shows where the symbol Heidi and John Eggers’s Ashes appears in A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 6
Self-Consciousness and Meta-Narration Theme Icon
Coming of Age, Parenthood, and Responsibility Theme Icon
Death, Humor, and the Worst-Case Scenario Theme Icon
Guilt and Poetic License Theme Icon
...their parents’ remains are, since the company that cremated them hasn’t yet sent them their ashes, perhaps because the company doesn’t know where to send them. Eggers and Beth periodically discuss... (full context)
Chapter 10
Coming of Age, Parenthood, and Responsibility Theme Icon
Death, Humor, and the Worst-Case Scenario Theme Icon
Guilt and Poetic License Theme Icon
...Michigan despite the cold and uses the payphone to call Beth. “You know about those ashes?” he says, asking if the cremation service ever called her. “Yeah they did,” she says,... (full context)
Death, Humor, and the Worst-Case Scenario Theme Icon
Identity Theme Icon
...about being a burden, Eggers changes the subject by telling John about finding his mother’s ashes. He also talks about how he “spent the night driving around the frozen, broken South... (full context)
Coming of Age, Parenthood, and Responsibility Theme Icon
Death, Humor, and the Worst-Case Scenario Theme Icon
Guilt and Poetic License Theme Icon
...returning to California that evening, but before he leaves he plans to spread his mother’s ashes. He opens the box and finds a small golden container—like a cookie tin—inside. When he... (full context)
Self-Consciousness and Meta-Narration Theme Icon
Coming of Age, Parenthood, and Responsibility Theme Icon
Death, Humor, and the Worst-Case Scenario Theme Icon
Guilt and Poetic License Theme Icon
Deciding that spreading his mother’s ashes in Cape Cod is unrealistic, Eggers realizes that today is also his mother’s birthday. This,... (full context)