By Penny A. Bragg—

Six months after my brother died, family and friends gathered to release his ashes. Jay had made his wishes clear. He wanted to be cremated and released into the San Francisco Bay.

“I’m not ready to let go,” I cried as the date to gather drew near. “I think we should wait.”

Every day since Jay’s suicide had been so excruciatingly painful that I didn’t think any of us could take much more.

“Pen, you know what Jay asked of us,” my older brother countered. “Don’t you think we need to honor his request? If we wait until we’re ready, we’ll never release him.”

Jeff was right. Who is ever really ready to let go of someone they love? I was stalling.

Even though I wanted to do whatever I could to honor Jay’s final wishes, I was absolutely dreading what was about to take place. Two of his closest friends were waiting at the pathway where we agreed to meet. Their arms cradled bouquets of long-stemmed, white flowers that were handed to each person who came to say goodbye. The path to the inlet seemed to stretch on for miles as a steady stream of people made their way to the place where Jay once watched the sunset with friends.

For the first hour, all we did was hug each other and cry. What else could we do? The grief in the air was thick as we waited for the minister to begin. While I don’t recall every detail about that evening, I do remember my mother opening up the wicker basket that held Jay’s ashes. Several weeks earlier, she had sewn small water-soluble pouches so each family member could release a part of Jay. That evening, she invited everyone to reach inside the basket, place their hands on the ashes, and say their final goodbyes.

Jeff explained that he would give one pouch to each family member. Starting with my father, Jeff went down the line by age and delicately handed a part of Jay to each one of us. Pouches in hand, we walked to the edge of the rocky shoreline and waited. Jay’s ashes felt warm in my hands. I held them against my cheek for a long time. Even though I knew in my head that my brother was not in those ashes, I spoke to them.

“I love you, Jay and I miss you so much. I know I have to do what I do not want to do.”

The rocks at the shoreline were so steep, there was no safe way to climb down them and set the pouches into the water. So Jeff explained that in the true spirit of setting Jay free, each person would hurl his/her pouch through the air and over the rocks so that it would splash-land into the water. Given Jay’s sense of humor, we knew this would have greatly pleased him.

Sniffles and sobs echoed into the evening sky. No one wanted to be first. A long time passed until my father’s voice broke the silence of our holy pause.

“I love you, Jay!” he cried out, launching his ashes into the sky.

His was the most sacred cry I’ve ever heard. One by one we followed my father’s lead. I was the lone hold-out. Letting go of those ashes was the hardest thing I’ve ever done.

Afterward, my nephew took a wreath my mom had made and bravely climbed down the jagged rocks. Steven placed the wreath into the waters and we watched it silently disappear into the orange sunset—at a place we now call, “Jay Bay”.

Life on this side of Heaven requires us to do things no one ever wants to do, like hurling your brother’s ashes into the sea. I’m not a fan of letting go. No one is. God will have to pry my needy fingers off many people until to Christ—and Christ alone—do I cling. But for as much as I loathe all this relinquishing, I cannot deny that it has defined God’s purpose for me, once and for all. Through the ashes of Jay’s death God has spoken to me the key to all life.

“The one desire of My heart is to become the one desire of yours.”





Penny BraggPenny A. Bragg spent the majority of her professional career in the California public school system as a teacher, principal, and district administrator. Through the miraculous reconciliation of her marriage after an eleven-year divorce and a distance of 3,000 coast-to-coast miles, God led Penny and her husband, Clint, into fulltime ministry in 2006. Together, they serve as marriage missionaries—sharing their testimony of marital restoration across the nation and abroad during their 40-Day Marriage Mission Trips. Through Inverse Ministries, their non-profit organization, Penny and Clint have written extensively about the ministry of reconciliation including their most recent book, Marriage on the Mend. In addition, Penny ministers to those who, like her, have experienced traumatic loss and grief. For more information, visit her blog at


  1. 9-22-2014

    Absolutely eloquent! Thank you for sharing your memory with us. May we all cling to Christ in our times of questioning and pain. I pray His comfort will envelop you and those who loved Jay.

    • 9-22-2014

      Dorothy, thank you for your words of affirmation. Amen to the clinging!

  2. 9-22-2014

    Penny, my heart cries with you. Thank you for sharing your pain…and your lessons.

    • 9-22-2014

      Ava, your tenderness falls sweetly on my heart this morning. Bless you.

  3. 9-22-2014

    You had me in the moment, sharing your grief. God will use your book, putting words to their pain. Bless you for sharing.

    • 9-22-2014

      Thank you, Karen. I am supposed to get the first hard copy of the book back from Redemption Press this week. I’ll probably bawl my eyes out when it arrives. Oh, how I pray it will offer hope to someone in the pain of their grief.

  4. 9-22-2014

    Thank you Penny for the reminder to hold all of life lightly. It is so fragile. We are so fragile.

  5. 9-22-2014

    Amen, Sharon…so very, very fragile. Bless you.

  6. 9-22-2014

    Thank you for sharing such an intimate moment. I lost my husband to cancer almost six years ago and finally agreed to go to a grief therapy group last week. I so don’t want to give him up. Not a head thing. A heart thing. A means of fully embracing the future … without him. But with God, this is possible.

    • 9-24-2014

      Barb, you have taken a very courageous step. I remember walking into my first grief group. God was present in so many ways. Those classmates are now precious friends and we continue to grief and heal together.
      I am so deeply sorry for your loss. I have walked alongside several friends who have lost a spouse. It is so complex. Praying for God to comfort you and provide for every need.

  7. 9-22-2014

    Penny – each time you take the reader on a journey of grief and redemption, you bring comfort and kinship to those who have walked this same path. Thank you, again for taking us where we do not want to go.

    • 9-24-2014

      Deb, sooooo often (like all the time!) I don’t want to go there either. But, for some reason, the Holy Spirit continues to take me there. I can only hope it truly does offer hope and comfort to others. Thank you for the avenue to express my experiences.

  8. 11-16-2014


    Thank you for sharing – I lost my 26 year old son to suicide four months ago and I started a blog believing I could somehow find light and hope in writing through this time, and ultimately bring honor to God who I have loved passionately since childhood. But as the days pass I find myself slipping deeper and deeper into despair. My heart is severely broken, my hope for the future is dim and my faith is in shambles. I know God is loving and good….I just can’t seem to find or feel him. Sorry to share more sorrow….a friend of mine told me I seem to be searching for “hidden pools of strength”, and she is so right! Bless you as you continue on your own journey of healing and helping those who grieve.


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