New York State Funeral Directors Association

Two votive candles sit on the fireplace next to a picture of my late mother-in-law Dorothy.

They are a couple of items in a makeshift memorial that’s been growing since her funeral about two months ago.

It includes a variety of items: a ribbon that decorated flowers at the funeral, small statues from Dorothy’s apartment, dried flowers from another funeral and an old can of breadcrumbs.

It’s not easy to figure out what to hold onto after somebody close passes away. I have to imagine people have a variety of stories behind what’s sitting in a place of honor as a memento of a loved one.

For me, the can of breadcrumbs is probably the most interesting.

Dorothy left a tiny note in her checkbook that her daughter – my wife – never got to read until days after the funeral. This was after we’d already cleared out Dorothy’s apartment at the senior citizen complex and moved all her stuff to our place for safe keeping.

We got it done right away because family members were in town for the funeral. It seemed fitting for them to help with the work of cleaning out the apartment since they were close by.

It was an accomplishment as far as I was concerned. We got it done with efficiency despite all the crying and discussion that ensued among Dorothy’s children each time they picked up an item that brought back memories.

The commotion was over and early on a Sunday morning when my wife was going through her mom’s stuff, she found the note. It only had a few words on it: money, shoe, breadcrumbs. My wife knew her mom stored her cash in the sole of a shoe – she’d secured that when we went to her mom’s apartment that horrible day she passed away.

I could hear my wife mumble “breadcrumbs,” and saw her face turning red. The look of confusion, then disbelief began to grow on her face. She said she knew her mom kept money in the shoe, but she didn’t know why breadcrumbs was written on the note.

The breadcrumbs, of course, were among numerous items in the apartment that went directly into trash bags we carried downstairs to the massive dumpster behind the senior citizen apartment complex.

So now we were faced with the question – did her mom leave money or anything else important in the can of breadcrumbs? We thought we got everything her mom would consider important – but nobody checked anything in the pantry.

Perhaps we already secured what we might have, so we could just forget about it. It was a large apartment complex – what were the chances they hadn’t already emptied the dumpster?

I could tell it was going to be one of those things we’d never forget – what was in the can of breadcrumbs we’d thrown away in haste? Those thoughts didn’t last long.

I realized it didn’t matter how impossible it would be – I couldn’t leave the question out there if there was a chance we could get an answer. A few minutes later I was dumping out my cup of coffee, putting on my jacket, jingling my keys and telling my wife I was going to check. She said OK and decided to come along.

A half-hour later, there I was pulling up to the apartment complex noticing that the dumpster clearly hadn’t been emptied yet. It was overflowing to the point where people were just placing their trash bags alongside it – there was no room to fit any more bags in it.

So I got to work, pulling bag after bag out of the dumpster, looking around every once in a while, hoping nobody was watching.

I didn’t have to open most of the bags. I was able to move items around in many of them to see if there was anything the size of a breadcrumbs can in them.

A nice old lady came wheeling her walker over to the dumpster with a couple trash bags attached.

I greeted her red-faced and explained what I was doing, offering to toss her trash into the unit when I was done. She agreed, but for all but one bag – she wanted to toss that one in by herself.

One of Dorothy’s other children who helped clear out her apartment before heading home said by telephone that the trash bags from the kitchen went into the dumpster’s left-hand side.

So of course, I started with that side. Eventually, I couldn’t reach any more bags on that side unless I crawled into the unit. Hoping that wouldn’t be necessary, I started on the right side.

At long last, I reached in and grabbed another bag and my wife exclaimed “That’s it!” She tore it open and sure enough, there it was. We found her mom’s can of breadcrumbs that held – along with some breadcrumbs - $15 in cash.

I can’t describe the relief I felt when my wife confirmed that was, indeed, the can.

Had we waited another day, the dumpster would have been emptied for sure. There’s no doubt in my mind I’d have taken one question with me to my grave: Did Dorothy leave anything important in her breadcrumbs that we hastily threw away?

It’s a question I don’t have to ask now.

I just have to figure out a way to make this long story short for all the times I expect people will ask – years from now – why is there a can of breadcrumbs on the mantel?


EdsPhotoEd Munger
Communications & Social Media Specialist
NYS Funeral Directors Association