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The Stash of Memories You Inherit After Losing a Stoner Parent

What leftover baggies and bongs mean to those mourning a loved one

The rap on weed, if you go by D.A.R.E. propaganda, is that it screws up your memory. The truth, as with so much about the under-researched drug, is far more complicated. But outside the realm of pure science, in the day-to-day world, you get the feeling that stoners aren’t forgetful at all. Absent-minded, maybe, but able to revisit long-ago afternoons and adventures, maybe because what they’d smoked back then made for such a potent, unforgettable high. I can distinctly remember sitting in my buddy’s college living room at Rutgers University in 2004, after taking huge rips from a giant bong called “Vesuvius,” laughing hysterically at… nothing. That was 15 years ago, in a druggy haze, and it’s a sharper recollection than many of that time.

Legalization hasn’t only changed attitudes toward weed’s potential negative effects; it’s normalized usage in new and different contexts. I used to live in fear of my parents finding my stash; now they’re mostly concerned about “vaping disease” and encouraging me to stick with old-fashioned joints. Other people grew up — or are now coming of age — with parents who don’t hide their recreational pot habits. Last month, a photo of a man having one last beer with his sons on his deathbed went viral as a touching sendoff, and it’s not a stretch to imagine a family coming together for a final bowl in similar circumstances (except for hospitals’ no-smoking policy, that is).

Or maybe you know someone whose parent passed away and left behind a few nugs, along with their preferred paraphernalia for enjoying it. A popular post this week on r/trees, the stoner subreddit, described this bittersweet feeling of highs and lows:  

My mom passed away this past week. Found her stash while cleaning out her house. This next ones for you mom❤️ from trees

Commenters chimed in with their support for the bereaved, as well as promises to smoke up in honor of his late mom. “I hope you’re okay man. I’ve lost family and it’s no cake walk,” one wrote. “I’m dry but next time I re-up, first one is for you and your mother.” Someone else had a nice idea for a permanent memento. “Preserve some of the nugs in epoxy resin, keep it as a necklace,” they suggested. And a person with the handle TOXXXICSLIME666 had an incongruously empathetic message, nothing whatsoever to do with marijuana: “Man that sucks… my mom passed in January and this time of year is really sad. If you want to talk about it i know how it feels and my dms are always open,” they offered, adding a smiley emoticon. A few commenters associated cannabis with a parent’s fight against the terminal disease that eventually took them — the plant deeply connected to memories of small relief in those hours.     

That bong story instantly brought me back to late 2016, when a friend lost her dad suddenly. I later met her at his house to help her collect and move his belongings, and before I left, she produced his miniature, well-used bong, asking if I could give it a good home. I was honored. Though I’d met her father just twice, I liked him enormously — his mischievous, funny manner and easy kindness. A great stoner dad, in other words. What weed he had in the house was too old and dry to smoke, but the bong, like any glass piece, held the residue of chill evenings past, a layer of individual history. When I use it, I think of my friend’s father, and in a meditative stoner way, I feel the warmth he put out in life, a warmth I’d like to project myself, if possible. I guess it doesn’t hurt that marijuana gives you that tingly, euphoric sense of oneness. 

To memorialize a loved one with a smoke sesh may sound silly in concept — you’d likely be lighting up anyway. But it’s also natural to grieve in a way that recognizes the pleasures of the departed, their comforts, even their vices. (My own family always recounts the incident when my wily grandmother, no longer allowed to drink, tried to order a bourbon old-fashioned at a Friendly’s restaurant.) If weed made the mom or dad who raised you happy, then perhaps you can access that same plane of happiness with their favorite pipe when they’re gone. And for those who shared a spliff or the like with their parents, the stash box itself can be a reservoir of priceless connection, stored on a safe and cozy shelf, to be unlocked when you need it most.

Mourning is never quite what we expect. I’m sure many of us haven’t considered the cosmic-hippie angle of communing with the dead via hallucinogens, and yet, when you phrase it that way, it harks back to the rituals of ancient cultures, the psychoactive cacti and mushrooms that those humans relied on for trance states and spiritual truths. The afterlife, whatever form it takes, is a mystery, and the right drug can let us accept the unknowable, or look beyond the questions that are unanswerable — to find a new emotional alignment. Weed may not heal a broken heart, but it calms and consoles. All the better if it also helped the person who is gone.