In October of 2006, three men decided to rob a bank.

The night before the robbery, while one guy stayed in the car, two of the men donned Scream masks and forced their way into a bank manager’s home around 8pm.

They subdued the bank manager, held him at gunpoint, locked all the doors, and turned off all the lights. Their plan was to wait out the night, go to the bank early in the morning, and use his keys to rob it before anyone else arrived.

All was going according to plan, until midnight, when a key unexpectedly jostled in the lock of the front door. The robbers jumped into panic mode; one guy drew his gun, the other took position in the dark foyer.

The door opened. A man wearing dark leather flip-flops entered. The robber grabbed the man by the arm and pulled him inside. The man screamed.

He was forcibly led to the living room, slammed into a chair, and a shotgun was placed to his head.

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With this unexpected wrinkle, the robbers were unsure of what to do next. They called their accomplice, who was waiting in the car.

His orders were immediate and succinct: “Kill him. He’s done.”

* * *

Ten hours later, 350 miles away, I was holding a black box, and standing on the edge of a man-made lake.

For the past three months, following the death of my mother, I had–as her only child–the unenviable task of cleaning out my childhood home by myself.  I still had to fulfill one final promise before I left.

I got up the nerve to open up the black box. Inside was a clear plastic bag. I held it up and stared at the grey contents–my mother’s cremated remains.

Having never spread human remains before, I looked around the shore, trying to figure out the best way to do this. I didn’t want to just dump the contents of the bag at the edge.

I opened the bag and reached my hand inside. They weren’t ashes in the traditional sense. There were also little rocks mixed in with it, probably bones that had been pulverized in the last stage of the cremation process.

I quickly pulled my hand out of the bag, closed my eyes, and without taking into account wind direction, tossed the ash and little rocks toward the water.

The wind instantly grabbed the ash and blew it right back at me, a portion of it landing on my clothes, skin, and some of it (deep breath) . . . directly into my open mouth.

I froze. My body gave an involuntary and immediate skeeved-out shiver, and my mouth emitted a strange and sustained “uhhhh” noise.

What the hell do I do? Cremated remains are like glitter–once it’s on you, good luck getting it off. I didn’t want to just brazenly spit it out. You know, since it used to be a person I loved.

Not wanting to desecrate her remains any more than I already had, I put the bag on the ground, rinsed my hands in the lake, and like a kid trying to scrape away all remnants of disgusting broccoli, scoured the ash from my tongue.

Hoping that my mother wasn’t watching this fiasco from some ethereal plane, I said an awkward goodbye/apology to her as I made my way back to my car. I found solace in the fact that she would have found this funny.

I got in the driver’s seat and called my uncle–Andy, my mother’s youngest brother, one of my favorite relatives, and the person that was hit as hard as I was by her loss.

Related: Faced with the inevitable death of his young wife to cancer, a man contemplates The Most Compelling Evidence Ever for Always Living in the Moment.

He had invited me to come stay with him and his family for a few days, and since I was about to make the 8-hour drive to his house, I wanted to let him know I was about to be on my way.

He answered on the third ring. He sounded odd.

Later that night, I arrived at Andy’s home. Before I even had a chance to tell him about my day, he told me about his.

The night before, around 11pm, Uncle Andy received a phone call from the wife of his best friend, Jimmy. She was working an all-night graveyard shift at a hospital, and Jimmy had not returned any of her calls. She asked Andy to check on him, and Andy agreed.

He grabbed Jimmy’s spare keys, put on a pair of dark leather flip-flops, and walked out the door.

Forty-five minutes later, he arrived at Jimmy’s house. All the lights were out, but Jimmy’s truck was in the garage. Andy walked around to the front door and stuck the spare key in the lock.

The next thing he knew, two men wearing Scream masks had pushed him into a chair, placed a shotgun to his head, and received an execution order by a man on the phone.

There was a tense negotiation-slash-pleading. New information emerged. What proved Andy’s worth (and what kept him alive) was the coincidental fact that he also worked at the same bank. The robbers had now inadvertently stumbled across a two-birds-with-one-stone scenario.

To assure his compliance, the robbers pulled Andy’s driver’s license out of his wallet and read the address to the man on the phone. They told Andy that this man would do the unspeakable to his wife and children if he didn’t abide by their plan.

Andy had no choice. He acquiesced and they all waited out the night.

An hour before sunrise, Andy, Jimmy and the three robbers (all still wearing their Scream masks) drove to the bank. Andy’s job was to corral every bank employee that entered into a conference room; thereby sequestering them while the bank robbers did their business.

Related: What It’s Like to Have a Gun Pointed at Your Head

The robbers were successful and stole $75,000 cash. They stole Jimmy’s truck, drove it a couple of miles away to the waiting get-away car, and disappeared without a trace.

The police were called and arrived within three minutes, the FBI within the hour. Andy then spent rest of the day talking to law enforcement, recounting his tale of being kidnapped, held hostage, and forced to rob a bank.

I had called while he was in the midst of that, which was why he couldn’t talk.

I leaned back in my chair, completely dumbfounded. Two thoughts went through my head.

1) No matter how bad you think your day was, someone else’s was worse.

2.) Another beloved family member almost died.

I had spent the last three months grieving my mother, focused solely on my solitary despair, and living in my own voluntary exile. I had pretty much forgotten about the world around me. This was a wake-up call, a reminder to not be so insular and to appreciate the people I have, while I still have them . . . because you never know what, or who, is waiting around the next corner.

Without saying a word, I got up, walked over to the couch, and gave him a solid man-hug. During the embrace, the dam broke and emotions poured out of both of us.

I told him how much I sincerely appreciated him and how undeniably happy I was that he was still a part of my life. He reciprocated the sentiment.

We broke the hug, and as I wiped away my tears, I smiled.

“Now, do you want to hear about how I got some of my mother in my mouth?” I asked him.

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