Sanford woman recovers mom's ashes buried in debris

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Kathy Parsch’s Sanford home was swept away after the dam failure on May 19, 2020. Nearly four weeks later, she recovered the urn of her mother’s remains. Pictured on June 15, 2020. (Photo credit: Ron Hilliard/Mid-Michigan NOW)

SANFORD, Mich. - Families are still picking up the pieces after historic flooding ravaged Sanford last month.

In some cases, there is little left to salvage.

Kathy Parsch’s home was swept more than 700 feet from its foundation before settling by the Tittabawassee River.

“It got hung on a tree, and that tree stopped it from going in the river,” said Parsch, who had lived in the house for only a year.

RELATED STORY: Edenville and Sanford dams fail leading to evacuations

She had spent the last four weeks making repeated visits to the house in search of the urn that contained her mother’s ashes.

“Each time I’d gone out there, that was the goal. I wanted to find my mom.”

Her mother, Mary Parsch, of Metro Detroit, died on Christmas Eve in 2013.

The small urn housed some of the ashes, while Kathy Parsch’s brother kept the rest.

“And I felt like she wasn’t complete either. So, that bothered me.”

Sunday, Parsch planned her eighth visit to the remnants of her home.

“And this last time, my friend Marg Charbonneau said she wanted to go out there and help, as well.”

They made their way into the house and trudged through half a foot of mud.

“Walking out there, I’m like, ‘C’mon mom. Tell me where you’re at,’” said Margaret Charbonneau of Bay City.

Following a hunch, she began digging with her hands and then with a piece of broken glass. She unearthed a photo of Mary Parsch that was on the nightstand.

“And I just went a little farther, and I dug right into the corner and just saw the shine,” said Charbonneau. “Immediately, I knew exactly what it was.”

The urn was still intact.

“And that was the most incredible moment of life, right now, because I have my mom back and that’s what I needed,” said Parsch.

She said it gives a sense of closure.

“I will move on, but I’m here. I’m alive and I’m strong and I’m surviving; and I have done so, because of my wonderful friends and family.”

RELATED STORY: State announces lawsuit seeking compensation/restoration for damage from dam failures

As lawsuits mounted against the dam’s owner, families said there would be a long and complicated road ahead. The journey for Parsch, who was staying with Charbonneau, would include finding a permanent place to live, she said.