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Tuesday, 29 May 2012

What to Do With Your Ashes

If you would rather be buried in a casket, this post probably is not for you. But after Saturday's Interesting Stuff item about James Doohan's ashes being carried into space last week, I wondered about the ways people deal with ashes of loved ones.

Some urns, like my father's, are buried in cemeteries or mausoleums. Burial at sea or, at least, on water, is not uncommon these days. My mother was a member of the Neptune Society and we scattered her ashes off Marin County just under the Golden Gate Bridge.

My stepbrother Joe's sailing club friends took his ashes 30 miles out into the ocean from San Francisco near the Farallon Islands. In Joe's case, he loved the sea above most everything else. My mother (I suspect, but cannot be certain) was just being practical and she loved the San Francisco area.

Of course, ashes can be scattered on land too. If it's your property, no problem. If not, you need to check local regulations and get permissions.

Many years ago, a friend rented an apartment in Greenwich Village in which a box of human ashes sat on the fireplace mantle. I have forgotten the details, but a woman whose name was Charlotte had been murdered there many decades before and by deed, her ashes were required to remain with the house. (I don't know if that's true, but it's my general recollection.)

Remember last year when I told you about a book by Gail Rubin, A Good Goodbye, with lots of excellent information on planning funerals? In checking out information for this post, I ran across a recent article Gail wrote about the top ten things people can do with ashes (Oops. I think I'm supposed to say “cremated remains” but I draw the line at “cremains.”) Here is the abbreviated list:

  1. Scatter on land
  2. Scatter on sea
  3. Scatter by air
  4. Bury in a cemetery
  5. Bury at home
  6. Keep an urn at home
  7. Place in a columbarium
  8. Share with family
  9. Create a reef
  10. Build a monument
Of the last idea, Gail writes,

“Pros: Speaking of mixing cremated remains in concrete, why not make a monument? You can set it up on your property, or even make it a centerpiece at family reunions!

“Cons: Some family members may not be amused.”

No kidding. You can read what Gail has to say about all ten options here.

A trip around the web led to hundreds, if not thousands, of styles of urns including this one that left me speechless:

“Now we can create a custom cremation urn for ashes in the image of your loved one or favorite celebrity or hero, even President Obama!

“...Personal urns can have hair added digitaly [sic] for short haired people, as in the sample of President Obama.”

Barack Obama Urn

Do you think the president knows about this? Like I said, I'm speechless.

There is, apparently, a growing trend toward wearing dead relatives as diamonds made from their ashes. The diamonds can be quite pricey ranging from about $4,000 to $25,000 depending on color and size.

As to the purpose, as one company explains, diamond pendants or other jewelry are “a way to embrace your loved one's memory day by day.”

Uh-huh. I can hear it now: “Why, Jane, what lovely earrings. Are they new?”

“Yes, they're my late husband, George.”

“Oh, what a lovely gift.”

“No, they ARE George.”

Even if your loved one prefers burial to cremation, you can still wear him or her as jewelry. At least one ashes-to-diamonds company will make a gem from a lock of a loved one's hair.

I have definitely opted for cremation and have long made arrangements with a young friend to scatter my ashes in what I consider my real home, New York City - specifically along Bleecker Street between 6th and 7th Avenues saving a little to leave in front of my long-time home on nearby Bedford Street.

What about you?


At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Mary B Summerlin: Best Laid Plans


Posted by Ronni Bennett at 05:30 AM | Permalink | Email this post

Comments

I have said for years that I want to be cremated and have my ashes scattered over water. There will be NO memorials, especially statuettes or diamonds....lol

Interesting post on cremation, though don't think I'd go for the face idea!

My son died at age 26. His cremation remains were divided into 6 boxes, I think, and distributed to his father, a couple of his friends, and to me. We sprinkled them everywhere--from the mountains in Nepal to the bottom of the Grand Canyon and a river in NH. I sprinkled some around a concrete marker I had commissioned, with a cute gargoyle, Emmett, seated on top. Loren was an adventurer and I think he would have liked the idea of going everywhere.

My partner died 6 months later, also the result of a motorcycle accident. His son and I scattered his ashes on a favorite mountain of his which we had hiked numerous times. Coincidentally, on one of these hikes, he had told me this was where he wanted his ashes scattered.

My mother says she doesn't care where her ashes are scattered - "I'm not there anyway!"

If you're a potter, or know a good one, Have your ashes put into an ash glaze, fired on one or several pots, and given to special people.
Roger Bourland

Where do people come up with these ideas like the diamonds or the face?!!! I'm opting for cremation, but my DH, does not, so we'll have one plot where my ashes will probably be placed. That's because, like your mom, I'm a very practical person & refuse to buy into the whole funeral thing.
It's curious that you should have this in today's posting because I read in the morning paper that cremation is becoming much more acceptable these days because of the economy. Maybe it will become more common in years to come. Dee

For me, it is definitely cremation, but I have been unsure where. I know one thing-- no monuments nor fancy urns. I read awhile back about biodegradable urns and was going to put a link to them here but there are so many that just type it into a search and you will see the options. I liked that idea because I had heard ashes aren't always that easy to clean out of a container and can be upsetting to a loved one to see chunks going out. The containers looked nice, were relatively inexpensive, pretty, and if put into a body of water, they'd dissolve soon enough. The one thing I do know is I want all ashes in one place. Something about dividing them bothers me which is silly as someone said above, I won't be there anyway. I have toyed with asking that they be put into the ground at the back of this place (if we are still living here) and in the area where we bury all the cattle and sheep. I also wouldn't mind near one of my beloved pets' grave, but in that case too close to the house and probably unfair to the family to have them in a nearby garden ;)

My son died in July of 2010. His life was difficult, and he often talked about death and the desire to be cremated and set free. We continue to hold on to his ashes, since we cannot make a decision as to where we should scatter/bury them. I feel my husband would like to bury half of the ashes so that he would have a place to go. I’m just not very comfortable with that. As I write this, I’m wondering if somehow we’re just not ready to do either. Maybe your post today will get me moving on this. Thank you!

My husband and I will be buried (not cremated) at the Washington Crossing National Cemetery. I am certain of that, at least.

My husband and I have definite plans for where our ashes are to be placed.

I have lived in this home for 47 years so I would like to have my ashes spread around my yard and garden.

Roy wants his ashes to be scattered on the grounds of the family cottage that he loves so much.

My BIL died in 1991 and we had his ashes divided into
two sections and one set we placed in the water at the cottage and the others were put in the water at the Barnegat Marina where he had kept his boat for so many years.

Our very best friend is buried at Arlington Cemetery and when he wife died years later we wanted to put her ashes into his grave with him at Arlington.

There was so much red tape involved we decided that it was easier to get forgiveness than permission so I called a florist and had a big spray of white roses made up and we dug our own hole and put her ashes in and covered up the hole in the grass with the beautiful roses.

No one was any the wiser and we did not harm anything or anyone.

Here's the best part. The florist in Arlington told me that if she knew me better she would tell me of all the ashes and other things that were put in graves at that cemetery without any permission or anyone's knowledge.

While we were there we saw a family at the grave of their son who had been killed in Iraq. It was his 21st birthday and his parents and friends were there with a bottle of whiskey and glasses. They dug a small hole and poured him his first drink. Then they all had a drink and a lot of tears.

The florist said this sort of thing goes on all the time and if I really wanted to know, she could tell me where Buster the dog was buried with his master at Arlington...

When we lived in D.C. we scattered our dog's ashes at Arlington in a section where our cousin's infant was buried. There were many other children of service people there as well. She would have loved to romp among them.

My dad wanted a Viking funeral after seeing "Rocket Gibraltar" with Burt Lancaster. My husband built a small ship and we put his ashes within, then set it on fire in a creek where he loved to walk his dog in a park in Vt. We did not get permission. We're like that.
My mom donated her body to science, then she was cremated, which is what I will do.

My cremated remains will be given to "Eternal Reefs" in Decatur, GA (eternalreefs.com)to help create artificial reefs to replace Earth's natural reefs that are being destroyed by the human race's pesticides and garbage.

No funeral for me, either. I'm leaving my kids enough money to have a great party and invite all my friends to enjoy -- with lots of music, dancing and beverage of their choice.

That head reminds me of an old episode of...the Simpsons? where the heads of old Presidents were preserved in big jars.

Nixon was still on the make, still proclaiming his innocence, even from the jar.

Shelley--I believe you're thinking of another cartoon comedy: Futurama. Yes, Nixon's head features prominently in that show, and it is very funny.

Do we have to think about this just because we are getting older?

Back when I smoked (way too much), my instructions were to put my ashes in an urn to serve as an ash tray so I could keep on growing.

Now, having kicked the bad habit years ago, I want the ashes mingled with my wife's and scattered in a lake near where we met and where her family had a summer home.

My children chose the place to scatter their dad's ashes and I am very sure they will add mine to his.

They chose the back side of Mt. Lemmon and they stood on an overlook and let the wind take the ashes away. We didn't know we needed permission so I guess we broke the law.

Andrea Rouda...
Who said we're doing this because we're old?

But why would it be wrong if that's why we are doing it?

We cremated my mother, and spread her ashes near our home in Alaska, as per her request. We cleared out her apartment in Michigan, & were getting ready to leave, when my sister said, "wait; where's mother?" And I said, "she's in my purse." And we all busted out laughing. It was so strange, and so funny...not morbid at all.

When my father died, his body was donated to Emory University for medical research. When Emory finished with him, the remains were cremated and returned to my mother.

I, too, have donated my body to Emory (or the nearest medical college at the time of death). It is up to the family whether ashes are returned or placed in a communal ash pit. I'm choosing the pit. No one wants my ashes. Makes it easy.

After going through the comments, I thought I would be the only one. But, I, too, want to donate my body to a medical school and they can do what they want with it. I don't see the sense in burying or burning something that may be of benefit to someone whether as a transplant or learning device.

My wife and I have chosen to be cremated but we will be doing something simple and inexpensive with the ashes, like spreading them over some favorite land or body of water we choose.

Cremation serves as an appropriate means of disposing of a corpse. The corpse is the physical remains of a once living but now dead organism. The ashes are the end-product of a disposal system that reduces the corpse to a few ounces of dust-like particles. Why anyone would get sentimental about a handful of dust is puzzling but then I've never worried about black cats, broken mirrors or walking under ladders either.

The pottery idea is fascinating.

My husband (who died of dementia) said he did not want to be cremated, but it didn't seem like a strong preference, more a matter of being afraid he'd feel the flames! I think he would have wanted to be buried with his parents in their small town in Transylvania, but that place has been through so many changes I'm not at all sure his parents' bones are there anymore. I decided with some trepidation to have him cremated, based on my sense that his objection to it was not profound and also on the fact that there was simply no single fitting place to bury him. He had lived and loved all over the world.

So his ashes are in a black plastic box underneath a friend's superb pencil portrait of him, beside my bed. Little by little they are being scattered in the places and with the people he loved: his karate master friend's tomb in Tokyo, with a close friend's ashes under a tree overlooking the harbor in Brooklyn Heights, in my parents' yard in Florida where many of his beloved cats are buried. There are still several important places to go, including the coal mining area of eastern Ukraine where he was a prisoner as a teen-ager, and where he returned 50 years later to find a few surviving Russian women who had sneaked him food, and reciprocate.

Oh yes, there was another reason why I felt it was OK to have him cremated. While he was a robustly embodied person, whom I'd always thought of as very physical, at the moment he died (I was with him), he really LEFT. And what was left was, rather surprisingly, not remotely him.

This topic inspired me to send my first ever story to The Elder Storytelling Place. It's too long for this space, but begs telling. It's about my parents' ashes.

As for me, I do want to be cremated, but don't really have a place picked out to be scattered or buried. It should be somewhere significant to family and easily returned to for purposes of honoring my memory. (I want to make that easy.)

My parents are together in a cemetery and have a marker, which has the advantage of aiding future genealogy buffs easy access to information and a place for family to gather but comes with a price tag. We did take a bit of their mingled ashes to a favorite beach and left them under a huge hunk of driftwood. Watch the ESP for their story.

When the father of my children died three years ago, we had him cremated and kept the ashes until we could all take a weekend together in Cape Cod where my former husband used to love to go. My son flew in from Portland and we met at my daughter's house in MA and drove out to the Cape. My daughter dug a hole in the sand near the shore and my son poured in the ashes. Just as he finished, an unexpected wave crashed in and took it all out to sea. We tossed in white roses after it, and ion of the sea symbolized that he was being welcomed home. And then we partied.

I'm also going to be cremated -- but I tend to be more of an earth person, so I'd just as soon go into the compost heap where I'll do some good. I don't want the people I leave behind to hold onto anything of me but the fond memories.

I'm with Elaine. The memories are what matters.

Those boxes of ashes are bigger than most people realize and until they're disposed of - they just cause more sorrow, or guilt, or weirdness. Dead is dead. Can you tell I'm not at all sentimental?


I don't suppose it matters much what you do with your body once you are dead.

I love what Erma Bombeck said.

"When I stand before God at the end of my life,I would hope that I would not have a single bit of talent left and could say, I used up everything You gave me."

My late husband was cremated, since we'd discussed it and both agreed. I currently have his ashes in my house, but not in view; I've never looked in the box, nor desired an urn.

After my death, I want our ashes to be buried in an old family cemetery where my great-uncle donated land. As part of the agreement with the small country church, ANY descendant of his can be buried in a free plot. I want our ashes as close to my paternal grandparents as possible; they were the most wonderful guides for me through my childhood. Parents/lots of relatives are already buried there too -- all with my maiden name.

I do like the idea of the biodegradable urns, will have to research that.

This probably varies, but in the state where I live, a deceased body must be cremated within 24 hours of death to avoid having to be embalmed first. So if you're looking to save your family some money, be sure to check out your local laws. In any event, it's still not cheap, though prepayment often is cut-rate. So you can either prepay for your own cremation or prepare yourself if your loved one is in hospice or otherwise near death -- and aren't we all, on any given day?

Death, burial has never been a topic avoided in my family -- discussed at any age as just another aspect of life's process. Frankly, I think that's healthy and would be concerned if someone was fearful or uncomfortable with the subject.

As a Speech-Lang. Pathologist I often serve individuals who are in the later stages of life (at various ages,) so am sometimes trusted with their thoughts including matters related to life and death choices.

Frankly, I don't think it will matter much what is done with my physical body after I die. I have designated my body for organ donation -- as had my husband, but he had died so much earlier when I found him, I assumed it was too late. I've considered body donation, but have since read that doing so isn't always automatically possible -- probably should determine where while still living, I guess.

I don't wish to be in a cemetery with a headstone, a view supported by my children, but the final choice is up to whatever are the circumstances and works best for my children at the time of my death.

I expect they may choose to distribute my ashes from the air as we chose to do with my husband's over a Southwestern geographic area of special significance to us.

The other option could be at sea as my mother's ashes were via Neptune in the Pacific Ocean ala Hawaiian custom with lei and flowers spread over the water per my brother and his Hawaiian wife's wishes.

A friend and her family surreptitiously (it wasn't legal) distributed her father's, and years later, mother's ashes along a Southern California surf's edge. Prior to that, and then her own unexpected death a few years later, she and children lugged her ex's ashes in am urn around several states until they could distribute his. Her mother's had been kept in an urn in a closet for years until they could distribute them.

My mother had always specified she wanted a traditional burial in a cemetery. We never tried to convince her otherwise, but in her later years changed her mind, for whatever her reasons, and decided she wanted to be cremated.

Later, the very reputable funeral home had a law suit filed and won against them for mixing people's ashes. I had been unaware, was not an active participant, but being in the class was one of many who received a small settlement.

Death, burial has never been a topic avoided in my family -- discussed at any age as just another aspect of life's process. Frankly, I think that's healthy and would be concerned if someone was fearful or uncomfortable with the subject.

As a Speech-Lang. Pathologist I often serve individuals who are in the later stages of life (at various ages,) so am sometimes trusted with their thoughts including matters related to life and death choices.

Frankly, I don't think it will matter much what is done with my physical body after I die. I have designated my body for organ donation -- as had my husband, but he had died so much earlier when I found him, I assumed it was too late. I've considered body donation, but have since read that doing so isn't always automatically possible -- probably should determine where while still living, I guess.

I don't wish to be in a cemetery with a headstone, a view supported by my children, but the final choice is up to whatever are the circumstances and works best for my children at the time of my death.

I expect they may choose to distribute my ashes from the air as we chose to do with my husband's over a Southwestern geographic area of special significance to us.

The other option could be at sea as my mother's ashes were via Neptune in the Pacific Ocean ala Hawaiian custom with lei and flowers spread over the water per my brother and his Hawaiian wife's wishes.

A friend and her family surreptitiously (it wasn't legal) distributed her father's, and years later, mother's ashes along a Southern California surf's edge. Prior to that, and then her own unexpected death a few years later, she and children lugged her ex's ashes in am urn around several states until they could distribute his. Her mother's had been kept in an urn in a closet for years until they could distribute them.

My mother had always specified she wanted a traditional burial in a cemetery. We never tried to convince her otherwise, but in her later years changed her mind, for whatever her reasons, and decided she wanted to be cremated.

Later, the very reputable funeral home had a law suit filed and won against them for mixing people's ashes. I had been unaware, was not an active participant, but being in the class was one of many who received a small settlement.

Ronni, It's interesting what folks want to do or have done with the ashes of their loved ones or their own ashes.

My wife decided some time ago that we will be cremated, but the ashes will be put in fireworks. She has a wonderful spirit and is a cancer survivor, so it seems fitting.

At some point we will find a manufacturer of commercial fireworks that can make us a special rocket for our ashes.

The post was great and I love all the comments. I'm remembering the lady on the TV show, St. Elsewhere, who had her husband's ashes in a baggie and left them in various places.
When my uncle died and was cremated, his wife and others made a point to leave his ashes in several of his favorite places. My sister suggested a favorite lake spot and my aunt responded, "God, no. G never learned how to swim!"
We put a small (airplane size) bottle of Virginia Gentleman bourbon in with my dad's ashes, before his burial at West Point.
Nancy's story of the 21 year old at Arlington made me cry...

I've never fancied the idea of lying forever (or maybe worse, not forever) in a coffin underground. Waste of an expensive coffin and land. Cremation for me. Cleaner, cheaper, greener.

I've always wanted my ashes scattered in the Rocky Mountains, somewhere in the area where I've always vacationed in Colorado. I suppose I should try to think of a specific place, to save my family having to do that.

I am leaving my body to the nearest medical school.(Joared, I haven't heard of any problems. I am signed up and carry a card at all times, because the only 2 reasons they don't want you is if you die of an infection or aren't found for over 24 hours). I figure with 5 chronic illnesses they might be able to learn a lot from my body! I just wish I could know what it is they find to explain why my sister had perfect health--teeth, eyes, joints, etc., and I was always the weakling.

I read about being freeze dried and then shattered. After the shattering the remains are buried under a tree in a cardboard box. I kind of like that idea, but I think for now, it is a only done in Denmark. I also read that there is a place in Colorado that will render you down to 98% water. Such interesting choices outside of being cremated or put in the ground, and I only hope I have enough time to make one of them. If not, I suppose I'm like another writer...it won't matter to me.

My husband wants to be scattered at the last lake he fishes at. I would like to be placed in the ground at Arlington. Both decided on cremation years ago.
It is interesting to read what everyone thinks.

My husband says he wants to be stuffed and put on display in my living room. I think he's kidding.

I too am a card carrying donater of body for organs harvest...then cremation...ashes to children.
Oldest child to youngest child. I do not care what they do with what ever is left.

I decided to be cremated after reading reading the chapter entitled "The Corpse" in Richard Selzer's book Mortal Lessons back in the 1970s. It seems to be the lesser of evils when it comes to what happens to your body after death.

We had my mother cremated after she died and her ashes divided so that I, my three sisters, and one brother would each get a portion of them. The ashes I have are kept in a small Benjarong porcelain bowl with lid on the top of one of my bookcases. I think my mother would like this as she was a great book lover.

Oh, these are rich and interesting, esp. since we just finished the whole "Six Feet Under" series via Netflix and our library! I love the reef-building and fircracker ideas! We've both chosen cremation but not sure of dispersal.

I'd be happy to be part of a reef off Kauai, but a little dust should be scattered in Portland, OR & some on Mt. Shasta, which we found out was illegal, though it's the no. 1 spot of choice around here.

But how do you change ashes to diamonds if you're not Superman!?

When an elderly friend died (having pre-paid for her cremation), we sat down and discussed where she would want to be. She was an avid horse race fan, reader of books, and gardener. Accordingly, we sprinkled her ashes at a racetrack, around the library and her favorite bookstore, and put some in the garden at her home.

Today my sister's and I along with my daughter scattered my mothers cremated remains. She had always said she wanted cremated but never mentioned what she wanted done with her ashes. She also died young at 60 so the subject had not been discussed. We decided early on to scatter her remains and not bury them. We finally decided to make her final resting place the White Rocks on the north coast of Ireland. All of her children had spent happy days with her on this beach at one time or another and it was one of her favourite places from childhood. We scattered her at the edge of the water as the tide went out and the sun shone. I found a little fossil stone on the beach which I will keep as a memento of the day. Also in years to come my children and I and maybe one day my grandchildren will play on this beach again.

i am with those who are for donating their physical body. it is really just a container of who i am in this life. what is left is cremated and can be returned to the family. it really isn't me so it is up to my daughter if she wants to scatter the ashes somewhere. i suggested a compost pile.

it may be difficult for some people to talk about these things, but we don't know how long we have so some kind of instructions or expressions should be in order beforehand so that those remaining know how you feel.

Both my wife and I are going to a beautiful beach on the island of Crete (Greece), our ashes are to be scattered in the sea just as the sun sets by our family. They will then celebrate with great food and drink to remember us and allow them to get on with their lives. Why Crete? We honeymooned there and fell in love with the place, as well as each other.

Anyway, it's too cold in the UK ;)

My Dad was a marine engineer for P&O 50 years ago, we're going to scatter his ashes from one of their ships next year and return him to his beloved sea.

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