Thursday, October 22, 2009

What Should I Do With The Cremated Remains

Q.“I have in my possession the ashes of both my mother, who died in 1996, and my father who died two years ago. It bothers me to have them in my home. What can I do with them and where should I keep them?”

A. Many people do not know how to deal with a loved one’s cremated remains that are in their possession. When a person dies and leaves instructions to be cremated, surviving loved ones often have unrealistic expectations placed upon them in maintaining the cremated remains. Some people put off making a final decision concerning their placement or are not presented with all of the options to make an informed decision.

While today’s reader makes reference to “ashes,” cremated remains are not really ashes; they are skeletal particles. The cremation process involves “processing” the skeletal framework after cremation, reducing the bones into small particles of consistent size. Processing renders the bones unidentifiable and gives them a granular appearance. Ashes are what you have in a fireplace, cremated remains – the cremated body – if you will – is quite different.

There are an unlimited number of ways you can care for the cremated body. Here are some ideas for you:

An urn can remain in your possession for as long as you like, however, in the event something happens to you, another person must be aware of the special contents and location of the urn. It is very important that an urn be labeled with the name of the decedent marked on the outside of the container. Why?

A few years ago, we received a call from a local sheriff’s department wanting to know why an urn with the funeral home’s contact information was recovered from a beach of a local lake. With the identification number from within the urn, we were able to trace the urn to the rightful owner – who confessed that she had honored the wishes of the person who died by placing the urn in a lake.

Unfortunately for the family involved, the annual draw down of water exposed the urn to children playing on the beach on a warm November day. Although no criminal charges were filed, the lack of planning – and seeking of permission from the appropriate authorities, created unnecessary anxiety for a bereaved family.

Learning from this experience we now suggest, to the families that we serve, delivery of an urn to a place of perpetual care. My first recommendation is always to consider a local cemetery. Although some people choose cremation to avoid “taking up” additional cemetery property, local cemeteries allow the burial of an urn on occupied graves. This means that a family can place an urn on top of cemetery space already occupied by their ancestors.

Sometimes engraving an additional name on an existing monument is permitted. Check with your cemetery of choice for specific details, as the practice, and price of placing cremated remains in a grave can vary widely between municipal, township and corporate cemeteries.

In some communities it is common practice for churches to have a columbarium – a collection of niches designed to permanently store cremated remains – available for purchase by congregants.

Cremated remains can be fashioned into an artistic piece. I have seen cremated remains mixed into concrete and then formed into a birdbath, a brick paver, and poured into the foundation for a memorial bench. If you know of an artist or a creative person, the remains can become a part of paperweights, vases, pottery, lamp bases or unique sculptures. You will most likely be able to find someone who can create a work of art that provides a fitting tribute to the memory of the loved one who died.

The Watts Family has available jewelry in the form of necklaces, bracelets and other keepsakes into which a part of the person’s cremated remains can be placed.
Although not yet available locally, progressive cemeteries have special sections of land devoted to memorializing only cremated remains, often referred to as a Nature or Cremation Garden. These areas are park-like and usually contain water features, walking paths and sitting areas. Ultimately community interest in such a concept will help local cemeterians plan for such a space. Please share your thoughts, positive or otherwise, with your local elected officials and cemetery caretaker.

Cremated remains can be memorialized in many ways at a cemetery or at home. Some ways include placing the remains in a large granite block on which a name, birth and death year can be engraved; spaces lining the edges of garden planting beds and pathways; placing the cremated remains beneath a favorite tree or flowering plant.

A word of caution – the skeletal cremated remains are almost pure calcium phosphate and calcium carbonate and are very alkaline in nature. You would do well to consult a local nursery expert in choosing a tree or planting that is alkali-tolerant. Hydrangea are popular selections – although the presence of cremated remains will yield pink blooms and turn acid friendly blue blooms into purple.

Cremated remains may also be scattered. However, caution should be exercised as scattering makes the remains unrecoverable. I am reminded of an instance when a husband along with his daughter were arranging for the cremation of their wife and mother. The husband wanted to scatter the remains. Hearing this, the daughter said to her father, “Please don’t scatter her. I want her in a place where I can talk to her, visit her and bring her a flower.”

In general, cremated remains can be scattered anywhere on private property. It is best to obtain the written permission of the landowner to avoid any misunderstanding in the future.

The Florida division of Parks and Recreation advise that dumping or disposal of any foreign substances in Florida parks is prohibited. However, they advise that some scattering of cremated remains have been permitted as an accommodation to a family. You or your funeral director should contact the manager of the park to seek special permission for a scattering. In any instance when transporting cremated remains, it is wise to travel with the burial-transit permit issued by the local registrar to the funeral director – as well as the authorization to scatter cremated remains – which can be found on any cremation authorization form.

Jamie Watts

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