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How Does it Feel to Keep an Urn for Ashes in the Home?

by John M. Stuart, MSW

Living with cremation urn. Copyright OneWorld Memorials.

Keeping cremains in the home is a personal decision and many people struggle between keeping their loved ones at home or in a columbarium at a cemetery. Deciding whether or not to keep an urn for ashes in the home invites thoughtful consideration as to the every-day presence of a loved one who has passed. How might that feel? Would the presence of the urn and ashes bring a constant sense of loss or uneasiness? For some the urn might elicit feelings of a presence or energy in the house that is uncomfortable. For others, the urn might be a comforting presence letting them know that their loved one is still with them in spirit.

If you’re wondering what it’s like to keep an urn for ashes in your home, it may be relieving to read the stories about others who have gone through this journey. Many others have hosted urns in their home and have spoken on the subject.

The following true story illustrates a positive aspect of displaying a cremation urn in the home.

The Healing Journey

Linda, age 68, lost her husband Ed to brain cancer. With the support of hospice she was able to care for him in their home until he peacefully passed away. His family surrounded him with love and provided needed support to Linda.

Knowing that Ed’s condition was fatal, Linda and Ed pre-planned the memorial services and made arrangements for cremation. They chose a companion urn in which their ashes would remain together after Linda passes. The urn was engraved with a photogenic image of Linda and Ed in a loving embrace.

Linda cared for Ed for over a year in his terminally ill condition. She started preparing for a life without him that began her journey toward closure. When death finally came, she witnessed Ed’s release from physical suffering.

The urn with Ed’s ashes was placed in the home that he and Linda had shared together. Linda and her family experienced it as a beautiful reminder to celebrate his life, knowing his spirit was now free of a body overtaken with illness. When the hospital bed was finally removed from the living room, she was able to recapture memories of Ed full of life. Linda explained that living in their home doesn’t bring sadness, but joy. This is the space where so many happy moments were shared among family and friends.

Linda displays the keepsake urn in her China cabinet. Around the urn are family pictures and cherished memorabilia collected through the years.

Linda admits there are many times during a given day when she passes the cabinet without giving any thought to the urn. More often, she passes by and remembers Ed. Before retiring each evening to bed, she thinks of him. This gives her a sense of reassurance that they will one day be reunited in the afterlife. Linda’s strong faith in her eventual reunion with Ed allows her to look at the urn in a positive light, remembering her husband and anticipating the future when they will see each other again.

Each Christmas the memorial urn is taken out of the cabinet as family and close friends gather around in a holiday tradition. The gathering is filled with laughter and tears as special remembrances are shared. Each of Linda and Ed’s two children keep a portion of the cremains in keepsake urns of their own. Fond memories of a beloved husband and father are kept very much alive for Linda and her family with an urn for ashes in their homes.

Would you keep an urn in the home?

It's important to remember there's no right or wrong answer when determining whether or not to keep a memorial urn in your home. While some people find the idea comforting, others find it unnerving. Both feelings are completely normal, and one is not better than the other. It's clear that what we do with the cremains of a loved one is not only a personal preference, but also a matter of the heart.

While the memorial service or celebration of life is an important first step in getting closure after the death of a loved one, what we do with the cremains can assist us in moving forward in the grieving process. Closure is when we are able to come to a place of acceptance, integrating the loss of a loved one into the fabric of our lives.

Cremation offers a unique versatility in memorializing those we never want to forget in a way that burial does not. While keeping customized urns in the home and/or wearing urn or cremation jewelry can bring comfort to many, for others, it does not. Cremation jewelry can come in many forms, such as an urn necklace or necklace for ashes, but the common idea is keeping a nominal amount of ashes around the neck to bring comfort when brought with you.

However, for many individuals, the idea of keeping ashes in the home or wearing ashes in cremation jewelry can seem either unsettling or just the incorrect way to treat a lost loved one – whether that’s a spiritual belief or a personal one. In such cases, scattering the cremains, the burial of a funeral urn in the family plot or keeping the urn for ashes in an urn vault at a columbarium are choices for consideration.

Only you can decide if you're comfortable keeping a cremation urn in your home. If you do decide to keep your loved one’s remains at home, but change your mind, the urn can always be interred or kept in a columbarium at a later date. There’s no right or wrong answer when it comes to keeping an urn in the home. Only you can know what is right for your situation and for your family.

John Michael Stuart, MSW has been a social worker since 1997. He has worked in nursing home, hospice and home health settings, including one of the nation's largest Social HMO demonstration projects where he coordinated care between physicians, patients and their families. John has had cerebral palsy since birth and has authored Perfect Circles, Redefining Perfection. He is also a public speaker and currently works as a home health social worker in Las Vegas.