How Many Americans Live with Cremation Ashes in the Home?

by J. Malec

Cremations on the Rise

According to CANA (the Cremation Association of North America) and the Industry Statistical Information, the US cremation rate as of 2013 was 45.3%. By 2018, the US cremation rate is expected to surpass 50%. Reasons for the switch from burial are many and varied. A few of the primary reasons are:

  • changing religious views
  • concern for the environment
  • cost of a traditional funeral, and
  • family is often spread out across the country making traditional burials difficult to orchestrate within three days of death.

Because cremation is on the rise, more and more people are keeping ashes in the home as a remembrance of the deceased.

We are likely the first generation that will inherit the ashes of family members on a broad scale. Estimates vary as to the actual percentage of individuals living with cremains. But we can be sure that those numbers will rise with the growing number of cremations being performed annually.

Keeping Cremation Ashes?

CANA’s most recent annual industry report figures that one-third of people who obtain cremains bury them, one third keep them, and the last third scatter them. Burial is often performed in traditional cemetery settings or along with a tree in a memorial garden or back yard. Scattering ashes can present challenges since states, counties, and cities have disjointed laws about where human ashes may be dispersed.

Two common choices for those who choose to keep ashes are:

  1. display a memorial urn in a place of veneration within the home, or
  2. relegate the ashes to a forgotten shelf in a closet.

It is not uncommon to be at a loss as to what to do with cremation ashes once they are in hand. There are plenty of stories about unexpectedly discovering ashes while cleaning out rental properties and the like.

Accu-Care Cremation, a group of Southern California crematories and funeral homes, conducted a survey to find out what people were doing with cremains after memorial services. One in five respondents said they kept the ashes of a loved one in their home. 85% of survey respondents acknowledged they had arranged a cremation at some point. Accu-Care’s article further states: “Of those storing ashes in their homes, 50 percent say they’re holding on to the ashes of a parent, but a smaller 15 percent say they’ve got the ashes of their spouse stored in their home. The majority of those surveyed said they only had one person’s ashes in their house, about 76 percent, with 24 percent saying they had multiple urns in their home.”

Of the respondents, there are those who kept the ashes to be close to the departed. Only slightly more kept ashes because they didn’t know what to do with them.

With the rising interest in keeping cremains in the home, we may be coming full circle toward ancient practices around honoring ancestors in the household. Indeed, no one would have guessed where the industry was headed fifty years ago, and without a doubt, there will be just as many surprises going forward.

J. Malec is a visual artist and writer whose work often deals with themes related to loss and healing. She lives in Minneapolis, and spends much of her time practicing permaculture in the city.

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