Countless Ways to Care for Cremated Ashes

by Jerri Haaven

Yew Arbour

Image by William Murphy*

Perhaps you’ve considered whether to be cremated or buried. Or, maybe you’re asking the question in relation to a deceased loved one. If you arrive at the choice of cremation, the next question is what to do with cremated remains. 

In a previous blog,  what to expect when receiving cremated ashes, we talked about the initial shock when you receive a call that the cremation remains are ready for pick up. We also discussed the texture, weight, odor, and color of the ashes. Now that the initial shock has passed, and the realization that your loved one is not coming back has taken hold, you might ask, “what next?” 

Traditionally – and historically in the USA – we’ve buried our deceased. And the burial of ashes remains a common choice when cremation has been elected. For me and my brothers, burying ashes of my Dad was important. We also wanted to display keepsake urns in our homes. Cremation urns are so beautifully crafted today that they are a pleasure to admire. 

Many options, in addition to burying cremains, exist as to what to do with cremation ashes. You might be surprised at a few of the ideas listed below.

Memorialize a loved one by

  • storing ashes in a display cremation urn
  • burying ashes in a cemetery or private plot
  • housing in a cremation urn held in a columbarium

Green choices

  • scattering ashes
  • burying ashes with a tree
  • selecting a biodegradable urn
  • the burial of ashes in a coral reef
  • composting ashes

Sharing ashes

  • by storing a small portion in keepsake cremation urns for ashes
  • by giving out cremation jewelry containing small amounts of cremains
  • buying smaller cremation urns to hold half or a third of the ashes

Artisan cremation urns and urns in disguise  

  • urns that don’t look like urns such as embedding ashes in hand-blown glass and paintings 
  • one-of-a-kind handmade cremation urns
  • selecting non traditional urn designs or statuary for ashes

Wearable ideas

  • integrating ashes in tattoos
  • storing ashes in all forms of cremation jewelry

Various funerary designs  

  • ash architecture
  • ash scattering and burial gardens
  • ashes in artificial waterfalls
  • see our blog “Memorials, Cremation Containers, Death & Design” part I and part II

OneWorld Memorials Jadestone Rose Cremation Urn

An urn that doesn't look like an urn
- the Jadestone Rose Cremation Urn

Fantastic ideas to name just a few

  • putting ashes into fireworks for “cremation fireworks”
  • ashes memorialized in a meaningful object such as a Pringles can or a 3D printed object of affection such as a coffee pot.
  • ashes that are shot into space

Unique options for cremated ashes

In my research, I ran across a few interesting stories of what individuals chose to do with their ashes.

  • Gene Roddenberry of "Star Trek" fame, and '60s icon Timothy Leary chose to have their ashes blasted into space, literally, through a company called Celesis.
  • Mark Gruenwald, famed Marvel Comics editor, had his ashes mixed into ink and applied to the first printing of a compilation containing one of his Marvel’s creations.  In a fitting tribute, his widow Catherine wrote, “He remained true to his passion for comics, as he has truly become one with the story and blended himself in the very fiber of the book.”
  • Kim Mordue, a heart-broken mom whose 20-year-old son died, used a portion of his ashes mixed with ink and had three tattoos memorializing him etched onto her back.

And if you are exploring new ideas, did you know that cremated ashes can now be fused into glass cremation keepsakes, stoneware, pottery and more?

Green things to do with a loved one’s ashes

For the environmentally concerned, the area of green burials and green alternatives is growing. You, or your pet, can become one with a tree. You might elect to have ashes placed in a biodegradable urn for land or sea; create a living legacy by having your ashes mixed with environmentally-safe cement that forms an eternal reef designed to create marine habitats for fish and other sea life. The most unusual of these more “green” concepts which is gaining in popularity, if not scrutiny, is to compost yourself. Through a natural decomposing process that takes about 10 days, the deceased is transformed into nutrient-rich compost – suitable to use in your garden.

What about interring ashes 

I recently took a tour of the beautiful grounds of Lakewood Cemetery in Minneapolis. We happened upon a family that had opened a columbarium niche, which held the ashes of their parents in separate urns. I thought it was so great that the family could open the niche at any time to pay respects. There is also the possibility to have both you and your loved one’s ashes kept in a companion urn, keeping you together not only in life – but in death, as well.

Burial urns and burial vaults are popular for those who wish to be buried in a family plot. This provides a final resting place marked with a gravestone.

As you can see, countless options exist. Our planning guides and many blog articles provide detailed information to help you understand the range of choices, and to assist you in making the best decision for you, your loved one – or for a beloved pet.

*Yew Arbour at the entrance to old graveyard can be found here:

Jerri Haaven is a freelance writer, and a certified Grief Recovery Specialist and Celebrant. When caring for her dad, who suffered from dementia and COPD, Jerri struggled with the negative side effects of his illness. She developed positive outlets to express herself and recover from her loss. Today as a certified Grief Recovery Specialist and Celebrant, she uses her skills to help people who are in the midst of their own personal story of grief and loss.

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