Faux Pas, Spirits, and Keeping Cremated Ashes in the Home
by Maggie Thompson
The champagne cork sailed across the room, shattering an urn prominently displayed on the mantel. In horror, all polite conversation ceased. The ashes and broken porcelain crashed in slow motion onto the hearth, drawing the curiosity of the cat who promptly peed in the pile.
As only Hollywood can portray, the shock (and humor) of this scene’s unintended faux pas sets the stage for Meet the Parents. Greg, played by Ben Stiller, had brought the celebratory champagne to dinner in honor of meeting his girlfriend’s parents for the first time. The porcelain cremation urn held the ashes of her father’s beloved mother. Greg’s unfortunate attempts to gain approval failed – at least on this occasion.
I’ve run into people who wonder if it’s bad luck to keep ashes at home. Maybe that depends on whether you believe in spirits, and if they're considered good or bad to have around.
Why families choose to keep ashes in the home
There are countless ways to care for cremated ashes as our previous blog discusses. But many times, cremation ashes are kept at home. Why?
Rob Gutro, an author, paranormal investigator and medium, offers a unique dimension on the topic. “Ashes in urns have a residual energy of the people or pets they once were and when someone who loved them comes near, it gives them energy to come back and visit. The love you shared continues to bind you together. Spirits also help guide and influence us to make decisions that will benefit us.” The movie Chocolat offers a great illustration of Gutro’s point.
In the movie, Vianne and her young daughter Anouk move frequently from place to place with the wind, echoing the transient childhood Vianne had with her South American mother. Vianne carries a pottery urn of her mother’s ashes, wrapped tenderly in a shawl. The urn imparts a strong spiritual presence.
Other reasons for keeping ashes in a home are widely varied.
- It could be a cultural practice. A Chinese family I know has a small shrine in their home for urns. They honor their ancestors with daily offerings of fresh fruit and rice. Other Asian cultures have similar rituals.
- Sometimes keeping ashes at home is simply due to uncertainty, such as unresolved feelings of grief and loss, making it difficult for the survivors to make decisions.
- Conflicting opinions among family members about where to bury or scatter the ashes is another reason. Until the time comes when a consensus is reached, the ashes remain in the home.
- Then there’s personal preference and preplanning. As told on TheGuardian.com, Bob Champion of Somerset, England, says that his wife’s ashes rest in a double wooden urn that sits atop their bed’s headboard just above where she slept. To a casual observer, the urn seems unobtrusive, looking much like a jewelry box or part of the furniture. When he dies, his ashes will be mixed with his wife’s ashes in the companion urn.
- And, then there’s the possibility of a tangible connection to the spirit who may want to be in touch!
Though unlikely to happen anywhere but on the screen, the Meet the Parents scene with the crashing cremation urn brings up practical concerns of keeping cremated ashes in the home. Where will the urn be placed?
- Will it be in a protected area such as on a bookshelf or in a bedroom? A ceramic piece such as the parade elephant cremation urn, or a glass piece such as the red rose stained glass cremation urn could be an appropriate choice. And the urn would be protected.
- Will the urn be in a high-traffic area of the house, sitting out on a table or mantel, where there could be risk of accidental damage? In this case, a metal or wooden urn with a tight lid might be preferable.
Are there consequences to keeping ashes at home?
If ashes are kept in the home and then you move, is it necessary to disclose this in an Agreement of Sale? My research says no. Additionally, the Paranormal Society says any spirits related to the survivors, will “move” with them rather than staying in a house in which the family no longer resides.
However, if a house is alleged to be haunted with sightings of ghosts, written disclosure is recommended. Regulations on this vary from state to state. Interestingly, a survey by Realtor.com revealed that 26% of buyers would buy a haunted house, 36% said they might purchase such a property, and 38% said no way. But of the 26%, most said that if they saw levitating objects, it would be a deal breaker!
Maggie Shopen Thompson, MFA, is a freelance writer and writing workshop facilitator in Montpelier, Vermont. She has had experience as a caregiver for her mother many years ago, and for her husband and daughter during their recent cancer treatments and recoveries. She is a contributing author/artist in Healing Art & Writing – using creativity to meet illness, curated and edited by Patricia Fontaine, published in August 2016.