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Story of a Lost Keepsake Cremation Urn

by Maggie Thompson


 Image: "Treasure Box" 


There was no obituary or memorial service. A small keepsake urn was all David had left of his father. The majority of his father’s ashes were scattered in northern Minnesota at a favorite family vacation spot. The cremation urn, engraved with his father’s name and dates, was among items randomly stolen when his condo was burglarized last year. David figured he’d never see the mini keepsake urn again.

Imagine David’s surprise eight months later when he once again held the urn, a little tarnished, but none the worse for wear. Curiously, the small keepsake for ashes surfaced outdoors on the ledge of a neighbor’s apartment building two miles away. Using the inscribed name and dates on the cremation urn, the neighbor located David and his family via social media.

David was delighted with this unexpected discovery and said, “This time, I’ll keep the urn close by. The adventure adds a little character to his urn that I think fits him!”

Mini keepsake urns, and other keepsakes

Though this is indeed an unusual tale of a keepsake urn, it illustrates the intangible value of keepsakes as meaningful cues to the memory of a loved one. A small urn, such as the Aria Ascending Cremation Keepsake, can bring to mind the wealth of emotions and images associated with the relationship. These cues are priceless connections to the deceased.

Many families find it comforting to retain some ashes, choosing from options that reflect their values. Other families prefer an item simply as a concrete way to honor and remember a loved one without an ashes compartment. Cremation keepsakes range in possibilities that include:

  • Cremation keepsakes in ceramic, glass, metal, marble, wood and stone.
  • A themed piece can represent the deceased through images of nature, angels and religion, hobbies, pets, hearts, or patriotic symbols.
  • Styles include small urns, memory lamps, memory boxes, photo frames, candle holders, or ashes embedded into glass art.

Keepsakes are also practical in the more transient society of today - small in size so they can fit many spaces, they are easily transportable, and they are affordable.

Memory lamps as cremation keepsakes

I recently read about two sisters. Catherine lives across the country from where she grew up. It is no longer possible for her to visit the hometown cemetery where her ancestors are buried, or travel to where her parents’ ashes are scattered. Her sister lives in another state. They met to hold a memorial ash scattering service. When I read the story, I thought how touching it might be for each one to have a memory lamp at home, knowing the other shares a similar space of honoring for their parents.

Kelly, a OneWorld Memorials’ customer did just this. She purchased two Tiffany-style cremation keepsake lamps in pink – one for herself, one for her sister. “I truly love the feeling I get when I turn on the lamp. It’s warm and serene. When I’m missing my mom and I turn the light on, it feels like she is with me again, getting me through a rough moment. … My sister loves hers too.”

Memory lamps maintain a warm presence in a bedroom, a hallway, family room, or a kitchen. Rhonda, another customer, keeps her Red Floral cremation keepsake lamp on around the clock.  “This lamp is beautiful … I am using a 6 watt C-lite bulb so I can leave this lamp on 24 hours a day,” she said. The gentle, soft light is comforting through daily comings-goings, and interrupts hurried, or mindless routines to top and remember, or honor, a lost loved one.

My husband and I recently began end-of-life discussions with our adult daughters.  At first, the option of reserving some ashes for a keepsake urn was a very strange idea to them. They wrinkled up their noses and thought it sounded creepy! However, when they browsed online through the variety of lovely urns, memory boxes and memory lamps available, their faces softened.

If they continue to be a bit squeamish about retaining a small amount of ashes, I suggested other keepsake urns that can accommodate a lock of hair or flower petals instead of ashes. Hopefully my daughters will have many more years before making such decisions! But for now, the door has been opened to the range of options available.

*Image by Gary Stanullwich can be found here:

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.