The Wide (and Wild) World of Cremation Urns

By Ira Woods

Computer screen with many cremation urns

Buying a cremation urn should be simple, right? If you have never done it before, you might be in for a surprise. There are thousands of cremation urns to choose from with different purposes, styles, colors, designs, themes and composition materials. There are numerous genres ranging from high end artists with urns selling for tens of thousands of dollars to the equivalent of low end five-and-dime outlets selling urns for less than a pack of smokes.

Imagine this: You’ve lost a loved one who had asked to be cremated. You have been told the ashes will be ready for pick up in a week. The funeral home or crematory tells you they will provide a temporary urn if you don’t have one. They unceremoniously show you a soulless plastic box in a sad shade of brown: “Here is your temporary urn”.

The funeral home takes you to their display area to consider the several urns they stock. You reel at the price tags.   Some are on par with the cost of a low end casket; you don’t want the cheapest one because, frankly, you couldn’t live with yourself. Even though you know the ashes in the urn won’t care about their dwelling, your desire to do something dignified for your loved one is stronger. On top of all this you are in grief and can barely think straight. After you balk and gasp over the prices the funeral representative recommends you look online to find something in your budget.

When you get home, you type “cremation urns” into Google and get 2.5 million results. You don’t have the energy to panic, anyway there are plenty of options on the first page. Something good must be available on page 1 - It’s just an urn after all.

You click the biggest ad and come to a site that looks like a big box urn store that just exploded online. In front of you is a dizzying array of products;  weeping angels, a 3D printed head of President Obama, a football shaped urn….... Banners flash on the site screeching “Labor Day sale! Only one hour and 30 minutes left to save 15%!!”. You click on the menu on the left hand corner, and see a massive list that seems to include every element in Nature: Brass, titanium, glass, magnesium, uranium…  The category list is so long it takes several minutes to scroll to the end. Does this really have to be so complicated?  You just need an urn-and fast. You hadn’t even considered what it should be made of. What’s wrong with a good old fashioned metal urn?

You click on a product that catches your eye, a simple but elegant looking ash container, and come to the product page. Options abound; you can add engraving for additional pricing, supplement your order with “memorial keepsakes” in varying quantities, add on a base, add on a this and add on a that. To make matters worse, a small emblem on the page states that the urn size is 140 cubic inches. You have no idea what this means. The description states that the urn is suitable for a person weighing 140 pounds. Your spouse weighed 185. No wonder this urn is so inexpensive.

You’re getting a migraine.

Then there’s the engraving. You like the idea of putting your loved one’s name on the urn but now you need to choose from 20 fonts and come up with what you are going to write. You haven’t a clue.  “Rest in Peace?” “Loving Husband, Devoted Father, Successful Businessman?” Or, should it be more specific, like, “John honorably served his country?” Or something personal and perhaps a shade irreverent, such as, “Another twenty years and he may have made a hole in one?”

You notice a section on the page with suggested poems and epithets, and it captures your imagination - until you’ve scrolled down and read the forty-sixth example. At that point you realize you’d better get back on task.  Now that you’ve gotten into the creative process you feel yourself beginning to relax. You focus on your purpose: To choose a customized container that will hold the remains in a way that honors the deceased.

You’re getting somewhere. Of course, you’re going on Hour Three, and there are lots of other arrangements to make. And that doesn’t even take into account the consideration of the “recommended products” cycling on the page showing scattering urns, biodegradable green urns, and the out of the box innovations like having an urn made off a 3D printer that looks like your loved one’s head.

Who knew this was such a production? With throbbing brain and waves of debilitating grief, you now flash on the other 2.5 million Google results. Time for a nap. Maybe the funeral home was a better option after all, at least they made it simple. Simple now seems worth the extra hundreds of dollars.

Does this seem farfetched? It’s not. At OneWorld Memorials, we often take calls from people who have reached the end of their rope with the search for the “perfect urn”. What we’ve learned is that unless someone has gone through this before, the abundance of memorial products relating to cremation is confusing and overwhelming. The number of suppliers on line is vast. You can even get an urn on Amazon or Walmart.

How can we help? One thing we’ve learned from witnessing our customers struggle is that education goes a long way. Just starting with a practical question, “What do you want to do with what you choose?”  (meaning: Are you planning to display the urn in your home? Use it to scatter ashes? Divide up the ashes between different people? Choose an urn of ample size to be used as a companion urn down the road?  And dozens of other considerations) is critical. Answering those questions simplifies the decision making process.

Here are two important resources to help you begin:

1) The Four Questions to Ask When Buying a Cremation Urn.

2) The Wide World of Cremation Urns Infographic (see it below).
Wild World of Cremation Urns Info-Graphic

Ira Woods is the president and founder of OneWorld Memorials. He had become the primary caregiver for his spouse who discovered she had cancer in 2009. His experience caregiving and then losing someone he deeply loved caused him to reach out and encourage others to prepare for this eventuality through writing and speaking engagements.

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