OneWorld Memorials Offers Advice on What to do with Ashes
by Maggie Thompson
Losing a loved one is always difficult. Perhaps the most difficult part about loss is that it is different for everyone, so there is no clear set of steps for moving through grief. After a loved one has died, you have several different options of how to honor and inter the remains. The choice you make will be based on the final wishes of the deceased and their religious practices. A lot of people choose to be cremated.
Cremation is an ancient practice found in cultures around the world with many meanings and rituals attached to it. Besides its spiritual connotations, cremation can allow a grieving family the luxury of time to decide how to proceed with their loved one’s remains. No matter what you decide, it’s the right decision.
Deciding What to do With a Loved One
It is not uncommon for families to be uncertain about where or how to display, bury or scatter the ashes of a loved one. When there is no rush to decide, the approach of simply putting the cremains in a closet “for now” seems like the easiest choice. This indecisiveness springs from understandable emotions or circumstances, such as:
- A desire for all surviving family members to come to consensus
- Logistics that delay the opportunity for a formal family gathering to bury or scatter the ashes
- Personal beliefs that the essence of the loved one is gone, so the ashes have little personal significance
- A resistance to making further plans coupled with a strong desire to keep the cremains nearby because the survivors are not ready for a more final step
Sometimes, the delay stems from being overwhelmed by the fact that there are countless ways to care for cremation ashes. But what happens when months, years or even generations go by, and the ashes remain in the closet? This isn’t helpful to you or your loved one. It could also potentially cause more stress and grief.
Learning about how others have dealt with (or avoided dealing with) the disposition of cremains can help lessen the sense of frustration and overwhelming emotions. Find connection in these tales from real people, guidance from spiritual experts on understanding energy and options for creating your own sense of peace through the gift of time that cremation can offer.
A Tale of Two Closets: Feeling Energy Connected to Cremation Ashes at Home
If you’re wondering, is keeping ashes in the home demonic, that will depend on what you believe. In an unusual example, psychic medium Lisa Guttierez-Haley relates her story on Psychic-Experiences.com. Lisa was contacted by an exasperated family. They had been experiencing strange paranormal activity in their home: images of people walking by, a strong sense of aggression and feelings of bad energy in the house.
You may be asking: Is there energy in cremated ashes? Perhaps. Lisa reported that a pervasive, overwhelming meanness was coming from an elderly female spirit, dominating an elderly male spirit. This energy was strongest by the closet. When the family opened the door, they found two boxes of ashes on a shelf containing cremains of the wife’s great grandparents. Lisa advised removing the ashes from the house right away. The husband did so and immediately felt that the air had lifted.
However, Lisa felt more spirits in the house. In another closet, they found two more boxes of cremains, those of the wife’s grandparents, who evoked a gentler presence of love. Lisa deemed it was okay to leave these boxes in the closet because the spirits were not causing negativity for the surviving family.
Basement vs. Altar: Waiting Too Long to Make a Decision
When Gail and Arthur were making repairs in the basement of their family’s beloved summer home, they found an old coffee can tucked away on a back shelf. Expecting to find an assortment of nails, nuts and bolts, they opened it only to realize it contained cremains sealed in a plastic bag. Running through a mental list of deceased grandparents, parents, aunts and uncles, the couple sadly had no idea whose remains they might be.
In another story, this blog’s author came upon a small locked door on the back of the free-standing altar in her church. Behind the door were several containers of cremains. This area was not a columbarium but rather an unofficial holding spot intended to allow families time to decide what they wanted to do with the cremains of loved ones.
One box had been there 12 years, another for eight. The most recent had been there two weeks, with plans for burial in the church’s memorial garden the following month. Some cremains had been there for so long that no one knew who the remaining family members of the deceased were or how to contact them.
These stories illustrate that while cremation offers time to grieve, a decision must be made eventually to honor the memory contained in cremains. If you’re wondering, is it bad luck to keep ashes at home, that depends on how you view the situation. In both of these scenarios, nothing “bad” happened, but someone’s loved ones were tucked away and forgotten.
Does Cremation Sever Your Connection to Your Loved One?
This question is a relevant one for anyone considering cremation as an option, and you might also be wondering: Can spirits follow their ashes? Jaime Licauco is a Pilipino expert on mysticism and the paranormal who has been researching, teaching and writing on esoteric knowledge for 35 years. He has written numerous books and articles on our connection with a higher consciousness and responded to questions like this in his article on the Inquirer.net Lifestyles page. Here is what Licauco says:
When a person dies, their psychic connection with loved ones is not immediately severed. It can remain for a long time. Because of this, their energy can still be felt by the living. In truth, the dead never leave us but are in another dimension of existence. There’s nothing wrong with keeping a loved one’s ashes in the house.
Options for Respectfully Dealing with Cremation Ashes
If you have a loved one’s ashes in a closet, what can be done with them? Here are some options for remaining respectful to both your memories and your family’s diverse needs, especially if family members want to keep the ashes at home.
- Traditional options: Memorial urns designed for display are an excellent aesthetic option for holding ashes in the house. They come in a variety of designs made from ceramic, glass, marble, stone, metal and wood. Smaller keepsake urns and jewelry pendant urns that hold a nominal amount of ashes are also satisfying choices for sharing cremains among family members.
- Scattering solutions: A garden, a forest and a body of water are meaningful places for scattering ashes. Although not always necessary, scattering urns are available to use during a ceremony before releasing the remains into nature. It is perfectly acceptable to keep a portion of ashes separately in a keepsake urn or ash pendant. Simply remove that portion before scattering the rest.
When it comes to wondering what to do with a loved ones ashes, for those interested in less traditional ways of honoring a loved one’s memory, think-outside-the-cremation-urn options abound:
- Having ashes blown into glass, such as a vase, paperweight or distinctive glass cremation keepsakes, offers a beautiful alternative to a somber urn.
- Scattering ashes at the edge of space allows both children and adults to feel their loved one always watching over them.
- Incorporating ash into a diamond gemstone provides a very personal piece of jewelry as a daily reminder of your loved one.
- Mixing ash with paint for a portrait of the deceased can yield immense comfort.
Cremation offers the benefit of time. There is usually no urgency to decide what to do with the ashes. This allows families time to make plans and to grieve in whatever way suits them. Cremation is an option that offers that space. Keeping ashes in the home can be a comforting and meaningful way to still feel connected to a loved one for many people. The key point to remember is that you decide what feels right for you; there is no right or wrong way to grieve.
Maggie Shopen Thompson, MFA, is a freelance writer and writing workshop facilitator in Montpelier, Vermont. 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.