I’ve been working with a family this week that has a very common question that I have yet to dedicate a full blog post to answering.
What happens when you don’t want to “burden” your family with the obligation of disposing of your cremated remains?
In modern history, cremation has been associated with “not fussing” with all of the trappings of the traditional, expensive funeral services. This minimalist and less expensive option that families are choosing in droves has a dark side – what do you do with the remains once you’re done not fussing? How are you supposed to honor dad’s wishes? The remains aren’t just a representation of dad, it’s all that’s left of dad. There’s no way as a family member you will ever feel comfortable with your decision – unless: you’re given instruction. The upside of giving guidance is that it makes handling your remains an act that people can fuss over, so that they can heal.
I can’t tell you what to do, but what I can tell you is that you need to be more creative than the box of bones. You bucked tradition when you selected cremation over traditional burial. Now buck the notion of a Grecian urn buried in a cemetery.
The two biggest things that make cremation a preferred method of disposition in the 21st century are: practicality and creativity. Practically, the remains don’t require a decision right away – this week or month. And cremated remains can be divided, not into two portions, but dozens, or hundreds of portions. This means that there are limitless creative things that you can have your family do with them. And while you need to check with state and local laws about scattering, there are WAY less restrictions than you think.
So just to get you thinking for some personal instructions that you can give to your family:
- Portion into 60 portions and make it a game for your family that they need to scatter a bit of you in all 50 U.S. States and 10 Canadian Provinces. Go big and make it 68 and include both country’s territories!
- Pick your favorite hike or campsite and tell them to make a camping weekend out of the scattering on the first anniversary of your passing.
- If your family has a potter, have your remains mixed into clay and made into dishes.
- Give your family instructions to use your remains in an art project of their choosing. Painting, woodworking, glass blowing, drawing, metalwork, even knitting – if someone has a passion for a media, they will have something genius that is fitting for a portion of your remains. Little portions can be given to everyone to make into wonderful projects.
- Find a local setting that is fitting for you – something quintessential for where you grew up, live, etc. For example, in Seattle, Mt. Rainier is probably the largest unofficial cemeteries in the world. Puget Sound has a fabulous service from the Washington State Ferries that allows you do a scattering service mid crossing. We’re lucky here. Is there something like this in your hometown?
- Is your childhood home still in the family? Dig a hole, place the remains (no urn) and plant an indigenous tree in the backyard.
- Give instructions that are specific to a memory that you’ve had with each family for a place of scattering – the vacation you took with your niece to the Oregon coast, the trip to Vegas with your brother, the European cruise with your aunt. Give them a portion to scatter that will heal them with a fabulous memory.
- If your family isn’t going to be comfortable with such non-traditional options, then take care of every last detail – find a cremation space in a local cemetery and let them know that you’ve taken care of everything and that the funeral home will deliver the ashes to the cemetery.
There are no right ways, and there are very few wrong ways. Just because I brought it up, examples of WRONG WAYS:
- Aerial scattering over stadiums (jail time)
- Scattering without permits (some local laws require them)
- Scattering or burying on private property without permission (trespassing)
- Dumping remains on the grave of a loved one at a cemetery because you don’t want to pay. (You may be contacted for the interment right fees. This is a big no-no.)
- Anything at Disney parks. (even if it were okay, no one is so hated that they should have to spend eternity in It’s a Small World)
I’m one for pushing the creativity and boundaries of “right way/wrong way” but do your family a favor and don’t give them instructions that are going to put them in danger or get them in trouble.
With that, I say, go forth and come up with something creative for them to do with you. It wouldn’t be a blog post from me if I didn’t tell you that the takeaway was more communication with your family. Talk with the people that you love. And remember, these are the people that love you more than you will probably ever know. You aren’t “burdening” them if you give them instructions on how to honor you. Burdening is leaving a box of remains that they don’t know what to do with. Giving them a path to walk with your mortal remains is liberation to heal and honor you.