Cremation is not forever: what do you do with the ashes?

cc license jon seb barberDeath is never just one thing, at one place in time. Even cremation is not forever. What you do with the ashes of your beloveds, or how you relate to their burial sites, is a moving point of balance.

I spent almost the entire day out in the gardens today. I’m exhausted, but the good kind of exhausted. I tend to be a perpetual  motion machine in the garden – I don’t stop until my body physically refuses to move another step. I sat down for a few minutes to finish my tea, and one of my cats immediately jumped up in my lap.

I could tell I was getting tired, because as I sat there with him, looking out at the garden beds, I wondered where I’d bury my cats, when the time came to make such decisions.

Road hazard of where I spend my days: death is never far from my mind.

Burials are strange.

Because we had no legal documentation of what Matt wanted done with his body should he die unexpectedly, there was a nasty, bizarre free-for-all in the days after his death (all the more reason you need to make your wishes known!) In the end, I had Matt’s body cremated. Part of his ashes where scattered in a favorite place in the woods, in a ceremony with his mother and some of his siblings. Some went to his son, who had ashes mixed with tattoo ink, his father etched into his left arm.

I scattered some of Matt’s ashes as I drove across the country almost four years ago. (that post is here. Some of his ashes are in a little bag I carry in my car, in the event of spontaneous scattering. The rest are still in a box. The box for his ashes was crafted by a friend back when I couldn’t open the shipping box that contained the box of his body. The wooden, handmade box is the size of the shipping container. It’s huge. What’s left of that body I loved now shares space with artifacts of his life, our life.

What do you do with a box of what remains of the body you've loved? All the answers are strange. Click To Tweet I had a discussion the other day with someone whose husband’s death was just a few months before Matt’s – what do we do with the ashes, several years down the road, in different houses now, different places? What do you do with a box that is too large to tuck away, and too important to just stick anywhere? They aren’t really “decor.”

It’s all so weird.

What we do with our bodies, the vehicles that held love for a short time – such a fraught thing. So loaded. Battles and longing and no right place anywhere. What do you do with a box of the body you’ve loved? Is that stone marker an anchor, a touchstone, or something you pass by, unmoved?  How does your relationship change to the ashes, or the gravestone, the cemetery, or the garden bed? 

As with most things grief, there’s no correct answer about any of this. Just on my mind today.

And a reminder – to the best of your ability, family politics notwithstanding, what you do with ashes that are in your possession is entirely up to you. There’s no right way, there’s no right answer. In a situation where the solution you want – to not have ashes, because your person is alive and well – is not possible, there is only your inner compass of  “what feels right, right now.” Follow that. 


grief support that doesn't suckHow about you? Did you get to choose, or have to choose? What’s your relationship with the place where your beloved’s remains (in whatever form) reside? And have you made decisions for what you want done with your body, when you’re gone? Leave a comment and let us know.