Questions I get asked: what to do with my parent’s ashes?
I was asked this question recently by someone trying to figure out what to do with the ashes of their father, and it’s not an uncommon question when people have lost a parent. To some there is an obvious answer, an obvious place to scatter or keep the ashes e.g. where your parent had identified they’d like their ashes to go, or a place where other family ashes have been spread….but to a lot of other people this can be a tricky thing to decide. These days there are all sorts of things you can do with the ashes of people you have lost so I thought I’d make a list here of not just the traditional ideas but also some of the more weird and wonderful, just so you know your options.
The more traditional options
Spreading the ashes – somewhere that was meaningful to them or to you (or to both). This might be a park, a beach they liked, or a spot in the garden. You could scatter their ashes in their favourite spot under a tree out the back of the house – just keep in mind when spreading ashes if it is somewhere you’ll still have access to later, if that is important to you e.g. if it’s in your garden and you move house.
Just a note with spreading ash – be particularly mindful of the wind speed and direction. Keep your mouth closed when scattering the ashes and wash your hands before lunch. I’m not being crass. I have learnt the hard way!
Technically you are not supposed to just scatter willy-nilly wherever you like….but if no-one saw you doing this wherever you might happen to do it….well……..I’m not suggesting anything….I’m just saying….. (I read that one of the greatest nuisances in caring for Jane Austen’s house is people constantly trying to sneakily spread ashes there.) Also there are environmental considerations so if this concerns you do some research first.
Keeping the ashes – you don’t have to spread them if you don’t want to. If you’d rather have them in a nice box or urn or even a portrait urn in the house then that’s fine. It is totally up to you and there are no rules here. If you are more comfortable with this then do it. Just keep in mind that while the ashes are important to you they probably won’t be to future generations. You’re kids probably won’t want to keep the ashes and their kids definitely won’t. So at some point in the future you will need to consider choosing the above or any of the below options.
Burying the ashes in a memorial garden, cemetery, or private (or public) place of your choosing – as with spreading ashes consider where you are doing this, whether you’ll want to be able to go back there, the environmental impact, and chance of getting caught (if it’s not somewhere you should be).
Leaving them at the crematorium – this may not sound like an option and no funeral director will probably ever suggest this but I’ve seen it done. A lot. Not everyone attaches value and meaning to ashes. If the ashes themselves don’t hold any meaning at all for you, no matter what anyone says about what you ‘must’ do and what would be ‘respectful’, if you don’t want/need the ashes you don’t have to have them. There is a period of time a crematorium will hold on to ashes before they dispose of them. I don’t think there is anything wrong with this at all if you have no interest in having them and if they don’t hold meaning for you.
Now those are some of the more traditional ways to deal with ashes. How about someone of the……..
Modern and sometimes wacky options
- Have them turned into a diamond or a crystal
- Have them mixed with glass and made into an ornament or pendant
- Keep some ash in a locket, pendant or ring
- Use them to create a glaze for a piece of ceramic. Apparently the traces of metal oxides in our bodies make for a lovely glaze
- Mix them with clay or concrete and make something – a path, a wall, a house……
- Use the ashes to create a piece of sculpture
- Mix some with paint and paint something yourself– or commission an artist
- Have them pressed into a vinyl record which will play your or their favourite tune
- Scatter them in the air from a hot air balloon or a light plane
- Scatter them at sea
- Fire them out of shotgun cartridges
- Fire them into space (I have a friend who has this planned for herself)
- Have them made into a beautiful firework display
There are absolutely no fixed rules here and don’t let anyone tell you what you can/can’t or must/mustn’t do. If you want nothing to do with the ashes…or you want to turn them into a statue for the garden…that’s your prerogative. From what I have read, in terms of creative things you can do with the ashes of your parent, the only limit is your imagination.
Feel free to comment here. I’d love to hear what kind of things you have done or heard of being done with ashes.