New York State Funeral Directors Association

There’s a lot written online about ways to manage the ashes of a loved one who has been cremated.

It’s enough information, really, to make you dizzy.

Articles on the topic often include numbers in them – a dozen ways to sprinkle a loved one’s ashes, ten interesting places people have spread ashes, 15 unique containers to hold ashes, seven new pieces of jewelry to store ashes, eight wonderful tattoos made with a loved one’s ashes … and so on.

Cremation is growing in popularity.

And growing just as quickly are ideas and articles about the many different ways to carry, store, hold, share and display the ashes of a loved one.

I’m starting to think the simpler, the better.

It’s easy to say “to each his own.” Folks will ultimately figure out what they want to do with their loved-one’s ashes.

But some people bring the remains of their loved ones home and, eventually, wonder if they did the right thing.

Or the ashes get lost or stolen or destroyed in a flood or fire and they’re gone forever.

Leaving ashes on the mantel or a special shelf in the home works for some people.

There are times, however, when it’s not a good idea to have a loved one’s final remains at home. There are risks involved.

And, holding a loved one’s ashes at home to one’s self doesn’t do much for the other people who might want a place to go where the loved ones’ remains are so they can sit and contemplate memories and confront their own grief.

I got to thinking about this the other week after I attended an All Souls Day service held at a Roman Catholic Cemetery near Albany, NY.

It was a small but meaningful assembly – and a fitting one for the day Catholics recognize as “All Souls Day.”

It’s a day Catholics earmark to pray for everyone who has died.

About 15 people gathered in the American Saints Community Mausoleum at St. Agnes Cemetery in Menands, for the service dedicated to the cremated remains of three people who were to be buried – or inurned, the term is – in the mausoleum.

Albany Diocesan Cemeteries holds this function each year, offering to inurn cremated remains of Catholics in the mausoleum. I’ll bet the other dioceses do the same.

I was told there were 15 urns at this service the year before.

Roman Catholics aren’t opposed to cremation. But if I understand the faith community accurately, they believe the ashes of a person should be treated with the same reverence and respect bestowed on a body.

People don’t keep their loved ones’ bodies at home or place them on a mantel – so the Roman Catholics urge their faithful to consider different, more-respectful places to put a loved one’s ashes.

There’s an added benefit to burial or inurnment – people go to cemeteries to pray for the dead – so if your remains happen to be there, I suppose you’ll get a bit of that prayer aimed your way, too.

The service at St. Agnes cemetery was much like a funeral.

People attending the function were obviously sad, so it’s likely their loved ones had passed away recently.

Three containers holding ashes were set on a table and those in the gathering prayed under the direction of a deacon officiating the service.

It’s an act Deacon Jim O’Rourke described as an obligation of Catholic faithful.

O’Rourke said All Souls Day is dedicated to helping the departed get into Heaven.

Saints – people honored on All Saints Day – are believed to make it right into Heaven.

But the souls of other faithful may not necessarily be pure enough to warrant entry into Heaven, he said.

So the more people on Earth pray for the departed, the better chance they have of making it into Heaven.

There are a growing number of things people are doing with loved ones’ ashes – either because of the deceased’s wishes or because no plans were made.

Remote storage options, I’ll call them, have consequences.

These remote options include adding ashes to fireworks, sending them into orbit, launching them onto the surface of the moon and scattering them – whether in the ocean or at a public park.

One consequence – whether intended or not – is that these options leave other people without a place to go and remember, reminisce and express their love for that person who passed away.

Once ashes are sprinkled into the ocean or other water body, they travel in the current and dissipate.

Doing this doesn’t provide for a single location for family and friends to go and pay their respects.

Sometimes people no longer want to store these ashes at home, where there is a risk of loss due to theft or fire or some other disaster.

Many mausoleums, though often thought of as a place to bury coffins, include niches that are developed specifically for urns with ashes.

A columbarium is like a mausoleum, but it is used specifically for permanent storage and memorialization of cremation urns.

Gardens are also being established at cemeteries for the permanent burial of cremation urns, too.

There are headstones nowadays that have spaces inside them where you can place your loved one’s urn.

There is a “community,” in a sense, of the deceased at a cemetery site like a mausoleum or columbarium.

And, for those considering options, you can bury a loved one’s ashes in a grave site with a headstone, in a cemetery not far from home.

It’s a simple and not-too-unique and quirky option that might relieve people of wondering what to do or worrying about what could happen when remains are left at home.

EdsPhotoEdward Munger Jr.
Communications & Social Media Specialist
NYS Funeral Directors Association