WARNING: If you're squeamish about the topic of cremation, kindly watch a cat video on YouTube rather than read this post. Seriously.
Okay, now that we've weeded out the faint of heart, I want to talk about the popular topic of cremating loved ones. I should state for the record that I aspire to one day being cremated and ending up in a columbarium or memorial garden to be named later. Also, I aspire to become the oft-maligned "dead white male" but that's another issue.
Today I want to write about two things in particular -- one trend I'm not entirely comfortable with and one industry practice that surprised me.
Occasionally I'm asked to divide up ashes for family members. This isn't as macabre as it sounds, at least for someone who is used to dealing with death and dying. Ashes are typically delivered by the funeral home after they have received them from the crematorium. They arrive in a plastic bag inside either a cardboard or plastic box and are heavier than you might imagine -- ashes for the average adult weigh between five and nine pounds.
|Titian: Noli Me Tangere|
But back to the dividing of ashes. Like the fake word "cremains," I don't like it. I always do it, generally for pastoral reasons, but personally I know I'd like to be kept in one place when I'm a pile of ashes. It's not a theological issue -- God can sort out and reassemble ashes whenever the time comes. I'm not worried about that.
I do worry about the effect on the grieving process for family members who insist on taking some ashes for a locket or a bracelet or to place on the mantle. In John's gospel (20:17), after the resurrection Jesus says to Mary Magdalene as he departs, "Do not hold on to me." Or, in Latin, noli me tangere (literally "touch me not)." There's good reason for this not just because Jesus has elsewhere to go but because we need to let our loved ones go to their glory.
They live on in our hearts, our minds, our souls, our actions, and our lives but we have to free them for the journey home. It's difficult to do that when they're literally around your neck. Please, let them go.
I've been thinking about this because I recently found a bent screw in a pile of ashes. I thought that was bizarre since the deceased was not a robot. So I called the funeral director to ask him about it -- they don't do the cremations themselves since by state law they can't.
So he told me that when they do cremations they include the casket. I had no idea! Then they use powerful magnets to pick up any metal that might be mixed in. This particular screw slipped through. He also said they do the cremations with the caskets not just for "dignity" reasons but because without a casket in the mix there are a lot fewer ashes. This implies that without the casket human ashes alone would be too skimpy. Perhaps you knew all this. Again, I had no idea! And I'd also be fine with fewer ashes to bury.
So there are my cremation thoughts for the day. Enjoy the upcoming holiday weekend and try to stay on the earthly side of the grave over the next few days.