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What to do with cremation ashes?

Tuesday, 4 April 2017

Nearly three-quarters of Quebecers choose cremation. But when the deceased hasn’t left specific instructions, you will inevitably have to decide what to do with their ashes after cremation. Should you keep them or disperse them?

Spreading the Ashes

Currently, there is no regulation about dispersing ashes in Quebec other than it is inappropriate to choose “a location where they could constitute a nuisance, or in a manner that disrespects the deceased person’s dignity”. In other words, loved ones can keep the ashes and disperse them freely.

There are two common reasons for choosing to spread the ashes:

  • The deceased enjoyed nature. In this case, it seems natural to spread their ashes along the edge of a river or on top of a mountain.
  • The departed was particularly fond of a certain place. Even if they did not clearly express their wishes, we can assume that this place is ideal for what can be considered as their final resting place.

In order to be successful, the ritual must be experienced in a small group and the ashes dispersed after careful preparation. For example, to spread ashes into the wind, everyone should be standing in the opposite direction as the wind so that the ashes do not blow onto the bereaved. As for dispersing them into water, you should choose a place with some current, as ashes will float a long time on the surface before sinking.

Keeping the Urn

If dispersing the ashes creates a heavy emotional burden, keeping them can be just as emotionally heavy to bear. In fact, by keeping them, it complicates the process of overcoming grief that is normally done by a symbolic separation between the world of the living and the world of the dead. Keeping the urn containing the deceased’s ashes may also make children or a new spouse uncomfortable. On the other hand, having the ashes nearby often helps to feel the deceased’s presence and to postpone the real separation.

So, where can the urn be placed?

  • Inside the home: Picking a location for the ashes is the bereaved’s choice, and anywhere is possible provided that the place reminds you of the dearly departed, that it is suitable for the bereaved and that the urn won’t be exposed to the risk of breakage. It can be displayed in a living room or on a nightstand, for example, but it is important that everyone in the household is comfortable with the deceased’s presence.
  • Outside the home: The urn can be placed in a garden or under a tree. However, you should consider what would happen if ever you had to move, keeping in mind that exhuming the urn could be another emotional moment.
  • In a niche, columbarium or in a cemetery: This solution is often more comfortable than keeping the urn at home. If placed in a good location for gathering, loved ones and community members can visit the ashes at any time to pay their respects to the deceased.

Spreading the ashes or keeping them is a personal choice. If the deceased did not leave any specific instructions, loved ones must make the decision. The most important thing is to feel comfortable, take responsibility for your choices, and avoid artificially maintaining a relationship that no longer exists as it could compromise the grieving process.