How to respectfully dispose of unwanted ashes

  • By William Hageman Chicago Tribune
  • Monday, February 25, 2013 4:08pm
  • Life

When Uncle Leo was alive, he’d come to the house, park himself in a chair with a drink and hang around until you told him it was time to go.

Uncle Leo is now long deceased, but he’s still sitting in your living room, his cremated remains in an urn collecting dust on a shelf.

People end up with unwanted remains for a variety of reasons. Perhaps they inherited them from other relatives, or accepted them out of a sense of family duty.

But then one day you decide that Uncle Leo has to go. Maybe you’re gearing up for spring cleaning. But unlike Christmas 1992, you can’t just call a cab and hustle him out the door. You need to figure out what to do with the old boy’s ashes.

“Our members get these kinds of questions all the time,” says Barbara Kemmis, executive director of the Cremation Association of North America (cremationassociation.org), a trade group with more than 1,500 members. “People have the cremated remains of three or four relatives and aren’t sure what they should do or what they can do.”

The obvious solution would be to spread the ashes somewhere. There are restrictions on that:You need permission to scatter on private property, and some locations, such as state parks, are reluctant to approve scatterings.

“Even if you didn’t know the relative well, but want to do something meaningful, you want to do right by them, you should memorialize them in a dignified way,” Kemmis says.

The best way to do that is through some sort of service. And one way to do that is through a cemetery: burial or dispersing the ashes on the property.

“There’s another service where you can have remains incorporated into a structure that has been put in place in Florida to help restore coral reefs,” Kemmis says. “Your remains become part of a coral reef.”

There are still other solutions:

Family jewels: Several companies turn cremated remains of people or pets into jewelry, using the carbon in the ashes as the basis for diamonds or crystals. Among them are LifeGem (lifegem.com), Heart In Diamond (heart-in-diamond.com), New Life Diamonds and Gems (newlifediamonds.com) and Phoenix-Diamonds (phoenix-diamonds.com). Other companies can put the remains in glass paperweights or jewelry.

“(Don’t Fear) The Reaper”: And Vinyl (andvinyly.com) will take human ashes and make them part of a vinyl record. The company will press up to 30 records per order. You can have Uncle Leo’s favorite songs put on the record — you get 12 minutes on each side.

Or if you want to plan ahead, make a recording of yourself telling stories or relating your life history that can be put on a record after you’ve passed.

Space: Send your relative’s ashes into space via Celestis (celestis.com). The company takes a small amount of a person’s remains and fires them off via commercial space launch services. The remains can go into Earth orbit, to the lunar surface or deep space.

Fire! Angels Flight (angels-flight.net) is a company that places cremated remains into fireworks shells and shoots them off at oceanfront or lakeside ceremonies.

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