Friday, April 11, 2008

What to do with the ashes?

This letter was posted in response to one of my blogs, so I'm moving it here and I'm hoping that some of you who have cremated your loved one can help. Jeff was not cremated (although after the fact, months later, I remembered a very brief comment he said about 'maybe' wanting to be cremated...I can't remember!!! See, we always go through feelings of guilt about many things.

Here is the letter:

I'm 38 yrs old. My name is Cathy. My kids are 9, almost 6 and 2 (all boys). we lost their dad on October 26th. He was in a plane crash in British Columbia. He was on his way home with his dad after completing the final stage of his architectural exams and he became a registered architect that day. I am 5.5 months out and I just spent 2 weeks with them at spring break. The weirdest moments bring up issues for them. My 9 year old is obsessed with the fact that we cremated his dad. I am having a difficult time with that because I keep repeating that this is what his dad wanted. I haven't told them that their dad's remains are in my BEDROOM! I can't imagine. I am looking for ideas about memorials and what to do with the ashes. I don't want to spread them, I don't want to really part with them.. so I don't know what to do. any help would be great.

Dear Cathy,
First, I'm so sorry for your loss and I'm glad you found my site. I hope it has helped you a bit. Of course, when it comes to our children, we need to give them information they can handle at their age. If your son is obsessed with the cremation, it might not be the best time to show him where the remains are. However, depending on how he is obsessing, it might help him to know more about it. I remember when my dad died when I was a kid, I obsessed quietly in my mind about the body -- what happened to it, what was going on under ground, etc. I'm thinking if I talked to my mom about it, she might've answered my questions and put some of my fears at ease. Again, it depends on what you feel is best for your son.

I'm not sure how to do a memorial with ashes, so I'm turning this over to our readers and hope they can add some input. My thoughts -- first, you may want to include your children in on this special event. They'll always have a memory of what they did for Daddy. Second, it does depend on the laws of where ashes are allowed to be scattered, but is there something special that your husband loved to do? A special place he loved to be? That might help you think about what to do. You can invite friends, family, coworkers to help you or it can be an intimate thing for you and the kids -- what do you feel up to doing?

I also found this link -- it might help you.

Most importantly, please know that you can take your time and figure this all out. Don't let anyone rush you into making decisions.

Thanks for writing and please keep in touch and let us know how you are doing.

P.S. I am sending you the book What on earth to do when someone dies? book for posting a comment. I hope it helps.


P.S.: Like this blog? Please vote for it for the Blogger Choice Awards -- You do have to sign up for a free account to vote, but I would greatly appreciate it. The more exposure this site gets, the more it can help other widows/widowers. Thank you.


Cathy said...

I wanted to thank you for the book.
I had some books in the beginning, but didn't really digest their message and now they are all back to the library etc. So I look forward to reading it.
One thing we are doing on Dave's birthday is going for a family bike ride, as we did this last June with his family. It is going to be hard, but in a strange way, I might look forward to marking it? We are going to end up at a Brew Pub nearby that Dave enjoyed. Ironically, the Brew Pub is in an old airplane hanger..
I went to the website about cremation and scattering, my problem (if it is a aproblem) is that I don't (right now) want to scatter. I want to do some thing else - for now we will start with the bike ride in his memory. This all still just shocks me that I am dealing with it all.

Marcella Fox said...

Lisa, thank you for this interesting blog. It was mentioned on the blog Final Embrace, and I look forward to checking out your past posts. But first, a response to this post:

Hello, Cathy –

The death of your husband on a day of such triumph and promise just bowls me over. I can’t begin to imagine how painful that must have been for you.

I applaud you for reaching out for help. I’d like to offer some ideas, based on my training and experience working with grieving children and teens, and my current work as a Certified Funeral Celebrant. Please just disregard them if they’re off base for your situation.

First, I wonder what’s in your son’s mind when he expresses his concern that his dad was cremated. At his age, I’m guessing it might be more about him than about your husband’s wishes. And I also think it’s something that can’t be solved with a rational answer. You might want to check out this short webpage on kids and grief at

Yes, I’m biased, but I highly recommend that parents of grieving children find a bereavement support program for their children. The people who lead these programs are used to explaining things like cremation in neutral terms, and at getting at what’s below the surface. You should be able to find such a program through your local hospice or hospital. Another benefit is that, by meeting with others their age, all your sons could ease the feeling that they are the only kids in the world whose father died.

Your bike ride sounds excellent! It may bring up some sadness, but it will surely be full of good memories also. And, most importantly, it will give each of you a chance to talk about your husband – your sons’ father – in the context of something you all did together.

If you’re interested in some kind of ceremony, feel free to take a look at:, and click on Belated Goodbye for some ideas. These can be created for the immediate family, for extended family, or for anyone who knew your husband. If there was no ceremony when he died, I can promise you that there are many people who would be helped by having a time and place to express how much he meant to them.

There are many ways to keep Dave’s ashes. My favorite is a garden birdbath I saw at one of the funeral homes where I conduct ceremonies – it has a place in its base for the cremains (ashes). Another funeral home I work with has some beautiful bracelets that can hold a bit of cremains so you could have him with you all the time. There are all kinds of jewelry ideas.

There are also many ways to incorporate cremains into items you might display in your living room (or bedroom), such as statues, glass artwork, etc. Just ask the funeral director who served you, or check online. You could even divide up some of the cremains into small “keepsake” urns and place one in each of your and your sons’ bedrooms. Perhaps each child could make (with your help, of course) a shadow box to hold his urn, covered with some of the architectural plans your husband created.

Lisa’s right: Take your time. As you move through your grief, things will become clearer. There is no hurry, and nothing is more important than paying attention to your children’s grief processes and staying open to your own grief.

You and your sons are in my heart. Feel free to be in touch if I can help further.

Marcella Fox
Ceremony Officiant

Anonymous said...

Hello Lisa, Cathy, and Marcella,

My name is Luli and I also lost my husband in a plane crash on March 13th, 2008. He was finishing his data collection for his dissertation (he studied birds in the Everglades in FL) and would have gotten his PhD next year. It's been over a month and I am completely devastated. We were married for a year and a half, and are expecting our first baby in August. Being pregnant and widowed is an unfathomable situation. I am 31 years old and just trying to make sense of it all. My baby is the only thing that keeps me going from day to day. He also wanted to be cremated and his remains are in our bedroom in our apartment. I am staying with my parents at the moment who live closeby. His family is in Portland and we are deciding what to do. Well, I wanted to let you know I appreciate this blog and sharing your experiences. I would love to connect more so if you have a chance please contact me at Thank you.

David Johnson said...


So sorry for your family's loss.

You can find a listing of various alternatives to scattering ashes here We don't sell products - just try to have a very comprehensive list of what's available.

The Teddy Bear Urns might be something appropriate for the children.

Let us know if you have any questions.

May you find peace as time passes.


David Johnson

Marcella Fox said...

Luli, I send you condolences also. Both you and Cathy seem to have found an excellent place to connect with others who are going though the death of a spouse. I wish you (both) the best as you deal with this unexpected change.


Bridgett said...

Hello Lisa, Cathy and Luli-
I was feeling especially lonely tonight and was cruising the internet and found your site Lisa. Thank you! Then as I was reading through the comments I was totally amazed that two other people had lost their spouses in an airplane crash. I too lost my husband August 5th, 2005 when he and a buddy clipped a tree during their landing at our vaction place. I belong to a widow's group in Portland Oregon which has been incredibly helpful but I do not know any one who has experienced the same kind of tragedy that my children and I have survived. Thank you for the reminder that I am not alone, it was exactly what I needed tonight :) bridgettandkids@hotmail dot com

Dunja said...

Hi, I too was cruising the Internet and found your site.I am terribly sorry for everyone's losses!
I too lost my husband very sudden and unexpected 15 months ago when he was 38 years old.He was my best friend and I miss him so terribly.He had a brain hemorrhage due to CML( Leukemia)which we all did not even know he had.He died within 24 hours.I have 4 kids who loved with us, 3 from a previous marriage and a son with him, who is 6 years old.
It's been a very difficult road for us.My husband owned and operated a Restaurant, his dream come true, which I kept, although I had no clue about things.It is hard and stressful and I feel I have a double life.But we need to survive.The pain is a pain that one never experiences in life until the loss of someone rips you open.It's endless, relentless, cruel and there is nothing, nothing we can do to change things.I keep thinking that he will never come back to us.
I am thankful for the time we had and I cherish the memories but I would give anything at all to have him come back to us.
Time does not heal, it just moves on and we have to move with it,whether we want to or not.And time takes its time to make you feel better.There are days when I do feel pretty good and I live and have some joy, but there are other days as well where I am back at square one.
It is a tough thing to suffer from and I can relate to all of you to well!
I wish everyone the best!! Trust in God..He has a plan for us.Without that things would be hopeless.And we need hope...for our kids and us!
God bless!!

The Stiletto Widow said...

When my husband died, he was also cremated. Two weeks laster we had a memorial ceremony where we put the container of his ashes into a pretty, sturdy wooden box with a lid. During the ceremony people were invited to come up and say a few words and/or put a memento in the box.

The tokens usually had a story associated with them: the seashells from Ireland, which he always wanted to visit, a rubber spider with which he had frightened his stepmother when he was a child, a pressed rose from our wedding.

After the memorial service, we buried the box on a corner of our property and put a small plaque (like a headstone) to mark it.

A lot of people felt it was a good way to say goodbye, and to feel like they were participating rather than just spectating at the service.

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