In this day and age of political correctness, rapid communication, instant gratification, and overload of inputs, it is easy to lose sight of traditional rituals that have made us who we are. Every culture that has ever existed has developed rituals for the disposition of the body of the deceased. Mummification, burial, cremation, and every variable in between, has at some point been part of the ritual of a culture. I emphasize "ritual" as rituals are an important aspect of human nature. We turn to rituals when we feel anxiety and uncertainty. In days gone by, here in western culture, the ritual of the disposition of the remains of the deceased was a traditional burial. For many of us though, times have changed and cremation of the remains has emerged as a popular method of dealing with the remains of the deceased.
When we are faced with the loss of a loved one, we generally adhere to social customs, rules, and rituals. We hire the services of a funeral director or equivalent to deal with the logistics of having the body cremated. We hold a funeral service or Celebration of Life in honour of the deceased, and at the end of the day, we have one last honour to conduct in memory of the deceased. The disposal of the remains...
Speaking strictly for myself, I would like to offer these thoughts on disposal of cremains.
1. Ashes buried in an urn in a cemetery. This is perhaps the most traditional ritual that western culture practices. The advantage of this method is that the bereaved have a location to visit and remember. Also, a memorial can be erected to mark the final resting place of the ashes. I understand ashes are just ashes and no way constitute anything real of the deceased, but for me, the idea of being buried for eternity, isolated from nature, in a location that will be forgotten about in a couple of generations does not hold a lot of appeal. I believe John Prine said it best with his song "Please Don't Bury Me"
2. Ashes kept in an urn in a closet. I can appreciate the partner or offspring that wants to have a memento of a loved one close at hand. Where I start to have trouble with this is when the holder of the ashes passes on and the estate is now left with the ashes. Or when the life situation of the holder of the ashes changes significantly... Will the disposal of them be respectful? I have no desire to have my ashes thrown in a dumpster and taken to the dump and left as landfill. Would that happen? Folks can get pretty weird when they are tasked with cleaning out mementos of relatives....
3. Ashes spread around between various folks. Again, I can respect and appreciate this methodology for the disposal of the ashes, but it seems to be more of a short term solution than a permanent one. Will everyone be respectful of the ashes ten years down the road? The situation of the above mentioned also applies here, in that two generations down the road, where are the ashes?
4. Ashes spread to the wind. This method is starting to have a bit more appeal, although the thought of the land where the ashes were scattered being suddenly re-zoned and becoming the parking lot of a Walmart store, housing development or new superhighway does not sit well with me. There is also the part where ashes spread on land do not act as fertilizer, but rather, they inhibit plant growth.
5. Ashes spread into the ocean. Bingo! This one feels good. Cremains are essentially inorganic molecules. These compounds are normal components in sea water, so there are no environmental concerns whatsoever. Normal sea life filter and digest these compounds and use them as building blocks for their bodies. So essentially, the cremains are feeding the ocean and feeding the critters in the ocean. As time goes along, the molecules in the ashes work their way up the food chain and become part of many different species. I am liking this idea. Out in nature... supporting the biosphere on the planet.... and if even one tiny molecule becomes part of a whale, I will be a happy camper, knowing full well that through eternity, those molecules will be part of the active and current biosphere. If my loved ones want to remember me, then all they have to do is find a quiet spot on the ocean and dwell in their thoughts. If they happen to see a whale, then that could further add to the experience, knowing that there is perhaps a molecule or two of the loved one in the whale. I think we have a winner! Ashes spread where whales swim! To share with other to achieve this end, we offer our services to the world.