Creative Cremations, Home Funerals
and at-Home Death Care
March 28, 2017
Earlier this month a man in my neighborhood was dying, and his wife contacted me for end-of-life support. She honored their Buddhist tradition of keeping the body at home for three days after death.
When it was time for cremation, with the help of home funeral expert Jerrigrace Lyons, a small group of family and friends gathered at the crematorium, and I was honored to be included (it was the first time I’d witnessed a cremation). We held hands around the cremation chamber signing the Heart Sutra, and it was a beautiful send-off.
What I didn’t know prior to this — and most people don’t — is that bones don’ actually burn into “ash.” They come out intact, and they are then put into a giant grinder that turns them into the coarse “cremains” with which most of us are familiar.
Consider some creative ways to use cremains in sacred ceremony. Instead of scattering them in one place, keep some to use in future rituals. Sprinkle them in your garden or into a river every year on a birthday or death anniversary, or use them to create sacred space (for example, when I built my house, I put some of my son’s ashes in each of the four corners of my property). You can do this every time you move to a new house or plant a new garden. It’s also possible to have cremains used in blown glass art objects, or mixed in to tattoo ink!
There are many imaginative ways to use cremains, and it does not have to be formal or somber. Because my son loved to travel, I divided some of his ashes into tiny, decorated bottles and gave one to each of our closest friends to carry with them on their vacations and business trips. His DNA is now part of the lands and waters of at least a dozen countries!
I wouldn’t have known that the ashes placed in urns are actually the bones of the departed, ground in a grinder to produce what we know as the “cremains.” I’ve always thought that the ashes were that of the body and the bones consumed by fire. This would be interesting because since bone is composed of calcium it could actually be scatted around the dear departed’s garden to make his plants grow stronger.