Regardless of your feelings on the afterlife, I’m going to work under two assumptions that I will need you firmly on-board with in order for me to proceed. Firstly, everyone is going to die eventually. Cryogenically frozen heads of famous animators aside, science just hasn’t managed to find a way for us to kick that nasty death habit of which we humans seem so fond. Just no way around it really.
Secondly, when we die, barring horrific chemical accidents, we will likely leave something of ourselves behind. No, sorry not talking about a soul, but rather the husk that once housed whatever it is that makes us alive.
Now that we’ve established the principles that we will be working with; everyone dies, we need to know what to do with the bodies afterwards, we are beginning to sound a bit psychotic. Particularly when we suddenly begin referring to ourselves in the royal plural. Okay, stopping that now.
So, someone has died and it now falls upon the living to decide what is to become of their remains (pending horrific accident or alien abduction). The fairly standard choice is to go to a friendly funeral director and purchase a plot of land (or hole in a wall) to have a box of people leavings sealed within. This is a very excellent choice of contingency plans for the disposal of dead people. If this was your future plan for your dead people or even yourself than read no further you already have my blessing.
Sadly, this is not the fate of all dead people. Usually through no fault of their own(being dead rather limits one’s choices). Some of the “still alive” do not feel like this is the optimal choice for their dead people. Instead they would like their dead people to be cremated so that they might put them in a shiny box and take them home to keep them close.
After some thought and first hand experience in the matter I have determined that this is a horrible idea. Allow me to explain;
Let’s say that one member of a married couple dies and is cremated. Unable to incur the expense of a flashy interment and perhaps even not quite ready to give up their last earthly connection to the one they love they decide to keep the ashes. Now the ashes are kept in an urn (or cardboard box) at the surviving persons place of residence. All’s well and good, circle of life, all that jazz.
Eventually, the widow gets remarried and the specialty urn that proudly housed the ashes of their former love are suddenly a bit too conspicuous and creepy to keep on display. Now instead of resting upon the mantel place, as a fine conversation starter for the especially morbid, the ashes are regulated to a dark corner of the closet.
Consider also that when they remarried they have also inherited any ashes that their new spouse brought into the relationship with them. Figuring that they both had at least two parents each we are now up to approximately five urns of ashes that need storage.
Then, unexpectedly (though as we’ve established it’s never completely unexpected) those fine people die and are cremated as well. Now their next of kin will have the delightful surprise of discovering that they have just become caretaker of several shelves full of dead people. They essentially just inherited a cemetery of forgotten relatives.
Did I mention that people also get their pets cremated as well? They do, so in theory you could one day have an entire reunion of long dead people and animals suddenly become your responsibility.
Certainly the optimal thing to do, the humane thing as it were, would be to take the whole lot of urns over to the cemetery and have them all sealed up in a stone wall, or buried, whichever is more fashionable at the time. Sadly, we are now talking about at least seven urns of various sizes full of dead relatives who require permanent housing for their remains. Mausoleum spots don’t exactly come cheaply and at least two would be required to secure this haul of ashes. Never mind that the funeral people will be a bit put off by the “collection.”
What’s a unexpected crypt keeper to do? You can’t just toss them in an unmarked dumpster. You don’t do that to grandma. I suppose you could combine the ashes into one urn to rule them all, but I’m not sure that Uncle Rudolph and my cat Skipper would want to spend eternity intermingled together.
At some point in this absurd cycle of death and death a relative is going to finally acquire the rights to the ashes of relatives so long since deceased that they have no recollection of them. This is when they are stuffed into a box and forgotten in the back of the attic only to be found years later by a new home owner who will freak right the hell out at the discovery.
I could keep the story going, but I’ll spare you the ridiculously made-up details that my subconscious is so fond of sharing. The long and short of this little rant is that every family needs to have a plan for their dead guy ashes. Right up there with fire escape and litter box duty. This needs to be a thing we talk about and plan for long before it becomes relevant. Don’t burden a lifetime of your descendants with the duty of caring for a box of your charred remains.
Conversely, when someone has died try to realize that their corporal remains are not the sum of that person. Holding onto their ashes won’t enable you to feel closer to them, it just makes it easier for you to get bogged down by the emotional baggage of caring for your dead guy ashes.