Permanent Memorialization: A Place to Visit and Remember
CANA credits much of the popularity of cremation to the flexibility and variety of options that are available for the placement of the cremated remains. Deciding what to do may be time-consuming and will require some important decision-making, but it can give you and the generations that follow much peace of mind.
An Urn is any receptacle designed to permanently encase the cremated remains. An urn may seem like a deceptively simple choice since they come in a variety of sizes, styles, and materials as unique as the individual; in fact, there are urns to satisfy every taste, requirement, and budget. But final placement of the cremated remains will influence the design, shape, and size of the urn. Columbarium niches may limit dimensions, burial may require a vault to encase the urn, and scattering may be easier with a specially designed container. There are urns to meet all these needs and funeral home, cemetery, or crematory staff can advise on an appropriate choice for you.
If an urn is not selected at the time of cremation, the crematory will supply a temporary container. These are usually made of plastic or aluminum and designed to hold the cremated remains until an urn or other method of placement is chosen. A funeral home or crematory will help transfer the cremated remains from the temporary container to the urn if asked.
Urns range in size from those that are large enough to house multiple sets of remains for joint placement to small keepsake urns. These are designed to hold a portion of the remains in cases where they will be divided between family members or the bulk of the remains will be scattered. A presentation urn can hold a temporary container for use at a memorial service when a family is undecided about the final placement.
In the Cemetery or Churchyard
Permanent memorialization not only provides a lasting tribute to a loved one, but also a place to visit and gather together, an assurance that the remains are cared for, and a key to family history for future generations. Consideration and remembrance of others is what life and memorializing are all about. A cemetery has a duty of perpetual care for those placed on its grounds and provides a place to visit for centuries to come.
A Family or Ground Plot below the earth is what many envision at a cemetery. This space is not reserved exclusively for burials of caskets containing a full body. Rather, cemeteries often permit the interment of the cremated remains of more than one person in a single adult space. Cremated remains may be placed in the ground with a marker like any other burial, often near other family marker. Some of these markers can even be designed to incorporate some of the cremated remains in the construction. Similarly, urns may be placed in monuments on the gravesite, mausoleum, or other above-ground structures, either reserved for the family or open to the public.
A Columbarium is an above-ground structure inside or outdoors at a cemetery and designed specifically to hold cremated remains in urn compartments called niches. Columbaria or columbariums may be an entire building, a room, a wall along a corridor, or a series of special alcoves or halls in a mausoleum, chapel, or other buildings located in a cemetery or on other dedicated property. Niches will vary in size, some holding just the urn while others are large enough to include memorabilia and are protected by barriers called fronts, made of glass, marble, bronze, granite, or mosaic tile.
An Ossuary is also an above ground structure inside or out-of-doors at a cemetery. However, while some of the monuments referred to above keep the remains separated in an urn, an ossuary itself is like a large urn for many people. They may be reserved for a family or available to anyone in the community and will have a ledger and memorials commemorating the remains placed within.
An Urn or Cremation Garden will have many different choices created specifically for the placement of cremated remains. Some gardens offer individual urn burial plots that will accommodate a marker. Others offer unmarked areas for interment of the urn, with adjacent walls or sculptures for memorial plaques. Some will have a columbarium or a scattering garden within the designated space.
A Scattering Garden allows for cremated remains to be ceremonially released to the earth with a memorial marker to honor the remains that will return to nature. These markers vary from small plaques to benches or a tree near the scattering space.
A note, scattering outside of the scattering garden will not ensure that the cremated remains will be properly respected even though they are still within the cemetery’s property. Scattering on another’s gravesite, even a relative’s plot, or other unauthorized area is prohibited and may result in unceremonious removal of the scattered remains and a fine.
A note on transporting cremated remains to a distant cemetery. Traveling with or shipping cremated remains domestically and internationally can require special containers, paperwork, and handling depending on the origin and destination locations. Talk to the funeral home and cemetery staff to take advantage of their recommendations and services to make the process as easy as possible. Reference CANA’s page on Transporting Cremated Remains for more information.
A note on burying pet and human remains together. State laws and regulations vary, as do local cemetery policies. It may be possible to bury pet cremated remains in the same plot with human cremated remains. Ask the cemetery about the options on their property or nearby places for pets. Failure to follow cemetery policy or regulations may result in unceremonious removal of the remains and a fine.
Unique and Personal: A Place that is Special to You
Cremated remains may be scattered outside designated cemetery space in many locations around the globe. If the deceased felt especially connected to a particular location, this may be a good option so long as the scattering is performed in accordance with all applicable laws and regulations. If cremated remains are scattered in an unauthorized site or without observing necessary regulations, consequences may vary from monetary fines to an unceremonious removal of the cremated remains or other actions that will detract from the memory of what made this location and individual special.
Cremated remains are also finding final placement in some unique locations. The remains can be incorporated into synthetic reefs and sunk in the ocean for marine habitats. They can be launched into space from a rocket or scattered on mountaintops or other remote locations via airplane. There are companies that specialize in arranging for such scattering with or without the family’s presence.
Once cremated remains are scattered, it is important to remember that they are irretrievable. While a location may hold special significance for those closest to the individual, it may be difficult to access or prevent future generations from finding a tie to their ancestor. A permanent memorial can be established even when the cremated remains are not present. A cemetery will keep a record of that memorial and the family information as part of their duty of perpetual care for future genealogical researchers or loved ones visiting a peaceful space. Public spaces may also provide opportunities for memorial markers – park benches, a brick on a community pathway, and other objects can be dedicated in memory of a loved one, though these may not be easily located in the public record or over time.
A family may also consider scattering a portion of the remains while placing the rest in a space for permanent memorialization. Cremation allows the family to divide the remains to make creative and meaningful decisions that honor their loved one.
A note on transporting cremated remains to a special place. Traveling with or shipping cremated remains domestically and internationally can require special containers, paperwork, and handling depending on the origin and destination locations. Talk to the funeral home and cemetery for their recommendations and services to make this as easy as possible. Reference CANA’s page on Transporting Cremated Remains for more information.
Keepsakes: Helping You to Keep Your Loved One Close
One reason cremation is rising in popularity is that the timeline for the decisions detailed above is flexible and extended. You can wait for family to gather, shop for the right urn, and take time to find that special place while the cremated remains are housed in a temporary container at your home. When the family is ready to make the final placement, months or even decades from now, you can contact a funeral home to help and a cemetery to find the right space.
Cremation also allows for part of a loved one to stay close forever. Beyond permanent memorialization, there are options for remembering your loved one in smaller ways to be shared among family and friends. Keepsake urns can be displayed in the home, jewelry or charms can contain a tiny portion of cremated remains, and cremated remains can even be synthesized into diamonds. Several artists specialize in incorporating the remains in the creation of glass sculptures, ceramic vases, or paintings. Other keepsakes include items such as your loved one’s fingerprint or photograph molded into a pendant, engraved onto a statue, or even woven into a blanket. The opportunities are endless. Let your creativity reign and ask your funeral director about different options.
Avoid Regret: Don’t Do Nothing
Cremation provides opportunity for creativity and a memorial as unique as the life lived. The only recommendation CANA makes is don't do nothing. Urns can be removed from niches or disinterred from plots to make keepsakes. Remains that were scattered remotely can be memorialized at the cemetery or other location for future visits. Understand your options so you won’t make the wrong choice for your loved ones.
Estimates are that over two million sets of cremated remains are abandoned at the crematory, in limbo on the closet shelf at home, or tucked away in a storage locker, only to show up for sale at a flea market or a resale shop. While a funeral home or crematory will have policies in place about storing cremated remains—the remains in their care definitely won’t show up at a secondhand store—too often a family won’t make a decision about the cremated remains of a loved one and the container will be handed down until it is unrecognizable and forgotten. This is how they end up at a garage sale—or even the landfill.
But cremation means that a decision can be made at any time, even if the person died years or decades ago. It’s never too late to find a place to memorialize family. If you come across unidentified cremated remains, contact a local funeral home or crematory. They can help you find the unique identification number and you may be able to discover who it is.
Lastly, for truly unique choices, talk to your funeral director or crematory manager about the feasibility or safety of what you are considering.