The Cremation Option

By: Jessie Flynn
Monday, November 9, 2015

Jesse Flynn, children's writer, life-coach and grief specialist, writes about Cremation as an option. She writes: I applaud having such choices and so do most religions. Nevertheless, as a grief counselor, my one word of caution warns about the importance of observing funeral rituals, such as a wake or viewing, where people can see the body of the person who died and know the reality of the death. In our sanitized world, this may seem unnecessary and even uncomfortable, but these rituals hold great psychological value. Providing friends and family with the opportunity to “pay their respects,” is especially emotionally supportive for those who mourn. Sharing in a memorial service at the funeral home or place of worship feeds the spiritual need we all have to honor the significance of the life of our person who died. Then, after remembering our loved one, acknowledging that person’s life through stories, tears, and laughter … ideally … then, the cremation can take place. 

by Jessie Flynn

When I was a young girl it seemed that when someone died, the family shared familiar rituals of having a viewing or wake and a religious memorial service. Afterwards, that person got buried in a cemetery. Goodness, I even remember creating a graveside service for my pet guinea pig and lovingly burying him in our back yard. Lately however, the word “cremation” has popped up in a variety of news articles, and the traditional funeral customs of so many folks are being reexamined. If you are thinking about your own choices, perhaps the following stories and research tidbits will help you.  
 
First, a few stories: Ten years ago I admired a beautiful pink glass pendant. “What a gorgeous piece of jewelry!” I commented … to which its owner replied, “Oh, thanks! It’s my mother. I always have her with me; she goes wherever I go.” Well, you can imagine my shock, but this bereaved adult daughter was absolutely thrilled about carrying some of her mother’s cremated remains in a necklace. Story number two, in the words of a widower: “I’ve put my wife’s cremated remains in a beautiful, flowered ginger jar in our bedroom. Her favorite baseball hat sits on top of it. A photo of her and a candle complete the setting. It’s really my altar to Helen. I talk to her many times a day and find her presence comforting.” Story number three: “I’ve already instructed my children about my funeral arrangements. They can do anything they want as far as viewings and services, but after all that’s done, I want my cremated remains taken to Barbados and thrown into the turquoise water. That’s where I want to be forever.” Yes, believe it! These are true stories.  
 
More and more people seem to want to control the circumstances and rituals surrounding their death. They and their relatives continue to come up with creative ways to dispose of the cremated remains that remain after cremation. I’ve actually heard of cremated remains being launched into space. The remains of Gene Roddenberry, Star Trek’s creator, rest in a satellite in outer space. Cremated remains have been converted into diamonds that are worn as rings. They’ve been placed in biodegradable balloons to be released into the atmosphere. Artificial reef balls, mixed concrete and cremated remains to create offshore fish habitats off the coast of New Jersey and other coastal states. Cremated remains are scatter in mountain ranges, buried in gardens, placed in wind chimes, or simply put in urns that symbolize favorite hobbies. Golf bag and cowboy boot urns are even available. The possibilities seem endless.  
 
For many conservative thinkers these are novel thoughts. Rest assured, however, choosing to be cremated is a fast-growing phenomenon in our society. According to the Cremation Association of North America, California leads the country in number of cremations with Nevada coming in a close second having 65%. In Ontario, Canada 50% of those who die choose to cremate. And the numbers keep growing.  
 
I applaud having such choices and so do most religions. Nevertheless, as a grief counselor, my one word of caution warns about the importance of observing funeral rituals, such as a wake or viewing, where people can see the body of the person who died and know the reality of the death. In our sanitized world, this may seem unnecessary and even uncomfortable, but these rituals hold great psychological value. Providing friends and family with the opportunity to “pay their respects,” is especially emotionally supportive for those who mourn. Sharing in a memorial service at the funeral home or place of worship feeds the spiritual need we all have to honor the significance of the life of our person who died. Then, after remembering our loved one, acknowledging that person’s life through stories, tears, and laughter … ideally … then, the cremation can take place. 

The point I make here is that traditional funerals and cremation are not mutually exclusive. Our challenge presents itself in “not throwing out the baby with the bath water,” as they say. Indeed, healthy grieving encompasses both traditional rituals as well as cremation, which continue to gain increasing social acceptance.  
 
Death is such a big deal! Those of us who have experienced loss know it as a momentous life event. That’s why it is crucial not to trivialize death or minimize its impact. Fortunately, the healthy way to mourn the death of someone we love includes many options. For that, we can be grateful. In truth, the important issue here is choosing a funeral that will provide the most meaning and comfort to the person who died and those who mourn. Do consider that as you weigh your options. 

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