My mother made her final wishes darn clear - she wanted to be cremated and she wanted her ashes spread in the Colorado Rockies. What Mom didn't make clear was who should do this, but then again, I always assumed that this rite of passage should fall to family members. Yet reading an Associated Press article written by Steve LeBlanc in Sunday's Houston Chronicle has left me dumbfounded in how family members may not know that spreading a loved one's ashes is their task to complete - or even worse, they may not want or accept this familial responsibility. In these cases, the cremated remains are being stored in the funeral home in a state of purgatory.
"Storage or disposal of abandoned ashes is a growing national problem, as the number of cremations is on the rise," LeBlanc wrote. "Even in states that allow the burial or scattering of abandoned ashes, some funeral homes store them for years, hoping one day to place them in the hands of a relative." The article notes that state laws vary tremendously as to how long funeral homes must store unclaimed cremated remains. In some states, that storage can last for four years. Massachusetts funeral directors were described as being worried that state regulations about disposing of cremated remains do not carry the protection of law so in order to be safe, the remains are stored at the funeral home for a lot longer. In fact, one Massachusetts funeral director who was quoted in the article said his funeral home has someone's ashes that have been stored 30-40 years.
LeBlanc notes that the number of people who have been cremated has increased from 6 percent of deaths in 1975 to almost 34 percent by 2006. In addition, the number of cremations varies by state, ranging from 10 percent of all deaths to more than 60 percent. So potentially, the issue of storage of cremated remains may be a growing problem.
With this growing trend, I hope that family members will realize that the responsibility for disposing of a loved one's remains is theirs (and not the funeral home's), and will choose to take action. In the next few weeks, I'll be writing shareposts about our "funeral" for Mom. In retrospect, I found that spreading Mom's ashes in the Rockies proved to be one of the most important and loving actions that I've taken in my life. I'm glad that we - my father, my brother, and I - took this journey together and helped Mom find her final resting place.
Published On: September 03, 2008