Grampa on a Gold Chain: No Thanks

Posted on April 11, 2014


If you opt to keep your loved ones’ ashes close to your heart, what will eventually happen to them when you die?


There have always been some folks who kept their loved ones’ ashes enshrined in fancy urns on the fireplace mantel. Then there was the hair jewelry of the 19th century. Now, we hear more about services that will encase a bit of your beloved’s ashes in a silver pendant, say, or can even compress the remains into a diamond. I guess some find comfort in the notion of keeping their deceased loved ones close to the heart in a very real, physical way. But I find myself wondering: what happens when you die and leave these urns, diamonds and ash-filled jewelry behind?

I guess the obvious thing would be to leave instructions to be buried with the jewelry, or have your own ashes scattered together with your ancestors’. But you know how reality goes: too many of us don’t leave a will, never write that letter of final instructions, or if we do write it, no one knows where it is, if it is current, or if one even exists when the time actually comes. So the adult kids who rarely visited now descend upon your home and hurry to clear it out, since they have jobs and families of their own; no one even thinks to look to see what’s in the fancy urn on the mantel, or if they do look, they don’t know what that stuff is in there; the jewelry containing Mom’s last remains looks nondescript and not particularly valuable… and the next thing you know, it’s sitting in some anonymous thrift shop someplace.

Maybe someone buys the urn – hey, it’s pretty, I could put some potpourri in there, or I could use it for fireplace matches or something – and discovers this stuff in there. Maybe they don’t know what it is, and just dump it in the trash and clean out the urn for their own use. Maybe they do recognize what it is. If so, now what? Awkward! And it has happened. In an extreme case in New York, an auctioned storage locker featured 31 containers of human cremains. Despite all of them being meticulously labeled, no one has claimed them and their new owner has no idea what to do next.

As for the jewelry, the whole idea is to make human ashes into a reasonably attractive memento that can be worn regularly without being an obvious or morbid memento mori. But it’s just too easy for me to imagine the jewelry being disposed of in a consignment or thrift store someplace, and some silly young punk unwittingly adding it to her collection of Goth crosses or whatever, only to eventually grow out of that phase. The jewelry with Gramps’ ashes would sift on down to the bottom of the jewelry box, and maybe a few years after that, would be cleaned out as the detritus of one’s misspent youth. Off to the trash pile, perhaps traded in for the value of the precious metal (if there is any), or maybe another go-round at the thrift store. Even the hair art has found a new life being recycled on EBay.

Is Gramps in here someplace?

Is Gramps in here someplace?

It all just seems a bit undignified. This is why I think my Dad got it right by instructing us where he wanted his ashes scattered. And scatter them we did.  I’m glad.