What can I do with my dad's body?
June 22, 2010 6:00 PM   Subscribe

My dad died last thursday. We're cremating his body but the final disposition of his remains is a problem for my family. Basically, we're too poor to do anything but flush him down the toilet. Help?

Long story short: my dad is dead. We were going to fly him out to California to be buried with his father, but that plan was nixed due to extreme cost. Now we are cremating him and planned to bury his urn with his father. Problem is that costs almost as much as a regular burial, according to the cemetery people. They want almost $1000 just to sprinkle my dad's remains on his father's grave.

We're baffled how we can honor our father's wishes (be buried with his dad), or, at the very least, give him a decent send off. This is complicated by the fact that dad was a bit of a homebody and didn't have a "favorite place" where we could really spread his ashes. (We don't own the home in California that we grew up in, either).

I was thinking of placing my dad in a memorial garden with a memorial plaque (several years down the road, hopefully when I have more money), but even then I'm afraid of the enormous cost (and I'm even unaware of any specialized memorial parks for cremated remains).

Does anybody have any suggestions as to what we can do with my dad other than keeping him in a shoebox under my bed? (Even though he would probably get a kick out of that!)
posted by Avenger to Grab Bag (39 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Could you have an urn that travels between siblings/significant relatives--or a portion of the ashes set aside for each of you--so that he remains close until you can make the trip to scatter the ashes yourself or have them interred?
posted by availablelight at 6:03 PM on June 22, 2010

Find someone on craigslist to do the sprinkling on grandad's grave instead of the caretakers? I'm sure the perils of this path are obvious, but if you can find someone you feel like you can trust, it may work out.
posted by kavasa at 6:08 PM on June 22, 2010

If it were me, I guess I would just go sprinkle Dad's remains on Granddad's grave. When it was kinda dark. But then, that's the kind of thing my dad would have done, and he would have laughed about it. YMMV. I know that what we did with my dad's remains, while fitting his desires to a T, probably wasn't completely in line with the legalities. Didn't hurt anyone though.
posted by bricoleur at 6:08 PM on June 22, 2010 [11 favorites]

My condolences.

When my mom died, I had her cremated, but then I didn't get a fancy urn for her. Not that she didn't deserve it, she did - but the cost was too high. So I have her remains in a plastic case, which I haven't taken out since the funeral a few years ago. The eventual goal is to scatter some of her ashes in Ireland, but I haven't gotten there yet, and frankly the thought of opening her ashes squicks me out.

However, the crematorium did have 'mini urns', which could be filled with some of the ashes and then either kept open or sealed permanently. They were about 1/10th the cost of a regular urn. So I also got that, in her favorite color, and got it sealed for display/honoring/keeping purposes while keeping the rest of the ashes in a closet.
posted by spinifex23 at 6:11 PM on June 22, 2010

My condolences.

Long shot but could you have the ashes FedExed to a local California florist, then have the florist deliver them along with flowers to his father's grave? Same basic perils as kavasa mentions but perhaps a more standardized service.
posted by XMLicious at 6:11 PM on June 22, 2010

why not hold on to the ashes until someone from the family goes to california? then take a thing of flowers and some of the ashes and put them on the grave and spread the rest at sea or in the forest, whichever your father would have liked more...
posted by nadawi at 6:18 PM on June 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

So sorry for your loss. Can you hold onto the remains until you have enough money to either take the trip to California to sprinkle them on his father's grave or have them buried?
posted by elvissa at 6:19 PM on June 22, 2010

Best answer: Problem is that costs almost as much as a regular burial, according to the cemetery people. They want almost $1000 just to sprinkle my dad's remains on his father's grave.

Do not pay this.

Cemeteries have limited income sources. Once the graves are sold, they're sold forever. Most cemeteries will require you to pay for an entirely separate grave if you wish to bury cremated remains. Though, this is the first I've heard of a $1000 scattering fee (perhaps you misunderstood each other?) I've scattered ashes in lots of places, cemeteries included. I've never paid to do it. I'm not suggesting that you do anything illegal. But I'd never counsel anyone to pay $1000 to scatter.

The eventual goal is to scatter some of her ashes in Ireland, but I haven't gotten there yet, and frankly the thought of opening her ashes squicks me out.

Don't worry. Ashes aren't that bad. There's nothing recognizable in there. It looks a bit like grey kitty litter. I've scooped it and flung it with my bare hands. Nothing harmful in there.

However, the crematorium did have 'mini urns', which could be filled with some of the ashes and then either kept open or sealed permanently.

Keep in mind, an urn is just a container. There are plenty of serviceable receptacles out there that aren't called "urns." It's a bit like the difference between a vase (VAYSE) and a vase (VAHS). One is five dollars and the other is five hundred. Use good sense. There are tons of places to buy urns online that won't charge too much. Shop around.

My basic advice is this: take the time to honor your dad as you'd like. There's no time limit. You don't have to rush. Take the pressure off yourself. You have enough to deal with already. Have a memorial service with family and friends and then put the ashes away for a while. Your dad knows that you love him. I'm certain that the last thing he'd want right now is to stress you out about this. Email me with any follow-up questions.
posted by ColdChef at 6:24 PM on June 22, 2010 [73 favorites]

You don't have to buy their expensive urn. My ex's mom was cremated and her remains came back in a simple box. A family member went to a craft store, bought some plastic vials, separated the ashes into the vials (I was there for that. Very macabre moment being up to your elbows in someone's remains) and all the family members got a vial. It wasn't fancy but it got things done. Surely you guys could pool your money for a plane ticket for one of you to go sprinkle the ashes?

Good luck. My ex's family had no money to take care of things when her mom died so I know how awful that added problem of expenses is to an already emotional event.
posted by CwgrlUp at 6:27 PM on June 22, 2010

I am so sorry for your loss.

I feel like our stories are kind of parallel- almost exactly a year ago I was in Arizona having my father cremated.

And he is still sitting in the original box he came in in my house. I want to take his ashes to Baja, a place he loved so much, but after closing his estate and getting married in the same year, I just do not have the means to do this.

On the upside, and not to sound horrible, he isn't complaining about it. There is no rush on things like this- take your time so you can do what you want to do- you only bury your father once- do it in a way that will provide you closure, not regret.
posted by haplesschild at 6:27 PM on June 22, 2010 [3 favorites]

When my dad died my mom kept his ashes in pretty carved wood box that I happened to already have that was the right size. Do you have a nice box, or could you get a nice wood box made by a local carpenter or wood worker? (The inside of the box should fit a kleenex box.)That would certainly be cheaper than an urn. About three years later, when my mom was ready we took the ashes out to a park that my dad and mom biked in and spread them there. Very illegal, but oh well. Maybe you could spread them in a place that means something to you and your family, so that when you went there, you would be "with" him. Set some ashes aside in case one of you gets to California. He'd understand.
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 6:30 PM on June 22, 2010

I'm very sorry for your loss.

I would suggest that you plan to someday get to CA and surreptitiously sprinkle at least some of the ashes on your grandfather's grave. You can probably pull up a small flap of the sod in the graveyard and bury some of the ashes and then put the sod back down without attracting the notice or ire of the graveyard staff, even.

My dad's ashes are still sitting in an 'urn' (more like 'metal box') on the sideboard between the kitchen and dining areas in my stepmother's house. Some day, my stepmother will be ready to have them interred (or will die and also be cremated and I'll probably have to deal with interring them both), but until then, they just hang out there. My uncle's ashes are occasionally removed from a closet in my aunt's house and set out in view for major family holidays. So, well, having ashes hanging around for a while doesn't seem to be that unusual.
posted by rmd1023 at 6:32 PM on June 22, 2010

You don't have to decide now. Lebowski jokes, aside, they'll give you something. My aunt had her last husband in a box next to a picture up in her closet for years while the military cemetary he was destined for was finished.
posted by rhizome at 6:43 PM on June 22, 2010

you have the ashes FedExed

Please do not do this as FedEx and UPS refuse to ship cremains because they cannot be replaced.

I just read Grave Matters, which discusses many methods for the final disposition of human remains, including cremains. This book notes one option you may not have considered which is the sprinkling of the cremains in the ocean. Firms such as Ashes on the Sea (no personal experience with this company, however it was mentioned in the above book) will perform the sprinkling on your behalf for a reasonable fee.

Please accept my condolences on your loss.
posted by dreaming in stereo at 6:51 PM on June 22, 2010

If a proper (as in paying the cemetary for the service, rather than doing it surreptitiously on your own) scattering is what you want, hold on to him for a while. Raise the money to do it. You have the time. Dividing the ashes could be a way to make sure your family comes together.

One very, very important thing: in order to take ashes onto a flight (I would have in no way trusted my father's ashes to baggage handlers), the urn must be xrayable. They will xray the urn to make sure there is nothing in it. If the xray can't penetrate the urn, you won't be allowed to carry it on.

I've got my father in a wooden box. At some point, when my sister manages to get to Japan for a visit, we'll head to the Pacific and scatter him there. It will take some time before she can get here, but that's the point, we've got the time. Talk to your family, figure out what you want to do, and how long you're willing to take to get to that point, and make a committment to making the plan happen (everyone sets aside a dollar a day, a quarter a day, something).

And my condolences on your loss. I know it's hard for you right now. Time and distance might make this easier for you.
posted by Ghidorah at 6:51 PM on June 22, 2010

Two thoughts: One, my grandfather, who had plenty of money & loved his wife to an extraordinary degree for 60+ years, turned red and walked out when he heard the price of urns. Her ashes were buried in a candy dish that had been in the family for generations. We all thought he made the right decision.

There is absolutely no reason you have to go with a typical, thou$$$and dollar urn just to "honor" someone who has passed. It's a line of bull that makes certain people a LOT of money. It's at least one place where you can cut costs, if you haven't already made a purchase. Find something you think he would have appreciated, or find something with the right sentimental value, and use that. Expense is no one's business amongst the living, and there's no reason to believe that a thoughtfully chosen vessel is valued less by the dead. If your father was at all fiscally aware, he might just appreciate the wisdom of living within your means, rather than breaking the family bank for him now that he's gone.

Two: What about having the ceremony for all of you to say goodbye, but instead of burying his ashes right away, making a small shrine in one of his loved one's home? I'm fuzzy on the details, but I gather this is the way the Japanese honor their dead. You can keep him in a respectful way, and in a manner that allows other people to pay their respects, while you pull together the details of how to make his last wishes come about. My father did essentially that with his mother's ashes (different grandmother), and seemed to find a lot of peace through the time he was "with" her before he finally picked a plot and raised a headstone some seven, eight years later.

Funerals are terrible times to have to think about details like these. I am truly sorry for your loss. But do keep in mind, the worst has already happened. The rest of this is just people trying to stampede you into decisions for their own reasons.
posted by Ys at 7:12 PM on June 22, 2010 [3 favorites]

Please accept my condolences for your loss, Avenger.

When one of my best friends passed away about six years ago, he was cremated and we went out the day of the memorial service and scattered his ashes in one of the state parks here in the desert (he was a big desert hiker/camper). As we were doing so, a gust of wind whipped up and sent his ashes back in my face, whereupon I choked on some of them. I swear I could hear his laughter on the wind.

When my mom passed away a few years ago, she was cremated and I received her remains in a plastic bag inside a cardboard box. I went to Michaels craft store and found a hinged wooden box that was the right ssize for about $20. It's tastefully upholstered with fabric and sets the right tone. Her remains are in there along with the artifacts from her memorial service. The whole thing is sitting on the shelf in my office.

I'm saving the ashes until my elderly stepfather passes and then he wants me to scatter both of their ashes together somewhere. But neither he nor I know where that should be. The good thing is, as ColdChef mentioned above, there's no rush to decide.

Please don't spend $1k just to scatter your Dad's remains and don't feel guilty that you don't have exactly the perfect plan right now. You have time.
posted by darkstar at 7:24 PM on June 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

Please do not do this as FedEx and UPS refuse to ship cremains because they cannot be replaced.

For the record, this is not true. Both FedEx and UPS will ship cremains. What they will not do is insure them, as they are unique and have no monetary value.

There is absolutely no reason you have to go with a typical, thou$$$and dollar urn just to "honor" someone who has passed. It's a line of bull that makes certain people a LOT of money.

Typical urns are nowhere near the thousand dollar price you've suggested. Most urns I sell are in the $150-$300 range. Certainly, thousand dollar urns are available, but they are far from typical. And most funeral professionals will not pressure you into buying anything that you are not willing to spend. If a family wants an urn that costs five hundred dollars, I have ones available for them to buy. If they want to spend far less, I have those, too. I am a provider, not a salesman. I do not upsell. I don't know anyone who does. If a family sees value in paying several hundred dollars for a gaudy box that matches their furniture, it's not for you or me to judge them for it.
posted by ColdChef at 7:28 PM on June 22, 2010 [3 favorites]

I am sorry for your loss.

I second/third/fourth/etc. other people's suggestion to simply keep the ashes until some day in the future when you can honor your father's request. If you take an easy/quick way out now, you will never get another chance, and you may regret it for the rest of your life. As ColdChef wrote, there's no time limit on this.
posted by StrawberryPie at 7:58 PM on June 22, 2010

I have heard of a person going to cemetery to plant a flower or small bush at the gravesite, and then discreetly placing some ashes into the ground at the same time. I'm quite certain this is against the cemetery's policy and would never advise you to do such a thing.
posted by bluedaisy at 8:00 PM on June 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'm sorry for your loss.

My dad was also a homebody. We decided to keep him at home - for now. Its where he liked to be the most. Eventually, we will do something with his remains. We just cant let him go right now.
I'm sure your dad will understand if you are broke. Do what you can, when you can.
Its ok just to bring home his remains in a plastic bag - or whatever - and find out, in time, what the best thing to do will be.
My dad did wood working, and my mom bought him a simple wooden box. He would have liked it. In fact, he would have been PISSED if we spent any money on him at all.
posted by saragoodman3 at 8:06 PM on June 22, 2010

PS: my cremated dad is in his box, on the table next to his favorite chair at home.
FWIW, my cremated dog is in his box, in his favorite bed, on the floor next to my bed - his favorite spot.
I like having the chance to look at them when I want to.
posted by saragoodman3 at 8:09 PM on June 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

My Dad was just cremated recently, and I'll pass along what the funeral home told me - there's a small metal disk with two identifying numbers on it placed on every body before it goes into the crematorium, and that disk stays with the ashes when they're given to the family. The two numbers identify the crematorium and the deceased, if looked up in their records.

Our funeral director asked us to please be sure to remove that disk before we sprinkled the ashes anywhere, and then there would be no problems - unlike the recent case of a family, much like yours, who was told that there would be a fee for sprinkling ashes on a grave (ridiculous, right?), and went and did it on the sly. Except they dumped the disk, too, and the cemetery owners found it and raised a big fuss.

Take your time and do it right - he can be sprinkled there anytime.

I'm really sorry about your loss, too - since my Dad just died June 9th, I know what you're going through.
posted by HopperFan at 8:18 PM on June 22, 2010

Although I know ColdChef has professional expertise here, can I add a qualification? In my city there are beautiful rose beds in the Botanic Gardens. The city council has had to ask people to please not scatter ashes there. Lots of locals have been thinking "ooh, that looks nice, mum would have loved to be scattered by the roses, she liked it there", but the added nutrients from the ash distort the roses' growth, and the gardeners, some of whom have religious reasons for avoiding human remains, are majorly squicked. So exercise some discretion.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 9:20 PM on June 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

Sorry for your loss Avenger. Check your memail.
posted by allkindsoftime at 9:43 PM on June 22, 2010

I am sorry.

I totally agree with ColdChef. You could also think this as a process. For some reason in this life, you are asked to process your relationship to your father more than just by scattering his ashes one day. This should give you the needed peace of mind.

posted by Doggiebreath at 3:40 AM on June 23, 2010

I am sorry for your loss.

I understand your predicament. There are many good suggestions here. I only have a data point to add.
My mother's cremains were destined to be next to my father's in a cemetery in Canada. The fee for opening and closing the grave site was just over $100. (We took her on a flight; the funeral home advised us that we only needed to notify the airline that we had cremains.)

For a beloved pet, we found a beautiful covered dish. He is in the foyer, standing guard in a sealed ceramic.
posted by Drasher at 5:35 AM on June 23, 2010

If you own your home and plan to stay there, then you could plant a tree or bush in the garden and bury the remains under there - something living from something no longer.
posted by mippy at 5:43 AM on June 23, 2010

NB I never met any of my grandparents but we had two laburnum trees in the garden that twisted around each other, and they always reminded my mother of her parents embracing.
posted by mippy at 5:44 AM on June 23, 2010

My mom died in this past May. Her wishes were as simple a disposition as possible and we went with a service run by a man who looked hauntingly like Eugene Levy's older brother and had a schpiel like Earl Scheib (Still, when we discuss the matter we refer to him as Earl Camembert. It is oddly comforting). He picked up her body, filled and filed all the paperwork, delivered her in a cardboard casket to a crematorium and then returned with the cremains in a simple metal tin. Part of the fees include a tip to the operator of the crematorium. I had no idea.

From what I understand (and please, Cold Chef, correct me), there is no issue with disposing cremains where you want as they are no longer considered human remains and do not constitute a health issue (and, of course, as long as you don't interfere with anyone else rights - you know, dropping them in the salad bar at Wendy's for example).

Therefore, I would recommend that you ask the cemetery if is is OK to plant flowers at your grandfather's grave site. Then on your own time with a potted plant, the cremains, and a small trowel, dig a small hole deeper than you need, put in the cremains and plant the flowers over them. If you can't afford to travel there, you would need to arrange an agent to do that for you or wait until you can afford do so.

My mom's wishes for final disposition were to let whomever of her sons felt the strongest do what he wanted. So if one son wanted a grave, a grave would be fine. None of us felt a grave would help us and chose to leave the cremains with the officiant who disposed of them in an appropriate manner.

More than a year after Mrs. Plinth's grandmother death, we and her father took her grandmother's cremains and her grandfather's cremains (now more than 8 years old), combined them and repatriated them to a village in France (her home village) and a lake in Switzerland (his home region). Like Cold Chef said, there is no hurry.
posted by plinth at 5:58 AM on June 23, 2010

From what I understand (and please, Cold Chef, correct me), there is no issue with disposing cremains where you want as they are no longer considered human remains and do not constitute a health issue

No and yes. You're not allowed to spread ashes on property you do not personally own. That means no parks, no waterways, no public areas. You're correct that there's no health issue involved, but most places frown on it anyway. This is not to say that people don't do it, it's just not legal. FWIW, I've only heard of a few people getting in trouble for scattering ashes in public places. But never in a cemetery.

If a cemetery doesn't allow you to scatter ashes, I'll almost guarantee you that they don't allow you to plant flowers on the grave. Random plants in cemeteries are hell for the maintenance crews.
posted by ColdChef at 6:08 AM on June 23, 2010

If a cemetery doesn't allow you to scatter ashes, I'll almost guarantee you that they don't allow you to plant flowers on the grave.

That strikes me as something that you could ask when you call - "can I plant flowers, and can you recommend a kind?"
posted by plinth at 6:18 AM on June 23, 2010

Take your time...

We have three cats and a grandmother on the side table in the dining room... the cats will remain forever, I imagine. Grandmother will soon be quietly sifted into the lake she loved as a child.
posted by HuronBob at 10:15 AM on June 23, 2010

I am so sorry for your loss. I was in shock for months after my dad died, and it wasn't until two years later that my anxiety attacks have finally stopped. I don't miss him any less, and it is still painful. But it does get better. I promise. I don't know where my dad's ashes are scattered. He didn't want his children to know so that we wouldn't have to go to a certain place to remember him. That was his only request.

He let us decide if we wanted a ceremony, and I highly recommend it! It brought me more closure than I could have ever imagined. My dad's ceremony was in a church where his friends and family told stories about him. But it would be just as nice (if not better) at home with your close family and friends. Talking about your favorite memories helps with the pain.
posted by Annetess at 10:29 AM on June 23, 2010

That strikes me as something that you could ask when you call - "can I plant flowers, and can you recommend a kind?"

That seems like a good idea. Just don't give them your name.
posted by ColdChef at 10:31 AM on June 23, 2010

Also remember that there is no rush. You could keep the plan of going to California and scattering the ashes as something to do at some point in the future. Something perfect might come up in the meantime, it is not a decision you need to burden yourself with while going through the rest of the grieving process.

There is no urgency. You can simply put him in a nice place in your house for awhile (even years). Maybe buy some beautiful fabric and tie it around the box (Japanese style).

My mother had both my father's ashes and her favorite dog's ashes under her bed for years and years. There was no problem until my mother was ready to bury my father, but could not remember which box of ashes belonged to him or the dog.
posted by Vaike at 11:41 AM on June 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

The people of a small rural town on the coast of South Australia, around the way from the Nullabor Plain, gathered on a fine day along the cliffs while I boarded a boat with my Mum's ashes. I scattered the ashes into the ocean, amongst the wildflowers I had thrown in before.

Now I know I can "visit" her whenever I dip my toes in the ocean.

6 years later I am finally able to think about a memorial.

Take the time you need. Keep him under the bed. But wait until you feel right about where his final resting place will be. It really is ok for him to be around until then.
posted by gomichild at 2:32 PM on June 23, 2010

ColdChef is the best friend anyone ever had at these moments. I wanted to support him and everyone else who said give it time and really think about whether you want to keep the ashes with you, scatter them, share them among those close to him, or whatever else feels right. It also gives you some time to save up a little bit if you need to do that. It took me a couple of years to make these choices for my mom and I'm glad I wasn't impetuous.

If you decide on an urn, don't be afraid to look in unconventional places. I chose a potter from Etsy in part because I loved her designs, her method of making them, and that by buying from her I was supporting an artist with a disability. I also selected her because she was thoughtful enough to be practical about providing size information. I didn't want to select something that the ashes wouldn't fit. I actually just got the vase today and feel like I made a good choice.

Whatever you decide to do here and however practical you need to be, it's ok. It really is.
posted by melissa may at 6:07 PM on June 23, 2010 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: In case anybody is still reading this: we are taking the suggestions to heart but I don't think I'll be able to publicly share our plan. Thanks to everybody who has helped out. Maybe once this is over I can start the grieving process in earnest.
posted by Avenger at 2:08 PM on June 25, 2010

« Older RZA Shaved the Track and He Caught Razor Bumps   |   Too banal for Dan Savage... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.