Where to scatter ashes
February 27, 2012 9:24 AM   Subscribe

What do we do with our daughter's ashes?

Our daughter was stillborn last spring and her ashes have been at my in-laws house since then. With the one year date approaching in April we are trying to move forward with our lives and think it would be helpful to make this decision as part of that. We are not religious and have no need for a location that we can visit, such as a cemetery. We live in a condo so putting them in the back yard or planting a tree as part of the process is not an option. My in-laws are in the process of selling their house so scattering them there is also not an option. My family has a vacation home in another state that is one of my favorite places in the world and we've talked about planting a tree and scattering them there. But will that change how I feel about going there in the future? Will it just make me sad to be there? This feels very different from dealing with the ashes of a parent or other loved one who would have had favorite places in their lives, so please no stories about where you scattered your great-grandfather after his death.
posted by Nathanial Hörnblowér to Human Relations (16 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
But will that change how I feel about going there in the future? Will it just make me sad to be there?

You have already been changed. You are right to move on, which is essentially acknowledging the permanent change of grief. I advise you put it in that place. Sometimes it will make you sad when you are there. Sometimes you will not feel sad there. I think it is an excellent place.
posted by Ironmouth at 9:27 AM on February 27, 2012 [16 favorites]

What about scattering her ashes in the ocean? Wiccans believe the ocean "is the primordial womb that gave birth to the universe when there was only the Darkness of non-form. From Her womb, was born night, and water, and eternity. From these were born light, and earth, and time." This metaphor is beautiful to me even though I'm not Wiccan. How would you feel about standing on a beach and giving her ashes to the ocean?
posted by hazyjane at 9:32 AM on February 27, 2012 [10 favorites]

The quote in my comment comes from here.
posted by hazyjane at 9:34 AM on February 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

Maybe think of the places around where you live and would have taken her, like parks and museums, etc. You could spread her ashes in a few different locations - honoring her would-have-been life, and not tying her to just one place in your memory. Some could still go to the cabin.
posted by lizbunny at 9:39 AM on February 27, 2012 [4 favorites]

Great sadness often accompanies great joy. There is nothing so happy as a tragedy overturned into something joyful; and nothing so sad as when a joyful event turns tragic. The two coexist, and I wonder if one may not exist without the other. So, I think putting the ashes in a place of happiness is fitting.

It sounds to me that you are ultimately looking to put the ashes in a safe place, a place with the potential to give meaning to it all. If your vacation home is such a place, then it sounds like a good place to put them.
posted by jabberjaw at 9:44 AM on February 27, 2012 [2 favorites]

No one can say if scattering your daughter's ashes at your beloved vacation home will make you sad, but if you love that place, bringing your daughter there to rest seems right. When you visit, your whole family will be together, and you can be sad sometimes, and grateful sometimes, and live your life full of emotions, which is okay. You already carry your happy memories of times spent at your vacation home with you all the time, just like you will carry the memory of your daughter with you all the time. Bringing her ashes to a place of joy and peace seems like a good choice. I'm so sorry for your loss.
posted by juniperesque at 9:56 AM on February 27, 2012 [7 favorites]

When faced with the choice I have chosen beautiful locations on rivers or streams. Seems to give me a sense of moving on and yet always being there because the location remains. Subject to land developers, anyway. I am fortunate in having many beautiful rivers and streams available locally. As an aside, do it, where ever you chose. It's a good thing.
posted by uncaken at 10:35 AM on February 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

I would personally choose a pretty lake nearby that you don't have any past associations with, and decide to scatter the ashes there. That way, that lake could become her lake, and you could visit it solely in memory of her. I'm very sorry for your loss.
posted by oxfordcomma at 10:56 AM on February 27, 2012 [3 favorites]

I agree with the idea of picking a place to you have no history with - make it her place.
posted by Flood at 11:09 AM on February 27, 2012

Ironmouth, jabberjaw and juniperesque make a lovely case for scattering the ashes at the vacation home. But, we, a community of internet strangers, can only offer suggestions. You ultimately must follow your own hearts, so, if you feel that this is going to make you too sad, then I can suggest a variation on that - scatter the ashes in the ocean or a river, and then plant a memorial tree at the vacation home or have one planted in her honor at a favorite park.

Please also don't totally discount the advice of those of us who have grieved for loved ones. You are grieving for the loss of all your daughter could have been to you. We are not only grieving the relationships we have lost, but what we had hope could be the deepening and strengthening of those relationships. In other words, you are grieving the conversations that never began, and we are grieving the loss of all the conversations that could have been. There are intersections there, and we who grieve now offer our sincere sympathy to you in your sorrow.

Also, we each grieve in our own ways, and it takes as long as it takes. There is no timetable for moving on, and it will be ok for you to be sad now and then (and you may find that sadness hitting you in the oddest times and places for a while, even in your beloved vacation home, whether you scatter your daughter's ashes there or not).

My husband and I are also not religious, and I humbly offer a couple of poems we have found comforting below. Peace to you.

The Wild Geese by Mary Oliver.

Let This Darkness Be a Bell Tower (Sonnets to Orpheus II, 29)
by Rainer Maria Rilke (as translated by Joanna Macy and Anita Bowers)

Quiet friend who has come so far,
feel how your breathing makes more space around you.
Let this darkness be a bell tower
and you the bell. As you ring,

what batters you becomes your strength.
Move back and forth into the change.
What is it like, such intensity of pain?
If the drink is bitter, turn yourself to wine.

In this uncontainable night,
be the mystery at the crossroads of your senses,
the meaning discovered there.

And if the world has ceased to hear you,
say to the silent earth: I flow.
To the rushing water, speak: I am.
posted by gudrun at 11:10 AM on February 27, 2012 [14 favorites]

Will it just make me sad to be there?

I think that it will make you sad to be there, but it will not just make you sad to be there, and you will be sad anyway, to be there without your daughter.

Over time, as your family grows and changes and you come back again and again to the family vacation home, I wonder if you wouldn't feel their absence keenly if your daughter's ashes were not there with you, more than any sadness you would feel if they were.

(I have not had this experience myself but my extended family has, and the fact that their son's ashes are on the family farm where everyone comes back to has, I believe, contributed to the fact that he remains present in their family in a positive way.)
posted by headnsouth at 11:10 AM on February 27, 2012

What about bringing the container to your vacation home but not scattering the ashes/burying it quite yet? If you or your wife aren't ready, forcing yourself on a grieving timeline is counter-productive.

I buried my daughter in the cemetery near my parent's home in my hometown and the cemetary where my Nana is buried (a continent away from where her own husband and stillborn children were buried). I do regret sometimes that I did not bury my daughter in the graveyard near my home and because I do not visit her as often as I feel I "should". To be honest, I don't think there IS "one perfect solution", we are no longer buried in family plots near the ancestral home.

I am sorry for your loss.
posted by saucysault at 11:24 AM on February 27, 2012

I am so sorry for your loss.

We have two urns for our daughter, a little tiny one that will live somewhere in our house, wherever that may be, for forever. We also had them put the rest of the ashes into a plastic container/urn that we intend to spread a little bit of at various places over the course of our lives as we get back to them.

As an example, there's a beach on Maui that both my wife and I love. When either one of us needs to go to our "happy place" in our minds that's the spot. We'd fully intended to take her there (many times!) in her life, and since we've missed that opportunity we plan to spread a bit of her ashes there. We've also talked about a couple spots that are near to our hearts in Europe, and even a few places that we've never been that we'd have loved to have taken her to.

We're both comfortable with this as something that will allow us to celebrate the life that we'd wanted for her. It's also something that we both feel won't bring sadness when we visit these spots again. Will we think about it? Of course. But it's not something that either of us feel we'll dwell on in a way that would 'ruin' an otherwise happy place.

Our families decided that they needed a spot for her too, so she shares a gravestone with her grandfather in the small town we grew up in (~300 miles away). I can tell you that it brings a bit of sadness to visit, not because she's there, but because when we visit that spot it's always a time to reflect on our loss. Your idea of spreading them at the vacation home sounds like it'd be a bit like that, especially if you do so under a tree. I can imagine that your feelings about the house itself wouldn't change much, but that the tree might take on some special significance. Will it be sad? Probably. Does that matter? Probably not. It's ok to be sad about it every once in a while, to deny that would be to deny a part of yourself.
posted by togdon at 11:52 AM on February 27, 2012 [5 favorites]

Your goal as you describe it is to create not a place but rather an event: temporal punctuation, to mark the end of a particular phase of mourning.

The largest component of funeral ashes is phosphate. It's possible to have funeral ashes converted into fireworks. Fireworks condense multiple emotions (they conjure up battle, celebrate change, draw attention to the somber night before and afterward) to sublime effect. For fireworks, it seems like the place they are lit is less important than where they go: what the sky looks like.

If you want to feel some outside force pushing you into letting go, you could light the rocket at the first light of dawn, or a phase of the moon, or some rare astronomical event.
posted by feral_goldfish at 1:11 PM on February 27, 2012

For what it's worth, there are biodegradeable urns: they can be released to float out on the water then dissolve, or they could be buried to return to nature that way.

One thing my own family did with an elderly uncle: we spread his ashes over his parents' graves --- since he left no spouse or children, it just seemed the right thing to do. For your daughter, that could be your parents or other family members.
posted by easily confused at 6:43 PM on February 27, 2012

Thanks to everyone for your replies. I've tried to read them all a few times but just get too upset by the thought of this, so maybe now is not the right time. My husband and I (I'm female) certainly understand that this type of grief can take a long time and that it will come and go, so we are not expecting to be "all better" after this anniversary passes.

I did not mean to discount those of you who have lost loved ones later in their lives as I know the death of anyone close to you is painful. I just meant that I didn't need examples of "we spread my grandfather's ashes at the lake where he loved to fish" - that kind of thing.
posted by Nathanial Hörnblowér at 8:41 AM on March 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

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