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Spring To-Do List: Finding a Permanent Place for Loved One’s Ashes

Cartoonist Roz Chast candidly revealed keeping her parents ashes in her closet for over five years. Prompted by a fan's tip, she eventually bid farewell, emphasizing the significance of not storing ashes in closets.

What to do with Cremated Remains?

Cartoonist Roz Chast admitted in her popular 2014 book, "Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant?" that her parents’ ashes had been in her closet, alongside shoes, clothing, and wrapping paper, for over five years. 

In the spring of 2016, after receiving a tip from a fan, she finally took her parents’ cremated remains to their final destination. "It was time to say goodbye," she wrote in a touching cartoon epilogue for the New Yorker. 

Closet Space and Closure

Beyond giving you more closet space, there’s a more profound benefit to finding a better, more permanent place for cremated remains. Scattering “ashes” can bring meaning, relief, solace, and closure to the living. From a healing hike up a favorite mountain to a trip abroad, the experience can also pay tribute to the passions of the person who has died. 

Memorial Options

Studies have shown that having a memorial object can help refocus grief into happier memories. Even if you intend on scattering remains, you can keep a small portion to do something unique and permanent, like creating a diamond, buying memorial jewelry, or creating a keepsake stone.

Some people even use a portion to create a tattoo or make art. The main thing is to give it a home where you can treasure memories instead of having a box stored next to your winter boots.

Unclaimed Remains

Sadly, funeral homes report that about one percent of their cases are never collected. Los Angeles is one of several cities that holds an annual ceremony for thousands of unclaimed remains. 

According to the Cremation Association of North America, at least one in five homes has a container with cremated remains. The organization has been encouraging funeral homes to work with the public to participate in regularly scheduled scattering activities.

There are many theories about why cremated remains go unclaimed. Sometimes, it is because it is too difficult to deal with the reality of the loved one’s death, and families are “not ready to let go.” Sadly, sometimes, it is because of a family conflict, poverty, or homelessness. Other times, busy families just don’t know what their options are. 

Spring Cleaning’s Long History

Spring cleaning has an ancient history. Some say it can be traced back to the Persians who prepared for the new year or the Jewish tradition of getting ready for Passover, among other theories.

However it began, spring cleaning may be the right inspiration for you to look for ways to memorialize your loved one’s remains. (Hint: You don’t have to wait for spring.) Too often, if not scattered, buried, or otherwise disposed of, urns turn up at garage sales or thrift stores after the person storing them also passes away.

Plan a DIY Scatter Day

When you are ready to part with the “ashes” in your closet, consider creating your own “scatter day.” A scatter day is a time set aside for families to find the closure and healing that comes with a more permanent goodbye. You can create your own with a bit of planning. Sometimes, a funeral home in your community may also hold one.

To create your DIY scatter day, choose a day with meaning: a birthday, anniversary, favorite holiday, or the first day of spring. Remember, rules about scattering cremated remains vary from state to state, so do your research. 

Planning site Cake offers tips for creating a cremation ceremony and suggested readings. They also suggest ten popular locations, including national parks, the beach, or a vacation destination.

If you are considering travel, Mourning Noon and Night author Tre Miller Rodriguez shared her experience taking her late husband’s remains to “Bahamas, Brazil, Connecticut, Cuba, England, Hungary and Texas” and beyond with Modern Loss and what she learned in the process.

You can also transfer the cremated remains into a display urn or consider a more novel option, like creating a diamond, tattoo, or vinyl record. 

Nine years after “Can We Talk About Something More Pleasant,” Roz Chast says she’s still processing her relationship with her mother and death itself. “It’s still a giant mystery,” she says.

Whatever you choose, we hope that the promise of new life and new beginnings that come each spring will motivate you to find a meaningful place for your loved one and give you some comfort around that “giant mystery” we all grapple with.

To learn about another unique way to scatter ashes, take a look at our article about which national parks allow ash scattering.