Won't Visit Anyway?

When a loved one passes, we want to maintain a close connection. But it's a mobile world and we change jobs, careers — and cities — more than at any other time in history. Few people live in the same towns that they grew up in so isn't it easier to cremate and take ashes with us wherever we go?

Let us consider the following scenario - say that a couple chooses cremation. They have two children. Either the children divide the ashes up into mini-urns, or they take turns: First year, the brother. Next year the sister. In more than a few cases, no one really wants the remains in their home — it seems creepy, actually — but they feel guilty and acquiesce.

What will they do with the urn, exactly?
Perhaps it will go over the fireplace or on the shelf near the television. Since not everyone is comfortable with remains of the dead in their living room, the urn often eventually gets "exiled" to a storage closet, the basement, or a corner — out of sight and mind.

How long will the kids keep the urn for? Until they switch jobs and move? Until they retire? And then, in ten or twenty years, when they move to a smaller apartment or a retirement community, will their children want the remains? How many urns will reasonably be passed on, generation to generation?

At some point, urns and ashes are likely to be thrown away in the garbage.

Modern mobility does indeed present a challenge. Cemeteries are farther away and harder to visit. But cremation is not the answer. Cremation decreases reverence for the deceased's remains1. And cremated remains are eventually, in this generation or the next, thrown out, with no marker or possibility of remembrance or visitation at all. There is something within us that recognizes that cremated remains are a hollow shrine. Whatever spirit or special connection exists at a grave, call it soul, spirit or Neshamah, it just isn't felt with ashes. Cremation's complete destruction of all that was the body, even the DNA, severs that connection in totality.

Visiting the burial site of a relative is a beautiful thing. However, even if you don't plan on visiting, why make it impossible for others to do so – now, or in the future? At some point later in life, it may be emotionally significant for a descendant, relative or friend to visit. This has happened in countless families and many people are tracing their roots. Why not leave the possibility open to the future?

In an article by USA TODAY founder, Al Neuharth, titled "Cremation at death? Kids killed it for me", he states: "15 years ago, as I prepared for my "retirement" at age 65, I revised my will and included cremation instructions. My two adult offspring agreed with that decision. Since then, I not only remarried but we have six adopted children, ages 3 to 11. The four oldest and I discuss everything. School. Church. News, Sports. Movies. TV. The Internet. Money. Life. Death.

Our kids generally believe that if you're good, or if God forgives you when you're a little bit bad, your soul goes to heaven when you die. If you do something so bad that God doesn't forgive you, your soul goes to hell. Soul aside, they don't want any of our bodies burned into ashes. They want mine buried in a cemetery so it can "sleep forever." Also, so they can visit it sometimes and bring flowers, like they have to the graves of their "grandparents" (my parents). The kids' reactions have killed the cremation idea for me, at least for now." (USA TODAY, Dec. 6, 02)

Family feelings, especially those of kids, are far more important than any new fashioned approach to the old inevitability of death. Even in cases where gravesite visitation will rarely or never occur, burial and gravesite visitation are two separate ideas. Consider the case of Moses. At the end of the Bible, God buried him and hid the location of the grave to make sure it would not become the site of idol worship. Though there have never been any visitors there, and though God could have chosen many other methods of disposal of the dead, He chose burial, indicating that it is the right choice even when there will be no visitors. The body is at rest, returned naturally to the place of its origin, and has found a permanent home.

1 For example, one commentator noted that "as the number of cremations in the United States rises, so does the number of abandoned urns, either lying unclaimed in funeral homes or found in attics and basements after relatives of the deceased have passed on themselves." Matthews, "Cremation: Burn, Baby, Burn," August 7, 2007.