"As I mused, the fire burned"

Reflection on life as a person of faith.

A Scattering of Ashes

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Today we went out on Lake Winnipeg (51.095010, -96.594728) with extended family to scatter ashes from my mom, Betty and step-father, Barrie. My mom died in April 2011, Barrie this past January 2014.

It seems very unreal, that the sum total of physical presence that makes up our being, once committed to fire ends up as a few kilos of ash. It seems even more unreal that, once scattered, there is no more tangible physical presence that remains but an empty urn.

There is a danger, in dealing with the loss of a loved one, that we seek to cling too firmly to the physical trappings that remain. Sometimes it’s overt like keeping an urn of ashes; sometimes it’s less tangible in terms of hanging on to memories that are better left to pass. Jesus, when he met Mary at the tomb, warned her – do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. That caution is one for all of us in dealing with loss.

Cremation is by far the most popular committal used in Canada. It is rare to see a funeral home these days that does not have a crematorium stack on the roof. I think this is mainly because of the high cost of funerals already – cremation with an urn and no wooden coffin can cost $5,000. A traditional service with burial starts at double that amount – with a fancy casket alone approaching the total cost of a cremation service.

The problem with cremation comes in our grieving process – many of those cremations are not followed by a memorial service (of any type, church or otherwise), some have a memorial service with not even the presence of an urn. The problem is the lack of the physical, tangible presence of the deceased in the room. This was easily done when the service was a traditional funeral with a casket presence. It’s hard for those suffering the loss, because the physical presence of the casket literally screams out your grief, inescapable and unavoidable. If the service was really traditional, and the family trailed the casket into the church, the physical reality of the transition from life into death, even the physical pattern of the service mirrored the reality of life and loss.

It is too easy, without the physical presence of the deceased at a service, to escape the necessary process of grief and living into the loss. It’s not something that will ever leave you, but that process of grief will teach you how to live into the new reality of loss.

The danger is that rather than learning into the loss, without the reminder of the physical it is too easy to ignore that reality. Keeping the ashes close becomes a way of keeping the deceased alive, of hanging on to a memory that should be allowed to ascend to the Father along with the departed love one.

Although I know all this, it will a bit of a surprise today to learn that our scattering of ashes felt like a real goodbye, the ending of a process that had been incomplete in 2011 and 2014.

As a somewhat humorous footnote on this reflection, as we were preparing the ashes last night the lid on the urn of my mom’s ashes turned out to be cross threaded and seized into place. It took some judicious use of a screwdriver and needle nosed pliers to get the lid off. We struggle so hard to hold on to life!


Written by sameo416

August 2, 2014 at 7:09 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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