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So what are ashes worth? Morton hall case settled out of court

One thing we constantly hear is ashes are “Priceless”. But money is money and when the solicitors get involved the only language is hard cash.

The Scottish Morton hall scandal has been widely reported: the ashes of stillborn or very young children were not returned to the parents, they were told there were not any to return, often this was not true. When this was uncovered it caused a world of pain for all those involved.

Initially, Edinburgh City Council offered those impacted £4000, which around 100 families accepted, accepting the offer prevented them from taking further legal action. However, that left around 80 families who did not take them up on the offer, whether because they wanted nothing or more, we can’t say.

However, the saga has moved on another step. One mother who claimed she suffered a significant impact took the council to court, suing the authority for £75,000. The mother’s legal team wanted the case to be heard by a civil jury rather than a single judge, presumably as they tend to be more emotive. But the case was settled before the big day, defence teams prefer this so it doesn’t set a precedent and the figure paid is undisclosed, the plaintiff’s like it as it is less risky and they possibly get more than the judge would award.

It is unclear whether the full amount was paid. A spokesman for Edinburgh City Council said: “It would be inappropriate to comment on an individual case.”. It is unlikely that the full amount was paid, but it I perhaps likely that a good chunk of it would be.

So, now we ‘know’ what are ashes worth? Somewhere between nothing and £75,000, with mean being around £4,000? To make it clear here I am being deliberately trite to make a point.

However, that was not the only interesting point of the article. The first is what was said by Dorothy Maitland, the former leader of the charity which exposed the Morton hall babies ashes scandal, she said: “I know a lot of the parents felt that what they got was ridiculous, but they just didn’t have the strength or the finance to fight it in case they lost.

“Others did refuse and if Madelaine’s case is ultimately successful they may well come forward with their own claims.”

And she added: “I accepted the compensation offer because money was not the be all and end all for me and I wasn’t able to fight any further after the truth came out. At the end of the day I don’t think I could have gone through two years of this. The council has created a memorial garden for at Mortonhall and that is worth more than anything.”

I think she is right. An apology, a rectification and the memorial garden must be the right answer. Ashes should not be financial, but I know others disagree.

Finally, looking at the comments it reinforced this, ordinarily the comments on such issues are full of disgust and anger towards an authority. However, the two comments were as follows:

Well there you have it. Dead children’s remains whether dust, or in a grave now have a value if you are interested in pursuing it. It is not the kind of thing folk would pursue fifty odd years ago, but unfortunately grandparents no longer rule the world.

I suspect that the source of this so-called scandal was a possibly misplaced exercise of paternalistic kindness: someone thought it was kinder to tell the parents there were no ashes and this hardened into a practice that no administrator ever questioned.

Original Story:

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ashes in jewellery

The Facebook generation has no problem with the ashes of a former spouse

You may think that the urn or cremation jewellery of a former spouse may freak-out prospective new partners, and they would want the widow or widower to removal all traces of a former partner. Not so.

Respondents on Facebook survey conducted by OneWorld Memorials shows just the opposite in fact.

In their survey: Love in the Time of Cremation Urns

They posed the following question on Facebook:

“If you were in a relationship with someone and discovered they had the remains of their former spouse in their house or in jewellery they wore, would you:

a) Break off the relationship?
b) Ask them to get rid of the jewelry, keepsake or urn?
c) Not sure how you would react, but would be disturbed?
d) You wouldn’t be bothered by it ”

The result – almost everyone didn’t care (96%). I have attached a link to their splendid info graphic.

“This came as a shock.” said Ira Woods, the President of OneWorld Memorials. “I was convinced that someone in a relationship with a widow or widower would be very unhappy about their new love wearing a necklace filled with the deceased spouse’s cremation ashes or having an urn prominent in the house. But in fact people overwhelmingly expressed the opposite. Many found this behaviour to be a show of good character.”

Well done, for a good bit of insight. However, being the ever vigilant data nerd I will add a few caveats before all you that find yourself in this boat start dangling the pendant at the first date, content in the knowledge that acceptance is almost guaranteed.

  • The article did not give number of respondents
  • Those going to the page would be more comfortable with this subject anyway
  • The Facebook demographic coupled with the subject would be unlikely to give a true cross-section of society

That said, nice survey and a positive result.

The original source:

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ashes buried with which family

Choose to inter ashes at a family grave, but whose family?

Cremation is the common choice in the UK and becoming so in Canada and the US, therefore you can fit more ash caskets onto a family plot. But whose family?

I came across an interesting think piece by Ken Gallinger in the Toronto Star about where you choose to inter your ashes.

Ken’s mum is buried in her father’s plot in Toronto, his father is in south-western Ontario, along with his parents. Additionally his wife’s family has a plot in Manitoba where both parents rest. All the plots have space enough for him and his wife.

But Ken makes the point that in the in the normal run of things the bond of next of kin or principle relationship alters when one get a life partner and that is how it should be – those that continually look to their parents for love and guidance before turning to their spouse are well umm …doomed.

So what do you do when it comes to being interred, clearly his mother and father choose to be separated and return back to their parents. But most couples would not want this, most would wish some continuance of their bond. With families becoming ever more dispersed what you do, his suggestion is to have his ashes and his wife’s ashes mixed, divided into three and one urn interred in each of the plots.

But what about his children or his grandchildren they could be looking at something like 12 locations – which seems crazy. Also this is not an option for Catholics (as they can’t split the ashes) and how many headstones would you have? Here lies 1/9 of Stuart Wilson and 1/7 of Catherine Wilson? What happens if your partner can’t stand the ‘in-laws’?

I am not saying he shouldn’t do what he suggests, it is all about choice. What I am saying is this approach is probably not sustainable in the long run.

A couple of other options then – don’t opt for the family plot – have your own where you made your life, or make it a family tradition to scatter a token amount in a certain place – a specific lake or river? Tricky one this…

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Original article:


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cremation trends in the us

The changing trends towards cremation in the USA

Here is an interesting article from USA Today which has looked at changing trends in death rituals in the US and greater adoption of cremation. The article points to six noticeable changes in culture:

  1. More people are personalising cremation

The articles points to the fact that there is greater choice out there for people to memorialise, urns for water burials, ashes being put into coral reefs, urns where you can plant a seed that can grow into a tree.

  1. People are becoming more mobile, and costs are higher to ship and bury bodies

The more mobile to population the less people associate with a specific place or a need to return to that place. Shipping a body is very expensive shipping an urn isn’t. Costs in general are greater for a burial. The article stated:

–In 1960, the national median cost of a funeral minus the vault, which is a container usually made of concrete that is used to encase the casket, was $708.

–The national median cost of a funeral in 2012 was $7,045. If a vault is included, something that is typically required by a cemetery, the median cost was $8,343.

–The 2013 median cost of cremation with no memorial services, and including a crematory fee and a basic urn, was $2,260.

–The median price for a memorial service with cremation and no viewing of the body before cremation was $3,250.

–The median price of an adult funeral with cremation casket, which is a combustible casket, viewing and cremation was $5,410. Some cremation caskets can be rented for the viewing, which is a less expensive option.

Note: these costs don’t include the plot, the headstone or flowers! And the first one can be extortionate.

  1. Cremation is rising in popularity in Arizona and nationally

The U.S. cremation rate in 2013 was 45% and set to rise to 50.6 by 2018, according to the Cremation Association of North America. Some states are more in favour than other for example the Arizona cremation rate is slightly more than 64 percent.

  1. Religious norms have changed to allow cremation

The article point to the fact that the Catholic Church relaxed its view on cremation, but that was back in the 1960s, I guess these things take a long while to filter through…Or whilst it would appear that the US is still a church going society maybe strict doctrine does not have the hold it once did?

  1. Hearses and big limos are on their way out

The article reported that the use of hearses and limos were on the decline with the funeral director reported as saying that they had sold there fleet and now rented them. Well I can see you can perhaps do without the limos, but the hearse?

  1. Kitchens and other gathering places at mortuaries are in

This I also found interesting, people where still very much into the family gathering and the ‘wake’ plays a greater role, with mortuaries spending on kitchen equipment to allow outside carters to offer more than a cold cup of tea and a curly sandwich.

Anyway if you a bit more depth from a range funeral professionals, here is the article:

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germen ashes scattering law

Bremen is the first state in Germany to allow the scattering of ashes


Bremen, the smallest state in Germany, has voted to allow the scattering of ashes. To be honest I knew the name, but I was not aware where it was – and it is small, really small in fact it is two cities that are separated by the larger state of Lower Saxony.

You might not seem a big deal, well it is. Germany has strict laws on ashes and until now they were only allowed to be placed in an official cemetery and they were must be buried within six weeks under state law.  However Germany is changing and death rites are no exception 2012 saw cremations overtake burials.

This move is seen as a big step and the change has caused a row with opposition Christian Democrats and church figures getting rather hot under the collar. However the State Parliament went ahead and voted to allow a persons ashes to be scattered on private properties.

It is due to come into force next year and there are a number of provisos:

  • the existence of a written statement by the deceased person that his or her ashes should be scattered at a particular location.
  • someone (presumably a funeral director or chaplain?) must also be appointed to supervise the scattering and make sure that it takes place in accordance with the wishes of the deceased.
  • the deceased must have lived in Bremen as his or her last place of residence.
  • care must be taken, that none of the ashes blow onto neighbouring properties
  • with a special permit, the ashes may also be scattered in rivers or parks.

The parties that pushed for the change – Social Democrat, Green and Left party believed the strict rules were no longer in accordance with the view of a large segment of society (A survey in 2007 showed that more than 45 percent of Germans wanted their ashes scattered or stored in an urn outside a cemetery)

However Christian Democrats and religious groups believed that such a move would lead to a “privatization” of death and grief and not uphold the dignity of the deceased person.



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military columbarium

Utah Veterans have a new columbarium and scattering site


Military veterans form the US state of Utah have had their cemetery facilities enhanced and improved. The US Department for Veteran Affairs awarded a grant of $4.5million for improvement to the Utah Veterans Cemetery & Memorial Park in Bluffdale, Utah.

The cemetery now includes a new columbarium and a garden for scattering ashes, with the names of those scattered engraved on an adjacent monument.

Since the refurbishment, the park mangers stated that the columbarium has been popular with 15 applicants already, whereas the scattering garden has yet to be used.

You may think there is nothing particular interesting about this little fact. I beg to differ.

Options for cremation ashes in veteran’s cemeteries are increasing in popularity, as the spokesmen said it is the ‘sign of the times’, but what does that mean? I guess they were mainly implying cost of the funeral, in that people will chose cremation over burial based on price, in addition the article also pointed out that the facility was free for the veterans and $700 for the spouse (although it was unclear what this $700 was for).

So if you choose to be memorialised in a cemetery then it is perhaps (and I am guessing at this point) that if two options are the same price and one that is perceived as ‘grander’ will be the choice.

It is interesting to watch how State institutions adapt to the change in social trends and the rationale they believe is behind the choices.

As a Brit the concept of the State having such a big mechanism for ex servicemen surprised me, but then America is a big country and has been involved a lot of conflicts over the last century. I would also argue there is a different relationship between the State and its service personal, as to defining those difference you could write a book. One last point, the article concluded ‘With the expansion, the cemetery should be able to accommodate all veterans who choose to be buried there, including Vietnam-era veterans, who will soon eclipse World War II veterans as the largest group dying each year. The state has an estimated 50,000 Vietnam-era vets.’ – Blimey. Then will come those who served in Iraq and Afghanistan…

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cremation ashes in a typical columbrium

Keeping ashes in a Columbarium: what are they, why use them and what do they cost.


A columbarium is a wall with cavities designed to hold cremation urns or cinerary urns. Have look at the picture above, they are usually made of stone such as granite and each niche can hold a number of cremation urns (up to about 4). The niche faceplate usually has an inscription engraved upon it.

These are quite popular in the Europe and US but not so in UK, so:

  • Where do they originate?
  • Why do people use them?
  • What do they cost?

The name comes from the Latin for Dove as the niche resembles a dovecote where doves build their nest. It has gone on to mean a sepulchre for urns. They date as far back as Roman times (eg Columbarium of Pomponius Hylas) and maybe even further.

They are more popular in continental Europe, which is presumably how the custom migrated to the States.  As to why they have not really been more popular in the UK may be to do with how the dead are memorialised in more Catholic areas of continental Europe, there is more likelihood of a mausoleum based interring i.e. placement above the ground rather than burial.

There are some examples in the UK, most notably the Dukes and Duchesses of Buckinghamshire. They constructed a family Columbarium in Wotton in Buckinghamshire which appears to ape fashions from the continent and may relate to the change in the royal lineage as the Hanoverians had become the new dynasty, the percentage of people in the UK at the time being cremated was very small indeed.

But what psychological need do they fulfil that burying, keeping or scattering ashes does not (or at least not to the same extent).

Well I suppose it might be a case of continuing traditions; ‘my mum and dad are in one, so what is good enough for them is good enough for me’.  Maybe it is for people who believe ashes should be in a place that is specifically designed for the purpose, or that the deceased should be kept with others who have departed, a necropolis if you will. If that is the case it might make more sense than burying ashes.

Historically burying was ‘necessary’ if you don’t opt to cremate, but there is no need for ashes to be buried. You may feel you wish to keep the ashes at the cemetery or church and not want to scatter them in the garden of remembrance, thus a columbarium is a great choice. Placing the urn in a wall or columbarium means you can visit, connect directly with them, more like visiting a grave.

Perhaps we should have this as an option more widely available in the UK; after all we are big fans of bronze plaques at crematoria as a focal point of memorialisation. According to the Co-op’s survey 1 in 20 chose the crematoria as the last resting place, personally I think this figure seems a bit low, maybe this is likely in the future, but currently from our research I would think it was more likely around 1 in 10. Interestingly it would appear that there may be a very slight increase in their use, not so much at the crematoria but some churches like the idea that these could provide a good option particularly where space is limited, and also as an income stream.

So to the cost, they are not cheap. I can’t say my research is massively in-depth, but I did look at a number of columbarium in a range of locations and what I can say is that, as with most things, cost has a lot to do with location: inside a fine old church in London with a lot of history – pricey, outside in the grounds of a crematoria in Northern England not as pricey (but still not cheap).

Do be aware that absolutely everything has a price; the inscription, the vault opening and so on. A rough estimate of set up costs is around £400- £500 (although there big variance here). Nearly all options are on a lease basis, so you have the ongoing annual cost, not insignificant either.  From Fleetwood in Lancashire where the price is about £15 per year to £150 per year in St Bartholomew the Great, West Smithfield, London.

For more information on Columbarium

Despite the cost, the more I read about them the more I quite like them; I can see that they have a role particularly for a couple where one has departed first or maybe for children who are waiting to decide what to do with the ashes of their parents. They are not a permanent solution for most of us, due to leasing arrangement. However they certainly seem better than a brass plaque (which I personally don’t understand).

Perhaps we need to come up with a more considered or up-to-date version of a columbarium. How about one for those in the trade union movement in the style of those wonderfully symbolical early banners, or maybe for more creative souls a moving one like kinetic art so you become part of an installation … the next Turner Prize? Maybe one carved out of living rock (as a once-upon-a-time geologist I prefer in-situ rock) like a cliff face. I certainly think that parish churches could consider getting a local artist or sculptor to make one, that way they could save space and create an income stream… Ummmm what a world of possibilities there is for the modern columbarium!

ashes kept collumbarium

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cremation ashes lewis

Even TripAdvisor is joining in!


Well sort of, I came across someone last week asking for tips for a location to scatter their mothers ashes

Good place on Lewis to scatter ashes

My mother sadly passed away in October and the family is hoping to have a get-together next July to commemorate her life and scatter her ashes in Lewis, which is where she was born, though she left when she was 14 and only went back once since then, I think.

She was born in Sandwick, just outside Stornoway, and my sister thought we could do it on seafront there, but I am worried that it will be too public and also not the most appealing place, with possible access difficulties too.

So, I was wondering if anyone knew of a peaceful and secluded place where it might be appropriate to lay her to final rest? Some of the party may have limited mobility, so the place would have to have vehicle access reasonably nearby.”

To date it has had one reply:

“What about the Braighe. The Aignish cemetery side has a path from the car park. That side is usually quiet and a lovely setting. Near to Sandwick too.”

So there you go I looked Braighe up and I have added a picture (the main post image) for those interested. The respondent does seem to have got a good idea.

However that is not the principal reason for the post it often these small snippets that offer the most insight. Firstly the family felt it correct to scatter their mother ashes in a place clearly none of them knew, or that their mother had rarely if ever returned after her departure. Furthermore even though I imagine they have given this considerable thought, it would obviously not be a place they would need to revisit on a frequent basis. For those not up on British geography Lewis is a most splendidly beautiful island off the north west cost of Scotland in the Hebrides, insomniacs may recognise Stornoway from the lilting tones of Radio 4’s shipping forecast. Put it like this you can’t get there on a cheap away-day return from Bastingstoke.

The second point of interest is that one of the family asked the world (well specially travellers), as to a suitable spot. I am not saying this is a bad idea or the wrong thing to do be there is a lot of trust and responsibility in such a request (I am sure this is perhaps the initial point of research).

Lastly it set me thinking, well who would you ask if you had no contacts or knowledge in a place. ‘Hi, is that tourist information?’ I suppose you could ask for a picturesque secluded beach with mobility access. Perhaps a member of the clergy may help. Certainly there would be celebrants in the area although you may feel obliged to use their services. I will give this more thought.


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Cremation over takes burial in Australia



Okay I can’t speak for the whole country as this article comes from the Brisbane area. So I am going to generalise and say without any statistical rigor that this is the trend across the country.

So what do they say is causing it? They say – Religion, space and economic rationalisation

In the Brisbane area there were around 1300 burials and 1400 cremations in Brisbane in 2011-12, compared to 1355 burials and 1396 cremations the previous year, when internments were outnumbered for the first time – a council spokeswoman said.

A decade ago it was a different picture with 1600 burials and 1160 cremations.

When a funeral director (Mr Osbourne of KM Smith) was asked why he thought cost was the main reason as cremations are AUS$1000 (£650) cheaper.

“Plus, there’s also the fact that we’re going to get to the stage when we run out of room [to intern people at the city’s graveyards],” he said. Ummmm how can that be a deciding factor? That is just supply and demand and links back to cost. Unless I suppose local sites are completely full, where cost is irrelevant because the option has removed altogether.

“In addition cremation increases also showed a cultural shift in Brisbane, as rites for the body after death were influenced by religion” he said.

“Krystine Hastings, principal of Cremations Only, said many people in the Chinese, Indian or Thai communities preferred cremations in line with their Buddhist beliefs.” (or Hindu and Sikh if she [or the reporter] wanted to be correct in terms of the Indian population)


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ashes Germany cremation holland

Cremation Tourism: Germans travel Holland to avoid cost and red tape!


The thing about cremation is that it is not the end of the journey; it would appear that people don’t consider the crematoria to be the final resting place. Why would you need a connection with where you are cremated – it is the cremation ashes and where they reside that represents us.

So a phenomenon has occurred in Germany where people are being cremated in Holland then their ashes are being transported back again. This is on the increase for a number of reasons; the Dutch don’t charge anywhere near as much as the Germans for cremation; the laws on the scattering of ash are more relaxed; and the deceased is cremated on the same day and not stored.

Something to point out here – the Germans are very practical about death – 65 year olds hopping on a coach to visit a future crematoria, brilliant you have to admire those Germans! Although this approach is perhaps not for British sensibilities I think.

The article also draws out a number of interesting points and distinctions between cultures. The three that fascinated me the most:

‘Crematorium manager Erik Heuberger is standing at the door waiting to greet the group on its arrival. The perma-tanned man with red-rimmed spectacles greets each pensioner with a firm handshake’ Interesting how he is described a cross between Christopher Biggins and David Dickinson, yet is Holland , a little eccentric perhaps nothing more.

The crematorium’s interior is bright with a multi-coloured carpet and walls adorned with paintings of water lilies and other abstract images. ‘We have nothing like this in Germany,’ says Friedrich. Half of me is thinking abstract art in a crematoria – oh dear! And the other half brightness and colour that would be a positive change.

‘Friedrich [the trip co-ordinator] organizes the transportation of the body to Holland while the pensioners can select what type of urn they want in advance. ‘This one is particularly nice,’ says Niesel during his visit to the crematorium’s urn room. ‘I could imagine myself feeling right at home in it,’ he jokes. Like surreal trip to the opticians ‘And how do these glasses suit you Sir..?..!‘. Apart from the oddness it seems as if scattering is not so common?

And on practical grounds this point was interesting -Heuberger explains that the urn has to remain in Holland for at least 30 days but after that relatives are free to do what they want with a deceased’s ashes.

If you find this interesting I would urge to read the article –

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stealing ashes

Theft of an Cremation Urn: what a crime?!


Theft of an Urn

Every week I have a look through material that appears on the Web looking for stories and developments in societies relationship with cremation ashes and memorialisation. And every week I discount at least two reports of heinous thefts of urns and caskets from grieving relatives. It actually happened to a friend whose grandmother’s ashes were stolen – he hasn’t told his father two years on. We also have the intellectually challenged in society who mistake the ashes for narcotics and end up imbibing them in some way. But this theft does shock us why I wonder (apart from the obvious) – we attach demonic qualities to the thief – I doubt the unsuspecting miscreant, if they knew that it was an urn, would touch it. Is it that modern urn design can deceive us to the contents? And does this say something about our keenness to hide or disguise the ashes in some way?

Then what happens to the urn? Do any criminals feel a pang of guilt and surreptitiously return them? Do they just get rid and unceremoniously discard them? Do they even try and profit from the urn, recycling it in some way? Do some even try and give the remains a send of?!

What do people feel about loss of the urn? And for how long? Academics talk about an environment of memory that we create and if that environment is removed and not replaced – this can be extremely traumatic for many. But when skipped a generation the emotion I witnessed was a sort mixture between  ‘Oh god, how am I going to tell Dad!?’ coupled with that dark funeral humour that seems to pervade in Britain, not overt sadness. Is it the same grave robbing? somehow I don’t think so, but I can’t explain why…

Sorry this post has been bit more questions than answers – If I find any I will continue in another post…

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ashes down the gutter

Cremated ashes down the gutter


In America the family of a murdered Portuguese journalist followed the dead man’s wishes and tipped his cremated remains down the subway grate in Times Square.

There is no reason given as to why Carlos Castro wished to be memorialised in this why just that the family made a hasty exit after the deed.

It seems to lack dignity but perhaps that is the point? Still each to their own…

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not cremation

Promession the alternative to cremation?


There are a few alternatives to burial and cremation, but let us stick with the ones that are in the same arena. Promession ever heard of it? When I say arena I mean in the sense you get an ash like residual to bury. However it is at the opposite end of the spectrum in terms of technique. It was developed in Sweden is fairly simple instead of cremating the body using heat, instead they freeze the body and put it in liquid nitrogen, it then vibrated which causes it become powder. Then the water and metals (eg fillings) are removed.

The company operating the process in the UK are called Promessa and they very much extol the virtues in terms of compost – which is great but … The other interesting point is about being as they put it ‘preservation after death in an organic form’ which I guess means you get the whole person back minus the water content – which is most of what we are made up of.

I think it is one consideration, it makes sense, but the problem with the majority of us is the whole issue is wrapped up in emotion and mental perception and as such techniques have little basis in our psyche, more sci-fi the psyche if you pardon the pun. Nether the less, in a principally secular country that has more of the more progressive view about death than most it should not be dismissed out of hand…

Have a look

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cremation ashes geogrpahy

Cremation trends odd geographic distribution


I am going to generalise, sorry, but I think you will see why. And I think that you will find this is interesting…

In Europe cremation is popular in some parts and not so in others – basically the highest numbers are NW Europe,  Britain and  Scandinavia then they decrease the more South & East you go. I thought this was due to adherence to religious doctrine and the power base of the Catholic church. However this article from the United States points to a similar trend over there… “The line  seems to run right down the middle of the country with the west being more in favour of the process, and the east not. And when the southern US is considered, the numbers get even more skewed. So here we go–Hawaii, Nevada, Oregon and Washington lead the way with more than 6 out of 10 cremated. Move over to the Midwest and the percentages begin to drop and once in the Southern states, the numbers plummet to below 25% (on average) with Mississippi leading the way at less than 10%. ”

Coincidence I ask? … Well yes probably, but note worthy none the less don’t you think?

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nasty dimwit ashes

Raoul Moat’s ashes


The family of  the gunman Raoul Moat, want his ashes to be scattered near where he killed himself on the riverbank in Rothbury. However the locals see things different and have no desire to be associated with the man and don’t want their village to attract those wishing to memorialise Mr Moat or those with a morbid curiosity.

Putting sensibilities aside it I would say it would down to the land owner. Although I guess if the family choose to trespass and do it irrespective of the landowners wishes it would be difficult to undo.

Again who is right? Perhaps a compromise could be reached and the family went for a water scattering that might reduce the sense of actual location?

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cremation service church

Society’s attitudes to memorialistion in church


We are told our society is becoming less religious, it appears there is often a grating between cultures when it comes to remembering a secular person in a religious establishment. The vicar or priest may be called upon to speak about a loved one – someone they may not have known. And it may be not what the deceased would wish for – just that those left behind may be at a loss of what to do next or they may find comfort in the tradition. This could make things seem rather false, non-churchgoers mumbling over words of hymns they remember from childhood, or clergy wincing over contemporary music.

Likewise the crematorium can be ghastly sixties constructions, there for one sole purpose, often not the best place to celebrate life. Whereas although a church celebrates all stages of life. So neither may seem the ideal place to reflect upon the life of someone who meant so much to you. This is taking not taking anything away from the above, but those that have a more personal view of faith, religion, spirituality or belief may be more comfortable considering their own particular path.

So people many choose to celebrate a life when we scatter someone’s ashes, yet while is no tradition for us to lean on, this occasion is a fantastic opportunity. We hope we can help you in finding the right path for you.

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social trends in cremation ashes

Where have all the ashes gone? Changing social trends for cremation ashes in the UK


Here is a superb article from the Guardian written by Emma Cook concerning a study from 2006 entitled – Where have all the ashes gone?

You may not be able to see them but they are all around us – dispersed upon the remote peaks of Snowdon and Ben Nevis, scattered behind trees in national parks, sprinkled in rivers and lakes, emptied discreetly behind trees in local parks and meadow hedgerows, or beneath the turf of a football ground.

Ash-scattering is a deeply private ritual, yet it invariably takes place in a very public setting. Unlike other tributes to mark a death, it is an almost invisible one. There are no cellophane flowers, poignant plaques or sombre marble headstones.

Yet this ritual is leaving a different sort of trace. Earlier this year, the Mountaineering Council of Scotland asked bereaved relatives to avoid the most popular sites on Scottish summits because of worries that the volume of ashes was causing soil changes. In Leicestershire, boaters on the river Soar complained that if mourners continue to sprinkle ashes there, it will become unusable. Similarly, conservation officers in Snowdon recently asked people to consider alternatives because of the ecological effects on the vegetation. When Manchester City moved from Maine Road to the City of Manchester Stadium they had to build a special memorial garden because demand to scatter ashes was so high, there were worries it would affect the pitch.

Until 30 years ago, ash-scattering was rare in Britain. In the 1970s, only about 12% of human ashes were taken away from the crematoria by the bereaved, yet by last year the figure had risen to nearly 60%.

Such a significant jump is partly down to the rise in cremation figures generally. In 1946, just 50,000 people were cremated – now 72% of our dead are disposed of this way. And a lot of that ash isn’t staying in the prescribed confines of the local crematorium’s remembrance gardens.

Such a leap hasn’t gone unnoticed by academics – at Sheffield University there is a two-year study under way, entitled Where Have All The Ashes Gone?, looking into the motivations behind this relatively new ritual. “We knew the statistics were zooming up,” says Leonie Kellaher, a professor of anthropology at London Metropolitan University, who is working on the study. “And we thought, ‘Where are they going and why?’

“Often present in the minds of the bereaved can be a complex metaphysical connection – one that leaves a more desirable image than the memory of burial,” says Kellaher. “Possibly something they can turn over in their mind afterwards that is rather more comfortable.” This is certainly how Rob Lowe, 34, a graphic designer living in Glossop, Derbyshire, felt when his sister Janine died 10 years ago. Janine was 29 and had just finished a post-graduate degree in housing when she decided to go for a jaunt one summer day. “She was in a car on the M6 on her way to visit the Lake District but she never got there. She turned to reach for a map and the driver lost control.” Janine died in hospital. It was her father’s idea to scatter the ashes and they chose Loughrigg, a small hill that overlooks Windermere, “because she was going up there that day and we were completing the journey for her”. Lowe and his parents took it in turns to scatter the ashes and he remembers the day as fluid and untraumatic compared to the service at the crematorium.

“There’s a plaque there,” says Lowe. “But it’s not a place to think about somebody. One thing that struck me, when we went to the crem for the service, was seeing the exit light on the door, like you’d get in a TV studio. That shocked me. It was very cold and clinical.” Scattering her ashes was, Lowe felt, much more in keeping with Janine’s character. “She was quite alternative. She enjoyed travelling and going to music festivals. We were brought up in the Methodist church but we weren’t religious once we became teenagers.” It also felt a more sympathetic place to go and reflect. “If you go to the crem you just think about the day she died. At the Lakes, I can let my mind wander – I feel I can think about her life rather than just that day, it can be more abstract.”

Although ash-scattering seems like a more secular ritual than a traditional burial, it is often spiritual. “What comes through is that people are trying to find ways of maintaining relationships with someone dead,” says Jenny Hockey, a professor of sociology at Sheffield University, also involved in Where Have All The Ashes Gone?.

Since the 90s, particularly since Princess Diana’s death, the feeling that you should let go and move on has diminished, believes Hockey. “People are much more engaged with the dead. In terms of ash-scattering, what came through were feelings of discomfort about body deterioration underground. They associated ‘warmth’ with ashes and ‘cold’ with burial. It’s a metaphysical thing.”

Which certainly rings true for Frankie Spray, a semi-retired air-traffic controller, 70, living in Stratford-upon-Avon. She, along with 15 relatives, scattered her mother’s ashes three years ago in Morden Park, where her grandfather was a head gardener. Spray is from a large family; the third of five children, and has five herself. For her it is a way of reuniting the family in a celebratory way. “Churchyards are too sombre. Doing it this way has given me far more comfort – we have lunch there on her birthdays. I believe she’s gone to heaven. It’s all part of saying goodbye but also part of staying in touch.”

It is also a surprisingly easy thing to do. Unlike the rest of Europe, where there are strict regulations about where you can scatter ashes, very few exist here. The guidelines that greet you on the environment agency’s website are bossy rather than prescriptive, with instructions such as, “Do not hold ceremonies in windy weather or close to buildings because of the risk of ashes being blown astray.” “It’s quite striking to find out how few rules there are,” says Hockey. It is also something that is quite hard to stop people doing. One of my friends insisted on scattering her mother’s ashes in a local graveyard in Leominster where she grew up, even though the vicar wasn’t happy about it.

“I said, ‘Well, you can’t stop me if I come at night – you won’t be able to tell if I’ve scattered them or not,’” my friend says. Reluctantly, he let her and stood in the background while she scattered them one blustery spring morning. “What people don’t tell you is how much ash there is – it went everywhere. At first we couldn’t even get the lid off the urn, it was quite farcical.” This is another aspect of ash-scattering; the black humour that often springs from being “in charge” of a loved one’s remains.

The comical dramatic element also seems rather comforting to those involved. Spray recalls, laughing: “Just as we were scattering them, a dog bounded over to the urn and nearly had them. I could almost hear my mother saying, ‘Don’t you dare.’”

Spontaneity, humour and freedom is something we crave more generally in our family rituals – green burials, civic weddings and naming ceremonies are all part of a swing towards a more individual response to major life changes. “The trend is towards personalisation,” agrees Dr Tony Walter, from the Centre for Death and Society at the University of Bath, and author of On Bereavement: The Culture of Grief. From the 1950s most people died in hospital and people began to lose the experience of caring for the dying and dead at home. “From hospital to crem, it was taken out of their hands,” says Walter. “And the feeling became, ‘Take it [the body] away.’ Now it’s moving the other way. A lot more people want to be in touch with death and what happens.” If anything, adds Walter, some would say we’re seeing a return to Victorian sentimentalisation, “an almost over-the-top sensibility about human remains, from attitudes towards the medical system hanging on to them, to aboriginal people wanting remains from western museums returned to them. It’s a fascinating shift.”

In terms of ash-scattering, there is certainly a mixing of boundaries, with more people taking their loved ones’ remains out of the crematorium and keeping them, sometimes for years, until they decide where they end up. “I like the idea of holding on to them until the time feels right to do something with them,” says Rosie Grant, director of Natural Endings, an alternative funeral service, who plans to scatter her grandmother’s ashes in Scotland to coincide with her birthday.

Her grandmother died two years ago at the age of 83 and she’s hung on to the ashes ever since. “We wanted to return her to somewhere she really loved in a romantic way,” says Grant. In her experience, ash-scattering offers a unique freedom to the bereaved, emotionally and spiritually. “Often it is the jokey part where people feel they can be more expressive. But it can also be symbolic of regeneration; death as part of a natural life cycle.” That is a particularly reassuring element for Lowe.

“What strikes me is how the scenery changes each time I go back there,” he reflects. “It’s never the same so it makes me conscious that we’re all growing older, and that life goes on.”

* © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010

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