Returning a Relative’s Ashes: Ask the Doyenne of Death

Nov 19, 2015 | 0 comments

Pendant celtic heartCremated remains have a lot of emotional baggage that goes with them. You may hold onto cremated remains and feel comforted, or you may feel haunted.

Because each person reacts differently to keeping cremated remains around, does it make sense to give cremation necklaces or keepsake urns containing ashes to family members?

Before you divvy up a loved one’s ashes among the family, consider this letter to Dear Abby published earlier this week from a woman who wrote:

DEAR ABBY: Seven years ago my sister’s 19-year-old son was killed in a car accident. After the wake she gave me a heart necklace with some of his ashes. We no longer speak and haven’t for four years.

Well, did I get a shock today. I received an email from her asking for it back! She even had my stepmom repeat that message to me. I don’t believe she has the right to ask for the necklace. Does she? — BLUE IN TENNESSEE

DEAR BLUE: Because you are no longer speaking, I can understand why your sister might want her son’s ashes back. Be a lady; return the necklace to her via registered mail or have your stepmother give it to her. It’s regrettable that your relationship with your sister has sunk to this level. Because this was no ordinary gift, understand that if you refuse to return it, your relationship with your sister will be permanently fractured.

This woman stopped speaking to her sister three years after the funeral. She doesn’t indicate what caused the rift, but she’s shocked her sister would make the request to return the necklace. Dear Abby provided good advice, to be a lady and return it.

Tragic deaths can spur divisions within families – grief can turn loving relationships sour. It sounds like this woman was close to her sister right after the terrible tragedy that took her nephew’s life, since her sister shared her son’s cremated remains immediately after the wake. Now the rift is so bad, she wants the necklace and remains returned.

The Doyenne of Death suggests:

If cremation has occurred, think about keeping the cremated remains intact for a while. That’s one of the benefits of cremation – it gives the family time to decide what to do for a memorial service and how the remains will ultimately be laid to rest. That can mean scattering, interment (burial), inurnment (an urn in a niche), placement in an ossuary, and any of the many creative uses for cremated remains, including splitting up some of the remains in small urns or memorial jewelry.

If you want to share remains among the family, don’t distribute them immediately. Let the waves of grief right after a death subside a bit. Then ask family members if they would want a keepsake share of remains. There’s no shame in saying no if it doesn’t feel right.

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A Good Goodbye