Your Mortal Remains

Today’s post comes from Reneeinnd

A friend of mine has the sad task this week of spreading the remaining half of her sister in law’s ashes in the ND Badlands. Her sister in law died of complications of West Nile Virus.  It is truly tragic, and my post, although it contains some levity, isn’t meant to diminish her life.  Sometimes humor is the only remedy for grief.

I say the remaining ashes, as half of the ashes have already been spread in a lake near where the woman grew up in eastern ND. I guess she loved both places. Given how windy it is here, it might have worked just as well to stand at the Montana border on a windy day and let them sail east with the prevailing gale. They would have reached the eastern part of the state eventually.

My friend is quite familiar with the odd and strange when it comes to funerals.   She works with developmentally disabled individuals and has coordinated the funerals of several of elderly clients lately, people with no family able or willing to help out.  Last month she stopped an interment in mid descent and insisted that the funeral director turn the casket around so that the client was facing east, which is how Catholic remains are supposed to face around here.  Her client may have out of step during life, but my friend wanted to make sure the individual was facing the right direction for the Second Coming.

When I look out of the kitchen window I see three urns that contain the remains of our dog and two cats. I have been thinking about downsizing when I retire and we eventually move, and I wonder if we will take the pet ashes with us or do something else with them. I really can’t see moving them with the rest of the household, so I suppose we will commemorate the furry ones in some fashion and empty the urns in some beautiful place. Then, I wonder, what do we do with the used urns? We could keep them for future pet ashes I suppose, although I think there is something kind of morbid about people who keep and recycle pet urns.

I believe the Catholic Church has decreed that cremation is fine, but you have to keep your ashes in one place and not spread them around.  I’m not Catholic, but I want to be cremated and kept in one container and buried somewhere yet to be determined.  I want tangible proof that I existed. Husband hasn’t decided what he wants. I remember the very funny tale of a Baboon dealing with her parents’ ashes by mixing them up in a paper bag so they could spend eternity together. I think that would be a little much for our children to handle, so Husband and I need to come up with a unified plan. I suppose we could just use the vacant pet urns and save a bundle at the funeral home.

What are your plans for your mortal remains?

80 thoughts on “Your Mortal Remains”

  1. My daughter and I discussed this issue recently. Somewhat surprisingly, I have no preferences whatever.

    The two places on earth where I experienced the greatest happiness were my Saint Paul bungalow and our queer cabin near Cornucopia. Both structures have been razed, and both are currently owned by people who don’t know me.

    I once loved the land between Minnehaha Falls and Fort Snelling, walking it daily for over a decade. But that dog park isn’t more special to me than the Brule River, Long Lake near Park Rapids or a certain wilderness river that tumbles through an Ontario wilderness near Lake Superior. No single space from my past is an obvious candidate for a final resting spot.

    Because I believe death is a total thing, obliterating consciousness, the disposition of my remains is not an interesting issue. My concern goes totally to my daughter, grandson and other people who have loved me. I will not experience anything following my death. What matters to me is what would be most comforting for those who survive me. I want those people to do be free to do anything–whether it is silly or sacred or surprising–with my remains. They should do whatever would feel best. That is what would make me happiest.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. death is such an interesting topic. thanks renee
    i was in a chamber of commerce group where the funeral planner lady got up twice a year and talked about planning for death
    the first time it was unnerving after that it became more and more reflective
    no i don’t want to spend 15,000 on a casket… well then you’d better do some planning
    when my dad died my mom handled it all. someone drove his body over to the place with the furnace waited for the process and brought back a brown cardboard box. they wrapped it in a blanket and the service was done. i think my mom wants to get a box made where they can rest side by side (not mixed together) i should work with her to design the box,
    i remember the pat conroy story about his brother carving out an intricate coffin lid. there is something appealing about that
    robert fulgham wrote about picking out his space and sitting on the bench where he would be spending his eternity and contemplating his life. i hope he enjoyed his blip of fame with the “everything i needed to know in life i learned in kindergarten”sermon
    he is the kind of preacher i really enjoy. i have lots of his books ( they are great bathroom books) and i used to enjoy his tapes (some time i will begin the process of swapping all my music and tapes over to computer download stuff. i would listen every day)
    if i could put together a family gathering plot i wolld like that
    i enjoy my family gatherings so much it seems like it would be nice to be clustered together in little boxes around a clump of river birch near a meandering stream. maybe there are places that allow you to do that. i will look into it. i saw frank lloyd wrights limestone marker stone and thought that was the way to go but now i’m thinking sculpture. maybe a henry moore like thing
    i have recently began thinking about getting into bronze forging. maybe designing my ever after would be inspirational
    can you just stick ashes in a sculpture and have that be the destination? maybe surprise someone when they pick it up at a garage sale 100 years from now and unscrew the little plug on the bottom?
    here are the ashes of lower case tim please sweep up these ashes and put them back in would be the note i would enclose.
    there that’s done. a family sculpture garden around a clump of birch by a meandering stream
    i’m thinking leach lake may be the spot
    ill check with the family and see if anybody cares
    thanks renee

    Liked by 3 people

  3. hey when a good catholic faces east.. is the face going east? the lid of the coffin? the feet? the head? do you go feet first into the everafyer or head first?
    and when you order urns is there a small medium and large? do the creamation industry folks have rules about fine medium and course grind or do they just sweep the crumbling bones into a box?
    death has questions
    my dad suggested we get a bunch of skippy peanut butter jars and divvy him up
    i like that

    Liked by 3 people

        1. in china the hills and mountains appear to be reserved for burial grounds
          they have shiny stuff like pinwheels and streamers where we have gravestones
          they have been around long enough that virtually every prominent hill has grave sites


  4. Rise and Shine Baboons!

    I want to have my ashes buried in the Nevada Municipal Cemetery, along with generations of other Strattons. Our family has such a strong tradition there that it makes the choice easy.

    We have a fun, sweet family memory from Lou’s side of the family. The little country church where he grew up is called Stavanger Lutheran, outside of Decorah, Iowa. It is going the way of many Iowa country churches, having lost its membership as people move away from the farms. It is almost defunct now. The cemetery surrounds the church building, European style. The population in the cemetery far outnumbers the actual living members.

    When a niece had her wedding there, Lou’s band played for the reception outdoors, with the gathered relatives and friends socializing among the grave markers. People were dancing and having a grand time. We looked for the “little girls” and found 3 of them dancing on a large gravestone near the band tent, expressing themselves fully with movement, and entirely unaware of what supported their dancing feet.

    Liked by 4 people

  5. When I go, I hope the tangible evidence of my existence lies in the memories of those who knew me. I’d rather not leave behind physical remains for anyone to deal with, but I don’t know if that’s an option. I always liked the response of the guy who, when asked what he would like done with his ashes, replied “Surprise me.”

    I actually am the owner of two cemetery plots that I sort of inherited from my uncle when he moved to Arizona. My parents, a grandfather and a couple of other relatives are buried nearby. I have no intention of using them, but I haven’t been able to sell them, even at a deep discount. It seems that cemetery plots have fallen into disfavor and there’s a glut on the market.

    After reading Mary Roach’s book Stiff, I am inclined to look into donating my body to a medical school, although I’m not sure if harvesting any still usable parts for transplantation would make my remains unsuitable. If my body did go to an anatomy class somewhere I have this fantasy of, somewhere near the end, having myself tattooed like the old Operation Game:

    Liked by 5 people

    1. Wouldn’t that mean your remains would end up in the Dead Zone (which seems appropriate) off the mouth of the Mississippi?

      I’d be more inclined to have some of my ashes hidden in a wood carving of an Indian boy in a canoe. Chuck the thing into Lake Superior at Thunder Bay, Ontario.

      Liked by 3 people

  6. Like Bill, my thoughts at the moment are to give what’s left of me to the U. I’m listed as a donor for parts, and I’ve heard varying reports on whether that makes you ineligible for a med school or not. I do believe that you need to make the arrangements with the U BEFORE, and not leave it for your relicts to deal with AFTER you are gone.

    When my sainted aunt died, leaving not one instruction, I vowed I would put everything down in writing so my boy would not have to deal with any of it. My church has forms you can fill out and they keep them on file, but like everything else to do with me, it keeps getting put off.

    Funnily enough, I really like going to the cemeteries where the ancestors are, it’s how I know about those people, and I’ve taken the s&h as well, but there’s no way for me to end up in any of those. If I am to be remembered, it will have to be some other way.

    The s&h does know exactly which hymns are absolutely NOT to be sung at any sort of memorial or funeral. They are perennial favorites with some people at our church, and when they come up, he looks at me and grins, and I look right back and say, “I WILL HAUNT YOU”.

    For those who want to know, “On Eagle’s Wings” and “Earth and All Stars” top the list (pretty much anything by Herb Brokering, I imagine he is/was a nice man, but I detest his songs). There is also a short list I do like, and the s&h has been told those too, but I should probably put that in writing, as they don’t have the comic staying power of the ones I loathe 😉

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Though I don’t want to end up in one, I also know where more of the ancestors are buried than any of my relatives do and have made a point to find the actual sites. We often stop when on road trips to stroll through picturesque cemeteries.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I can stand in the cemetery in Belle Plaine and see the resting place of all my ancestors in this country through one line on my dad’s side, (including the future resting place of my parents, that was a shocker the first time). If I drive 25 miles to Young America, I can stroll around and see just about everyone one my mom’s side ( I presume one set of great-grandparents are somewhere around Cleveland, everybody else got off the boat and came straight to Minnesota).

        Liked by 1 person

        1. That was considerate of your ancestors to concentrate themselves. In my pursuit of dead relatives, I’ve been to cemeteries in Barrett and Prairie Island, Minnesota, Monona and Beulah Falls, Iowa, Plum City, Hersey, Loyal, and Rubicon, Wisconsin and Hartwick, New York.
          Additionally, we have pursued Robin’s ancestors in Trempealeau, Wisconsin and Evansville, Wisconsin, Dover Minnesota and Allegany and Watertown, New York.

          Liked by 2 people

    2. i had coffee with the eagles wings guy at the poor claire’s a year or two ago
      i got the impression he wasn’t crazy about being the eagles wings guy every where he goes
      nice guy
      you’d never guess

      Liked by 3 people

  7. Interesting post today Reneeinnd. Thanks.

    My lovely wife is pretty certain she wants to be cremated. I haven’t quite decided.
    My parents both have/had funeral plans; everything written out and pre-paid. When Dad died it was pretty easy then; it was all right there. I think there was a few extra costs but certainly nothing like coming up with $12,000 from scratch.

    Back in 1999 a new cemetery had opened just up the road from our farm. When my wife’s aunt died, her husband, Bill, wanted her buried there and sent me to get information.
    Bill asked if he should buy 4 or 6 plots. uh…. why would you want more than two?? Well,he was thinking them, us, and our kids all being in the same area. Oh. Gosh, that’s nice. (especially considering the price of a plot) but we didn’t think the kids had to be included when they were 7 and 5 years of age. So we have the plot next to Ruth and Bill.
    The kids are on their own.

    I have some music picked out for myself. Things like the Stones, ‘Time is on my side’… ect… 🙂

    Liked by 4 people

  8. When our last grandparent passed away, my identical twin brothers (known, colloquially, as ‘Ugly 1’ and ‘Ugly 2’) made the pilgrimage up from Arizona. My sister, my brothers, and I spent the time before the funeral harassing each other and laughing raucously, despite our mother’s endless finger-wagging and telling us to behave (while laughing along with us…no mixed signals there!).

    Just before the service started, the funeral director (who was a giant of a man) leaned down and quietly asked if he could ask me a question, which I acquiesced. He said, “What is ~so~ funny?” I wasn’t sure if this was finger-wagging from a non-family member that I shouldn’t have to put up with or if celebrating someone’s long life with humor is just that strange. So, I smiled and said, “If you think our grandpa would want us moping around, being all sad and weepy at his funeral, you didn’t know him at all.” He nodded at me, gave me a half-smile, and we started the services.

    Honestly, I don’t really care what happens to me when I’m dead because…I’m dead. I’m an organ donor and if someone needs some spare parts, they’re welcome to them. But if some kind of gathering has to happen, I’d like it to be an excuse for people to enjoy each other and have a good time. That’s what would make me happy.

    Liked by 4 people

  9. Funeral Stories:

    Our neighbor Norm died. Middle of the service, the minister says the family wants to thank friend Dennis for helping out with their farm and doing so much. And then the minister asked “Are you here? Norm? Can you stand up if you’re here? Norm?”
    …I really wanted Norm to stand up.

    Another funeral. Catholic. We’re sitting right behind the middle aisle where the family and the casket came in.The procession stops right there so the Priest can sprinkle water on the casket. Except he’s maybe 8 feet away from the casket, separated by family, alter boys, ect. So he says the words and, in order to sprinkle the water, has to give that thing a pretty hard shake to get water to go that far. I got the giggles.

    Another funeral; all I remember is someone really mangling the name of ‘Ecclesiastes’.

    Liked by 7 people

  10. My dad used to have many funeral stories because his boss forced him to drive hearses for the family business, which was running a funeral parlor. It hurt dad’s pride to be ordered to drive the hearse, but he knew better than to protest.

    The story I remember best involved two Irish drunks who had figured out they could get free booze by showing up at wakes and acting like guys who had just lost a buddy. They crashed the wake of some guy who had a sizable hump on his back. Since the body wouldn’t lie flat in the casket, the mortician had tied a rope to the dead man’s neck and then used that rope to pull the body into a lying position. Late at night the two drunks had been drinking for hours and were feeling no pain. Suddenly the knot holding the dead man down flat slipped. The dead man popped up in a sitting position. The exit of the two drunks was so frantic it became a legend when funeral directors got together to drink and tell stories. (I have no verification for this story, but I’m sure the story I’ve told is what my dad told me.)

    Liked by 4 people

    1. A woman I have known for about fifteen years has been “homeless” that entire time. She’s has been making a living by house and pet sitting, driving people to and from the airport, that sort of thing, for as long as I have known her. While she’s house sitting, she obviously has the option of a roof over her head, but as I understand it, she often opts for sleeping in her car. She’s extremely private, if not outright paranoid. A large part of her worldly possessions are in the back seat and trunk of her car (one reason she sometimes opts to sleep there). She’s an avid reader of obituaries and attends at least 3 or 4 funerals a week. It took me a long time to make the connection that it’s the food served after the service that is the draw, as very often the funerals she attends are people she’s never met. She even has a special “funeral outfit” she wears, neatly packed in a plastic bag in the back seat.

      Liked by 5 people

  11. Great post, Renee.

    I have no plans, and I should really change that.

    Cremation is the way to go, after organ donations are finished. I hadn’t thought about donating my body to science, but that might be an option,

    My dad asked for his ashes to be scattered in two special places, one of which was a certain “beach” (not the sandy kind of beach, but the rocky kind of beach) on the north shore of Lake Superior. I can’t think of any place better to have my ashes scattered than somewhere along the north shore.

    I really don’t want a church funeral. I can’t think of much more depressing than having a bunch of people gathering to hear some sort of speech about me and some songs that I probably don’t even like.

    Liked by 2 people

      1. My dad’s memorial service was like that. Some good stories. There were some songs interspersed in there, but I’m pretty sure they were ones he had picked out ahead of time or people knew that he liked them.

        Liked by 1 person

  12. This is priceless today, and I will have to read the last two thirds later.
    Renee, I love the idea of recycling your pet urns for you and your husband…

    Joel was cremated, and some of his ashes were buried in our back yard (Robbinsdale) fire pit, which he loved, at a Ceremonial Fire with his closest friends in Nov. 2007. Some more are buried in his step-brother’s fire pit in the country place we visited in April, near Ukiah CA. My dad’s ashes are buried at his pre-purchased cemetery plot in Roland, IA, (where my mom’s ashes will also be), and some of Dad is at the base camp of Long’s Peak in Colorado, which he climbed twice in his life.

    I know I want to be cremated, but that’s about all I know. I’ve lived many places, and have no strong desire… and no children left whose wishes I need to consider. I do see that it would be a good idea to have some plan, so thanks, Renee, for bringing it up!


  13. I’m not terribly invested in what happens with my remains. I am an organ donor, so if there’s anything left worth harvesting, I suppose that’s what will happen. Haven’t really many any formal arrangements about how that happens, except have it listed on my Driver’s License. I suppose I should look into that.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. my wife’s dad died when she was 4 her mom waited an appropriate amount of time and married her high school sweetheart after he dumped his terrible wife
    they are from havana illinois population 100 so when the first husband died there was a plot for he and his wife
    when she remarried there was no where for the new husband to go so they got permission to bury them onto power of each other (first one deeper)
    they joke about opening the lid and just sliding the second one in

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Many years ago I attended what I consider the saddest funeral I have ever witnessed. It was the mother of a dear friend, an only child,whose father had passed away many years earlier. The mother, something of a recluse I had never met, who lived alone and who was often compelled to buy things from late-night TV ads, also suffered from dementia. She was the widow of a WWII veteran, and as such, entitled to burial at the veterans’ cemetary near Fort Snelling.

    It was a grey, chilly day in late March, and when I arrived at the grave site, only one other friend had shown up. So there we were, three people, listening to a speech by a minister who clearly didn’t know or remember the name of the deceased, and had absolutely nothing to say that would of comfort or inspiration to anyone. Sad, sad, sad.

    Liked by 2 people

  16. It’s funny what sticks in your mind. When I was still in grade school I read about an old farmer who died. Two wives had preceded him in death. Showing good political instincts, he had arranged to be buried exactly between the two of them. Then he added the instruction to “tilt me toward Tillie.”

    Liked by 5 people

  17. Husband/s mother died when he was 16. Years later his dad remarried a woman who no one in the family particularly liked, especially husband’s oldest brother who is the only one in the family still living in his home town.

    Upon husband’s mother’s death, father-in-law purchased a family plot in an old venerable Aalborg cemetery. A headstone, engraved with my mother-in-law’s name, birth and death dates, as well as my father-in-law’s name and birth date was installed – awaiting my father-in-law’s demise so the date of death could be added. Trouble was that in the interim father-in-law had a change of heart. He expressly stated before his death that he wanted to be buried beside wife number two who was interred in a different graveyard. Oldest son, the only one still living in Aalborg, would have none of it. So without consulting anybody, he had his dad buried next to wife no one, mother of the three sons. He’s now ticked off that neither of his two brothers want to help pay for the upkeep of the two grave sites.

    Liked by 2 people

      1. Oldest brother pays for it himself. He’s a wealthy man, so it’s not as if it’s a huge sacrifice. The two younger brothers have never gotten along with the oldest, so this was just one more thing to quarrel about. I mind my own business.


  18. I haven’t given it a lot of thought. There is always the possibility that I’ll die in a terrorist attack like September 11th and be completely obliterated, or disappear at sea, leaving no remains to confound my family. More likely, though, I’ll get around to someday writing down my wishes in an official document. I’m not sure what I’ll say. Maybe Bill’s “Surprise me” is the best option.

    Liked by 2 people

  19. Husband and I will both be cremated. Husband used to want Spirit in the Sky played at whatever memorial or service the daughters want to hold, but doesn’t seem as in to it anymore. I can’t even get my mother to tell me anything special she want’s at her funeral, beyond that she definitely wants to be cremated. She has no interest in choosing music or verses. I guess we’ll just play it by ear. I can’t think about what I want until I deal with her. At this point, I think that whatever will be easy and painless for the daughters is fine with me.

    The most horrible funeral I ever attended was a friend of husband’s, who died at about 45. He had been raised in a very strict, very fire and brimstone, born again tradition, but had drifted quite far from it. He was single, but had hundreds of friends, probably many who had not darkened the door of a church in years (if ever), but who loved him and came to honor his memory at his mother’s church. The officiant had an opportunity to reach the hearts of some of the attendees, but he blew it. Big time. In a nutshell, he proclaimed that it was too late for Joe; he was going to hell, but those who were there that day still had a chance to avoid that end if they would only repent of their sins, then and there. He had no takers.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. How sad for that officiant, to be so rigid as to not recognize the community that was present at the service. I hope i was still possible for the attendees to privately celebrate the life that was cut short too soon.

      Liked by 1 person

  20. The best play I’ve worked on was called ‘Leaving Iowa’.
    It’s a play about family vacations stuck together in the car. But the basis is Dad has died and son is trying to find a fitting place to sprinkle Dads ashes. Through flashbacks, we travel with the family and dads on-going quest to find the next ‘road side attraction’ even though no one else is interested.
    It’s really just a sweet, nice, story.
    (And my version had a light cue at the end that would rip your heart out. It was awesome!)

    Liked by 3 people

  21. A little off the topic, but a funeral story. My father died when I was seventeen. Not unexpected, as he had been ill for a long time, so there was not much shock or weeping at the visitation. I was chatting with whoever showed up, and was approached by a man who was my half-brother’s boss. My half-brother was more than twenty years older than me, and had a son and daughter older than me. The guy who was his boss came up to me and tried to launch a a little small talk, and asked how I was related. I said “I’m Paul’s daughter,” and he looked around uncertainly and said “I don’t know too many people here. Which one is Paul?” and I told him “He’s the one that’s dead.” That was a conversation stopper, to be sure. He turned rather red and apologetic and moved off quickly. I started to giggle and couldn’t stop. My sister came over and I told her what had transpired and she dissolved into giggles too. My half-brother got a kick out of it when we told him. Moral of the story, find out the name of the deceased when you go to a visitation. Failing that…have a sense of humor about it.

    Liked by 3 people

  22. There were several Greek families in Ames when I was a kid, and they stuck tightly together, defending each other when something wasn’t going well. One man styled himself as a wise patriarch. He spent many hours counseling a Greek teenager whose adjustment to American society was complicated by his having been born a bit “simple.” The kid called his protector “Godfather.”

    When the older man died, there was a funeral. The simple-minded kid approached the coffin to study the corpse. Like many folks born with his limitations, he usually said whatever was on his mind. No filters. Looking at the corpse, he said, “Godfather, you really aren’t looking so good.” Everyone in the family came down on him for that, pointing out, “He’s DEAD!” The kid quickly amended his statement. “Godfather, you aren’t looking good. But for DEAD, you look pretty good!”

    Liked by 2 people

  23. OK. in reference to the conversation above:

    Renee: I believe they want the person lying so that if they sit up they are facing into the rising sun.
    tim: do they ever do that?

    I think I will be laughing about this one for weeks.

    Liked by 2 people

  24. My husband wants to be buried, he feels like anything else would be disrespectful.

    I have it set up to where if I die my body is donated. I won’t need it, I might as well give it to someone who does. I would rather save a few lives, than rot in the dirt. I’ve heard now that they can use vein and muscles for implants as well. If they want to use everything they can I’m all for it.

    Liked by 1 person

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