The Rituals of Death

Stoid again, still dealing and obsessing over Sophie’s death.

So yesterday we had her cremated and brought home the ashes. It wasn’t the first time I’ve dealt with “cremains” (as they are known in the trade. The first time I heard that term I was picking up a friend’s with his wife at my side. We both looked at each other and cracked up: “CREMAINS?”. The recepitonist thought we were having grief hysterics. Maybe we were, but it’s still a truly bizarre word.) I call it my little can of Sophie Popcorn, because that’s what it sounds like.

So I’ll tell you all something interesting and trippy about my first experience with “cremains”, but first I’m interested in what you all have to say about the rituals of death. What do you want for yourselves? Your loved ones? Have you done it different ways and feel one is better than the other?

By the way, for the curious who dont’ know:
They call them ashes, but what surprised the hell outta me was that the resemble nothing so much as crushed cinderblock. Very surprising.

We do precision guesswork

My grandmother owns three funeral homes and since I can remember I have been around coffins, caskets, vaults…and I have learned one thing: you’re dead, it doesn’t matter.

I’ve seen families who don’t have a pot to piss in spend over $10,000 on a casket, an air tight vault and a lavish funeral and I’ve seen rich families cremate for $495 and hold a ‘sandwich’ reception at the church basement.

My grandmother, with all her years of experience tells me two things:

  1. Whatever you want for yourself, write it down, and
  2. Let people deal with death in their own way. Everybody’s different.

Some families will totally ignore the dead’s request to be cremated because a parent or a crazy relative doesn’t think it is “proper”, and I just shake my head and walk away.

My only philosophy about the death rituals or the funeral ‘theme’ is, do it the manner and style that the dead would have wanted. I think it allows the friends and family to feel close to the deceased when they are in an atmosphere that fits the deceased’s personality, which in my opinion is the main reason we have funerals/death rituals.

I’ve left instructions that my ashes be distributed to half a dozen surfboard makers to be encased in 10 -15 custom made surfboards. The boards will then be placed randomly in several surf shops in California and Hawaii, to be sold on consignment.

The price to my estate will still be less than that for a traditional burial.

Funerals and viewings are for the living, not the dead.

Brian O’Neill
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When my brother was killed by a hit and run driver at 27 my family and I were confronted with this. We had talked about organ donation and to pull the plug if we were ever in a vegetative state but not about burial or cremation. In the end we decided to cremate him (he wasn’t able to donate organs since he wasn’t identified for two days) and then to place his ashes in the Colorado River outside of Moab (where all of us kids were reared).

It was only the close family and my dad dropped handfuls off the Dewey bridge (I’m sure this is illegal or something but, well, fuck it, my brother loved the river) He said it was an odd, crunchy kind of ashes and your description of crushed cinder blocks is exactly what it looked like. We also dropped in a piece of the mountain bike he had been riding [environmentalists might scream at that but it was meaningful to us and it was a very small piece]. Afterwards we had a gathering in a small park in Moab where everyone spoke about him if they wanted to. There were almost 250 people there since some part of my family has lived or worked in Moab since 1976.

After all of this we talked with each other and all of us agreed we’d like something similar. I want to be cremated mainly because (and this is just my opinion, I’m not bashing anyone else) I think it’s a waste of land to bury people. Also, I can’t stand the thought of thinking of my loved ones in boxes six feet deep. My grandma was buried and had the open casket thing and I just couldn’t stand to see her in that fucking pink box with all that make up on her (she looked like a tart). Everyone agreed.

It may seem creepy to some but I think it’s important for families to discuss this and make some plans.

My heart goes out to you on your loss. One thing my grief counselor recommenced was to write letters to my brother and tell stories about him. It sounds weird but it really does help.

Best to you and yours

Satan, I agree with you.
Byzantine, it sounds like your brother’s memorial was beautiful.

Me: Burn me up after donating my organs (if possible). Sprinkle me in Lake Michigan.

However, hubby and I have a distinct difference of opinion on this due to our different take on certain religious views. I DO NOT WANT that fancy open casket thing. How disgusting. Like that’s how I want people to remember me. Gross. My dad has already done a living will and medical power of attorney with my sister and I as the attorney’s in fact. He wants to be cremated and have his ashes sprinkled on our property in the UP. Hopefully this will be a long time in the future.

For my family and friends after I’m gone - Have a big party, lots of food and drink and music. Try to remember the good things I did, and all the fun we had while I was here. It should be a celebration of the life that I had. Cry if it helps, but don’t mourn over me. Life and death just happen.

As for my body - Donate all organs that can be removed (and are still good). Donate the rest to science (a university physiology department, for example). When they’re done with me, burn the rest. Mix the ashes with some soil and plant a tree on a hillside. Or better yet, don’t burn me, and just toss my hulking remains into a hole and plant a redwood sapling on top of it (like the American Indians used to do with fish and corn). Tree fertilzer, now that doesn’t sound like a bad way to end up.

Byzantine, what a beautiful story. It hit home for me since my sister was killed in a car wreck at 22. She was hurt so badly that an open casket funeral was not an option, so my parents decided on cremation. The ashes were put in an urn (one of the sealed brass cube kinds), but there was no room at the local mausoleum where urns were normally displayed. My parents had the urn at home until room came available, and at that point, they were used to having her there on top of the TV so they kept it.

When my grandfather died, they did the open casket thing but then opted for the cremation and urn thing. The urn now sits in my grandmother’s house surrounded by pictures and mementos.

Everyone deals with death differently. I have a very large family, and me and my immediate family appalled a lot of relatives when, after my sister’s memorial service, we ended up back at my parent’s house sitting around the kitchen table telling off-color jokes and cracking up. The previous week before the funeral had been so miserable and sad the release of laughter was truly needed, but not many people outside the immediate family understood.

It really changes you to have things like this happen - I find it hard to take certain “problems” seriously when I know things can be so much worse. We have two sayings in my family that grew out of my sister’s death - “It’s a good day when nobody’s dead” and “If it’s a problem that money can fix, it’s not a problem.” Tends to put things into perpective, doesn’t it?

A pine box for me, and a party for all the guests. Give me a few months to rot and you can reuse the burial plot. Really. I won’t mind.

The overwhelming majority of people have more than the average (mean) number of legs. – E. Grebenik

I am pleased to have been part of the Irish tradition of “waking” the dead. The concept is not what is usually expressed in fiction, altho I do admit that there are often some people who get drunk and stupid. Mostly (in my family) it’s a chance to get together and talk - and we talk about the people we’ve lost. It’s not just the most recent death, but many… we tell stories and remember the things we want to remember, sharing those things with others. It’s a gift to each other and can be very comforting.

It’s not always done… when we lost a very young cousin in an accident, there was the funeral but no wake in the usual sense. That confirmed my desire to be cremated… there is nothing in the world more tragic than an 8 year old girl in an open casket with her stuffed animals. It still grabs me, all these years later. However, there were times at later funerals that we could talk about her – because more time had lapsed, and because we don’t see any reason not to talk about it. It’s a healthy thing, and it is for the survivors - as it should be.

For myself, I’ve told everyone in my family that I want to donate whatever they can use and burn the rest. I don’t want to own property after I’m gone! They can do what they wish with the ashes… I won’t be there.

The reason gentlemen prefer blondes is that there are not enough redheads to go around.

This is something my husband and I have discussed. He wants a full military funeral at Arlington National Cemetery. They will be closing to burials soon, though, so he will accept any nice veteran’s cemetary. For myself, I only one specific “want” and a number of “don’t wants.” Organ donation, if feasible, is non-negotiable. On the “don’t want” side, I don’t want:

  • to be embalmed.
  • an expensive coffin – the cheapest pine box will be fine.
  • an open casket – a private viewing for immeadiate family if they need it, but I DO NOT want to be dead on display.
  • a lot of money spent on anything!
    I also told him that cremation and scattering would be my first choice, but if he felt that he or the kids needed a tombstone to visit, that was okay, as long as he kept to the spirit of the rest of the rest of it.


Full of 'satiable curtiosity

Thank you Athena. We too told a lot of jokes and stories about my brother that some people thought were not ‘proper’ but my brother had this thing about words. Like Zanty (from this old movie about giant ants) and when he was about five he’d run around touching everyone and moaning, “Zanty, zanty!” He also would call women with big lips, “Laura lips” I don’t remember why. He also used, “Beater Balls” “Vesta” and some other weird things. Laughing about it and remembering how funny and what a total spazz he was made us feel better. No one tried to paint him as a saint (who really is?) And that’s what people objected to. I guess they expected us to just shrivel up and die but my brother would have hated that. He would have wanted us to remember how funny he was. I miss him still and I always buy a gift on his birthday and Christmas and then donate it. I think he would have liked that too.

Athena, our saying is similar – someone says how ya doing? Our response is “any day above ground is a good one.”

(A good alternative is “I don’t know – what have you heard?” Or “I’ve been better but it cost more.”)

I digress.

Hubby wanted no services but his family talked me into a small memorial service at our house – the minister had never met my husband and even mispronounced his name. Some of us chuckled. But it made them feel better and sure didn’t hurt hubby any.

I carried the little cardboard box with his ashes around with me for several months. Then one Sunday after the Iowa River had thawed in his home town, I took my daughter and hubby’s favorite brother and sister and we tossed him in and then went for beer and pizza.

I try to pour a pint of BV in the river on his birthday, as a memorial, but it usually gets consumed before we get there.

Satan hit it right on the head, Funerals and viewings are for the living, not the dead. When you’re dead, i dont think you really will care. But if i had a say, i would want to be created. Mostly because once the coffin is in the ground no one will see it, they cost a bank, and they take up a lot of room on the ground. I kind of would also like to see my ashes put to good use, such as mixed into some top soil and used for a garden or something :).

There is a book written about this topic by Jessica Mitford, “The American Way Of Death”.
In fact, I believe it was updated right before she died. It is an excellent read.

Um, Doobieous? Created? Is that like reincarnation? Just teasing!


Better be careful about not wanting to be embalmed but wanting an open casket… At best, the time between death and viewing is a day or two, and after even this amount of time, the human body generally looks mighty bad…

I’d suggest you choose one or the other!

Ah Death, one of my family’s favorite subjects around the dinner table. ( Hubby’s family cannot even discuss the subject. They are the perky family, we are the pessimistics.)

If more people talked about death and planned for it, like they plan a wedding, it would not be such a huge shock. It would help with the transition.

My fantasy “burial” if you can call it that was one that I read about in either National Geographic or something like that: I want my dead body to be flown to the ancient kingdom of Mustang ( somewhere really remote in Tibet or Nepal.) Where the Buddist monks wrap my naked form up in linen and take me out to this pasture and uncover me. All around the town hang little flags ( think car lot banners) that have prayers written on them by the locals. The monks blow these huge Ricola like horns that after a while, summons the …yes…vultures, who descend for an afternoon snack of my body. The thought is that when the vultures strip my bones, they fly off carrying my spirit and the prayers of the town to the heavens.

I’ve shared this with hubby and he said, after eyeing me like I’ve lost my marbles (again) and said that by the time my body makes it to Mustang, I’d be too yucky for the birds and that the best he could do was to throw me out in the backyards for the pidgeons to peck at.

In a more reality based world: Cremation with my ashes scattered in all my favorite places I’ve ever been too. That way my survivors get to see the world. If this isn’t possible, then to scatter my ashes inside a bookstore, ala The Great Escape method of disposing the dirt in the POW compound.

I agree with the open caskets are icky. My grandmother was 94 when she died and my last memory of her was wearing lip gloss in the casket. I have seen people actually take pictures of the deceased.

My mother wants a closed casket with a bar served atop her and everyone gets to drink a toast in her honor in Waterford glasses. The glasses was recently added by her and I asked who would be paying for these glasses.
“Why you would, of course.”
“Well, I hope your friends know that Dixie Cups are made by Waterford, cause that’s what everyone will be drinkin’ out of.”

Hubby’s ashes will be scattered at Home Depot. He’s there enough as it is and it’s is happy place.

One of the reasons we put my brother’s ashes in the river was that, eventually, he’d go all over the world. I like to think that even at my home, a few rain drops might have a bit of him in it. Sounds sorta creepy spelled out like that but it does comfort me.

And I hope I don’t hurt you with this question but I didn’t know you could have your pet cremated. Where would I go for that? Sorry to ask something so morbid but I will have to face this at some point (one of my cats is 13 years old and has FIV).

I’ve decided to be immortal; so I shall have to be done the “Egyptian way” -i.e. embalming, bandaging, prayesr by the high priests of Thoth, etc.
My problem-are there any funeral homes who can do it like in the “good old days”-of 2000 BC Egypt? I am willing to pay a BUNDLE (my estate is worth over $400,000), but how can I be sure the expertise is out there?