Saturday, January 10, 2009

What Do You Do When Your Ancestor Wasn't Buried?

When my uncle died in 2007 - it was devastating to my family.  A bit unexpected, his death threw our family into panic-mode, as everyone came together to deal with the loss as a family.

Luckily, he had a will (one that was notarized, and multiple "updates" to his will that he wrote during his final months, while he was sick).  While everyone had originally thought that he wanted to be buried in the same cemetery that his parents and brother were buried in - he had actually specifically written that he wanted to be cremated.  Furthermore, he wanted his ashes to be spread out throughout the country, in places that had brought him joy throughout his life.

For example, he asked for some of his ashes to be spread in Seattle because he spent many summers there with his grandparents and he went to college there.  He asked for some of his ashes to be placed in the ocean off of San Marcos, California - because it was on those beaches that he felt he had connected with his daughter the most.  He asked that some of his ashes be placed in Palm Springs, because that was where he bought his first home.  And finally, he asked that some of his ashes be buried in the backyard of his condo - because he said he felt the love of his family and friends whenever he was home.

After I had grieved his death, I realized that there wasn't one specific place that he was buried.  There was no headstone to go searching for, no cemeteries to search through.  So what would his descendants do?

That's when I went into brainstorming-mode, because I didn't want our descendants to feel the frustration of not being able to find him in any cemeteries.  How could I communicate with them what happened?

While I can't guarantee that my idea will work, I think that it is the best shot that I have: Write down information about his death, his celebration of life (he opted for this instead of a funeral), and the spreading of the ashes and give a copy of it, along with a DVD of a slide show of pictures of him, to as many family members that I can think of.  I also sent one to many close family friends, just in case it is one of their descendants that has the last copy.

My cousin Arianne (my uncle's daughter) and I are also in the process of creating a small book of sorts that is dedicated to my uncle and his life.  It will include pictures, a biography, and many stories that friends and family wrote about my uncle.  This book is just another way to celebrate the life that he led and continue to spread his spirit around.

While not many of your ancestors (from more than a generation or two), may have their ashes spread in different places - this new trend might make an impact on your descendants.  So if you have a family member who chooses to have his/her ashes spread in a location(s), then consider some of the things I've talked about in this post.  Hopefully, your descendants won't feel the frustration of trying to find something that doesn't exist.


Greta Koehl said...

What a wonderful way to pay tribute to your uncle. Your descendants and his will be grateful.

Terry Thornton said...

Elyse, You raise a most important issue --- that of "closure." When I, a few years ago, made my wishes known to my family that I wished to be cremated and my ashes scattered in my favorite spot [illegal in many localities!], a family member brought me up short by asking what would that do for the family --- they would be left without "closure" to use his term with no place to mark the finality of my passing. So I've changed my directions --- I still will be cremated but my ashes will be interred within the ground in a cemetery plot already marked with my gravestone.

Thanks for starting this discussion of what to do to mark the passing of a loved one when there is no burial.

Terry Thornton