Thursday, July 22, 2010

Burying My Father's Ashes

Q- My dad passed away in 2004. He wanted to donate his body to science and be cremated. He wanted his ashes to be buried with his mother, but since the cemetery wouldn’t let us put them with her, we could not grant his wishes.

His ashes are still in the box that we received in the mail and are sitting on a top shelf in my mother's house. This bothers me VERY much! I have expressed several times that I want him to be buried. I'd like a place to go and visit, bring flowers, etc....She told me that I could come to her house anytime to visit. I can't go into religious reasons with my mother because she doesn't care about them, even though she is Catholic and may know them already. Every time I bring it up (which is almost once a year), I get uncomfortable because I don't want to upset her and sometimes I feel like it is not my place to say anything at all.

My oldest sister is fine with the ashes at my mom's house, my other sister wants him buried too. Just recently I asked if we could go look at places together and she said that she would make the calls to find out the details. I told her I wouldn't mind calling the cemeteries if she didn't feel up to it and she told me that she would call me if she changed her mind.

Should I just stop asking and give this over to God? I keep praying that she will realize the importance of burying his ashes but my prayers have gone unanswered.

Thanks for any advice you can give me!

A - Sorry to hear about the stress this has caused in your own life and in your family.

I will try to give you the best advice I can, but am limited so as not to violate privacy issues on the internet. In other words, if this post isn't enough information for you, I highly recommend you talk to someone you trust who is knowledgeable about such issues - in person.

First off, here is what the Catholic Church teaches about cremation and burial. I have taken some of this info from a previous post about cremation.
The official position of the Church comes from several current documents, but first a little history. Cremation used to be quite popular throughout world cultures including many pagan cultures and China. But, through the growth of Christianity and the belief of the sacredness of the body and that one day all will attain the resurrection of the body, cremation faded out of use in the Western world. This was because the body was to be revered and held as the temple of the Holy Spirit.

The Church officially outlawed cremation in 1886 when the Vatican issued a statement banning it, particularly because it was commonly used in Masonic rituals [see the book Questions and Answersby Father John Dietzen]. The Pio-Benedictine Code of Canon Law (1918 Code) upheld this by law.

This changed in 1963, when the Vatican, through what is now called the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith, took away the ban on cremation, but only in narrow circumstances. Burial was still to be HIGHLY preferred and if a cremation happened, it could only happen after a Catholic service where the body was still intact.

In 1969 the Vatican allowed Christian burial for those who were cremated in the document - Ordo Exsequiarum.

Then when the new Code of Canon law came out in 1983, it stated the following in canon 1176, section 3:

The Church earnestly recommends that the pious custom of burial be retained; but it does not forbid cremation, unless this is chosen for reasons which are contrary to Christian teaching.
Finally, the Catechism of the Catholic Church says this, while citing the Code of Canon Law:

The Church permits cremation, provided that it does not demonstrate a denial of faith in the resurrection of the body.
The Compendium of the Catechism says:

479. How are the bodies of the deceased to be treated?
The bodies of the departed must be treated with love and respect. Their cremation is permitted provided that it does not demonstrate a denial of faith in the resurrection of the body.
254. Christian piety has always regarded burial as the model for the faithful to follow since it clearly displays how death signifies the total destruction of the body. The practice eschews meanings that can be associated with mummification or embalming or even with cremation. Burial recalls the earth from which man comes (cf. Gen 2, 6) and to which he returns (cf. Gen 3, 19; Sir 17,1), and also recalls the burial of Christ, the grain which, fallen on the earth, brought forth fruit in plenty (cf. John 12, 24).
Cremation is also a contemporary phenomenon in virtue of the changed circumstances of life. In this regard, ecclesiastical discipline states: "Christian obsequies may be conceded to those who have chosen to have their bodies cremated, provided that such choice was not motivated by anything contrary to Christian doctrine"(369). In relation to such a decision, the faithful should be exhorted not to keep the ashes of the dead in their homes, but to bury them in the usual manner, until God shall raise up those who rest in the earth, and until the sea gives up its dead (cf. Aps 20, 13).
Your sense about wanting to bury your father is correct. It is the best way to care for his body.
In other words, we need to treat his remains in the same way we would if he wasn't cremated.

Now, your mother obviously doesn't feel the same way. But, you can express your feelings to her, without violating the honor you still owe her as your mother. Your mother obviously is still wounded by your father's death and so you must tread lightly.

You might approach it with a conversation similar to this:
  • You - Mom, we talked about having Dad's ashes buried sometime. Have you thought more about it?
  • Mom - I have, but don't want to do anything yet. I am not ready.
  • You - I know you still hurt from Dad's death, but I want to let you know how I feel. We all were wounded by Dad's passing away, yet I can't help but feel that it would be better for us all if we had his remains buried. I also think it is a better way to care for his ashes. I know you may not completely understand where I am coming from or agree, but I just ask you to consider my wishes.
  • Mom - I will.
  • You - Thanks for listening Mom. I love you.
Keep up your prayers for her. You might even ask for your Dad's intercession.

I hope this helps.


Ed Winkle said...

This was very insightful after years of considering my own remains. I never considered cremation until my wife told me that is what she wants so her decision affects mine. She doesn't believe in the open casket funerals I was raised with. She thinks that is too upclose and personal and if they didn't come see her before her death, they don't get to see her after her death.

Wanda said...

I have my son's ashes and have been torn with the decision as to bury them or keep them with me. After reading this I can now with peace of mind bury them. All along this is what I felt was right, and I am so grateful to have found this article, this is exactly how I felt. Thank you

leslie hall said...

Hi, my mother in law requested her ashes be buried with her parents, this was not in her area but 150miles away. We contacted the cemetary and they said it was not a problem, we had to fill in a couple of forms and pay a small fee, but everything went as she wanted it. I don't know why they cemetary will not allow you to bury your Dad's ashes with his mother, I think you should ask why.
Hope this helps