Cremains deserve proper burial

By Patricia Kasten | The Compass | May 9, 2018

Church offers guidelines for remains

Sometimes what seemed like a great idea at the time, isn’t really.

Back in the early 1960s, a relative dressed her child as Al Jolson on Halloween. Jolson, a vaudeville actor, often performed in blackface make-up. One of his hit songs was “My Mammy” (a favorite of my relative.) It should be remembered that Jolson fought for civil rights, especially for black performers on Broadway, and was loved by the Harlem entertainment community.

However, while entertainers in blackface were an accepted minstrel style in the early 20th century, today, no parent would consider dressing a child in blackface.

Other well-meaning intentions can go awry. One recently highlighted in statewide secular papers was glass memorial pendants containing human remains.

Heidi Roberts and Jarrid Mallinson of Janesville make the pendants, using small amounts of cremated remains. The couple first made the pendants for friends, but now work directly with funeral homes in what is a growing business.

I remember seeing my first piece of cremation jewelry. About 20 years ago, a friend proudly displayed a faceted pendant — bearing some of her mother’s ashes. I was speechless. “How pretty the glass is,” I mumbled, quickly changed the subject so as not to hurt her feelings.

My friend didn’t mean to do anything wrong. She just wanted part of her mom close to her. It’s the same with these jewelers’ clients.

We all struggle when someone dies. Keeping Mom’s comb or Dad’s fishing lure can bring back happy memories and make them feel closer once again.

However, keeping ashes of a loved one is not just a memento. Ashes are part of their bodies.

What actually came to mind when I saw my friend’s pendant was: “What happens to that when you die? Will anyone realize it has ashes in it?”

It’s a real concern. And not just with jewelry. As a local TV station (April 30, WLUK) highlighted, people deposit relatives’ ashes on football fields or in area waterways.

And it’s not just scattered ashes.

“Sometimes they (cremation urns) are left behind in people’s homes when they clean out deceased persons’ homes,” Michael Poradek, Divine Worship director for the Green Bay Diocese, told The Compass last December. “They may not even know who it is.”

This is, in part, why several dioceses — including ours — hold free internment ceremonies for cremains.

The Catholic Church no longer forbids cremation. However, it does require cremated remains — all of them — to be buried or entombed. Canon law (n. 1176) states that “the pious custom of burying the bodies of the deceased be observed.” (The same canon specifically mentions cremation.)

To make this even clearer, in 2016, the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith wrote that “conservation of the ashes of the departed in a domestic residence is not permitted.” It added that “ashes may not be divided among various family members … (nor) is not permitted to scatter the ashes of the faithful departed in the air, on land, at sea or in some other way, nor may they be preserved in mementos, pieces of jewelry or other objects” (Ad resurgendum cum Christo, n. 6).

“Why?” one could logically ask. “What’s so wrong? Maybe it was their final wish.”

The congregation answered that: “Ashes of the faithful must be laid to rest in a sacred place” because this “prevents the faithful departed from being forgotten, or their remains from being shown a lack of respect, … most especially once the immediately subsequent generation has too passed away.” (Remember the left behind urns?)

Here’s the point everyone agrees on: We don’t want to forget our loved ones. That’s why memorial jewelry started.

Sometimes, though, what seems like a great idea isn’t, in the long run. What will happen to that jewelry? My friend has passed on. Wouldn’t it be sad to see her pendant in a thrift store window some day?

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