“Just have me cremated and do what you want with the ashes.”

“Just have me cremated and do what you want with the ashes.”

This statement is more common than you think. Some people don’t want the fanfare or money wasted on what used to be considered a “traditional funeral” at a funeral home with a viewing and casket burial in a cemetery. Swiftly replacing this is direct cremation – no celebration, no gathering. Just cremation. I think this can be selfish even though it looks like caring – kind of like smiling and saying something mean.

They have their heart in the right place and aren’t intentionally mean-spirited people, they’re just not thinking through the consequences of their choices. I’m not promoting excessive spending or suggesting aggressive fanfare is in order – there is the right balance between what the dead person wants and what the people left behind need.

When someone close to me followed through with the wishes of her husband after he died, she sent him straight to the crematory from the hospital and picked up the ashes. They didn’t have kids, so she was alone at the house. I asked her if I should take the trip to visit with her and she said “that’s not what he wanted”. So she grieved in silence, without the support of friends and family around her and I sensed the difficulty she was having.

He had children from a previous marriage, a sister and other family members who lived far away. They, too sat in their homes after hearing the news and went about their business. But something was missing. How can you go from having someone you love being alive to dead with no acknowledgment at all?

So, months later (against his wishes) the family decided to host a dinner in his honor. They picked a date at his favorite restaurant, shared stories, cried and paid tribute to the life he lived. It wasn’t at all what he wanted, but it was what they needed.

This can also go to the other extreme – what about the destitute Aunt who leaves a request behind for a golden casket, a 3 day viewing and having her ashes turned into diamonds (yes, that’s an option)! Very often, the family feels it’s necessary to strap themselves financially to pay their final respects, and this is just as bad.

I’m not saying we should ignore the wishes of the dead guy – I’m asking everyone to give considerable thought to how our choices effect the people left behind. After all, while the customs and rituals are about death they are meant as a means of support to help the people left behind.