Last year the parishes in the Diocese of Wilmington recorded 1,681 funerals with 417 of these being for cremated bodies. Of the 417 cremations, 200 were interred in one of our three diocesan cemeteries, Cathedral and All Saints in New Castle County and Gate of Heaven in Sussex County. Of the remaining 217, some were buried in other cemeteries and many may still be in the possession of a family member.
Keeping a cremated body in the home may not be in the best long-term interest of the surviving family or the memory of the deceased.
The presence of the cremated body is a painful reminder of loss. Keeping the cremated body delays the letting go process and does not allow the entire family the opportunity to move beyond their earthly relationship to the deceased who is now enjoying eternal life as a member of the communion of saints.
As Catholic Christians our attitude toward death transcends earthly relationships and doesn’t seek comfort in holding on. With the prayerful final disposition of a cremated body to a place of dignified final rest, the family can begin to face the end of one relationship and begin a new relationship based in the hope of resurrection and prayerful and fond remembrance.
Our beloved deceased, united to the household of the faithful departed, are together waiting for the joyful sound of the final trumpet when the dead shall be raised in the presence of the Risen Lord.
In addition to the emotional and spiritual issues surrounding the final disposition of a cremated body, there are practical consequences that deserve consideration. At the time of death one person takes possession of the urn to the exclusion of other family members. Friends and family have no place to visit and remember the deceased.
In time, the original holder of the urn may die or move away. The urn may eventually be removed from its original place of honor in the home and placed out of sight in a closet or basement. As years pass, the urn may be lost or misplaced. As the next generation asks about that family member who died before they were born, there is no place to direct them. No one will remember when the deceased was born or died.
Cemeteries will always be there and open to visitation to one and all. The grave/niche marker will provide a permanent record of a loved one’s life with their given name and the dates of birth and death. Friends, family and descendants can visit and bring flowers. Prayers in memory of those buried in the cemetery will continue for years to come.
To assist families in the proper disposition of cremated bodies, the staff of Catholic Cemeteries of the Diocese of Wilmington works directly with the survivors to help them choose final accommodations either in ground or an above ground niche. Experienced family service personnel can plan for a final committal service with experienced staff available to conduct these committal services as needed. The only legal requirement is that there is a valid certificate of cremation for the deceased.
In order to avoid confusion after death as occurred, it is a good idea to make your preferences known in advance to someone you trust. Take the time to review all options available and make decisions that reflect your life and your beliefs.
In closing, we may not be able to choose when or how we will die, we can however, choose how we want to be remembered.
Mark Christian is the Director of Catholic Cemeteries of the Diocese of Wilmington.