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Coming to Peace with Cremated Remains, The Keeping or Releasing of a Beloved

Last Saturday I went to the Buddhist Relics tour that visited our area for 10 days or so. They visited two years ago around this time as well, but John had just died so I didn’t have the will or energy to go then, but this year I was excited to experience it.
That Saturday I was supposed to go to the state fair and a concert that evening, but that morning I woke up and said to myself, I don’t want to do any of those things, I want to go to the Relics tours, get tea, then lunch and go home. Which is exactly what I did. 
For those who don’t know what the Relics are, they are bits of the cremated remains of Buddhist Monks. Not all the remains of them, but bits of polished stone, some round, some not as polished or as round, sometimes they are tiny bits of bones that didn’t cremate completely. In general, the thought is that these stones, these bits of their human selves that were not completely cremated are each a good deed done by the person they belonged to. From the Buddhist background they are much like the bodies of Catholic saints, preserved bits of the human form from a pure heart that are blessed and can bless those in their presence. No matter what your beliefs, it was a beautiful morning to drive up and see all the multi-colored flags billowing softly, each with a positive message of love and forgiveness on it. The chanting was harmonic, awing and calming. The Relics were humbly but prettily arranged for those who would visit. Some of these remains were thousands of years old, some mere hundreds of years old, but I found that in their presence I was calmed and lifted of the guilt about the fact that I still have John’s remains tucked away in his handmade urn waiting for me to feel strong enough to release them. 
Another sort of funny thing that came of going was that I was suddenly wanted to sift through John’s remains to find the bits of his good deeds, thinking that maybe I could simply keep those instead and release the rest of his body to enter the cycle at last. When I told my grief therapist this she tried hard to hide her astonishment and kindly said, “Well I suppose you could but I doubt you would find anything. It might not be a beneficial act that way”. 
I think she was simply surprised that I would desire to handle his remains in that way at all. Maybe to her it sounded strange, maybe even over the line of sanity or simply gross but as grievers we know that it is not. I have heard many, many stories from other grievers whose beloveds were either cremated or buried exclaim how much they want their loved ones near them. Of course in cremation I think that is easier for obvious reasons but it doesn’t seem to eliminate the need of it for those whose person is buried. I’ve shared countless conversations with people who have thought of going to the cemetery and simply un-burying their loved one and bringing them home-simply because in their heart that is where they should be because they are so very missed. Of course they don’t do it, of course reason and law stops a grieving heart from the actual act but like my thought of sifting through John’s ashes to find his good deeds, and I know they are there, it is part of the grieving for us. It is part of the missing for us. It is actually, from my limited experience and conversations with others, quite normal really. 
Even if I don’t go through John’s ashes I was brought great peace from visiting the Relics because if an ancient tradition can hold on to remains for hundreds and thousands of years, then my holding onto John for these last nearly two years now does not seem so strange, so wrong, so greedy, it simply is. 
I don’t know whether I will actually sift through to find his good deeds or not, but really that isn’t the main part of the story for me, even if it alarmed my therapist. The main part of the story for me is that Buddhist’s loved ones are honored and treasured and revered and they make no apologies for still having part of their remains thousands of years later. Knowing this I will try hard to stop judging myself or listening to the judgement of anyone else because I still have John’s remains, even though I am working up to courage to release them, I won’t rush to do it out of guilt or shame. Having visited the Relics I came away with a sense of time past not being so important to the grieving process as the fact that the process continues and unfolds at it’s own pace as does the healing of my heart and my understanding of it and myself.


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Comment by Rose on September 4, 2014 at 9:05pm

Thank you for sharing this. I released my loved ones cremated remains before I was ready, so his children could have "closure".

Comment by NoLongerInBergenJC on August 30, 2014 at 8:33am

I am really enjoying your blog posts -- moving, intelligent, spiritually profound.

When my husband wasn't joking about how when he died he wanted to be stuffed and propped up in a corner as a constant reminder of our marital vows (a quote from Homer Simpson, yes, really), he was quite emphatic about wanting cremation.  There was no question that I would take the ashes home and at some point plant a weeping cherry tree when I relocate (he always liked those trees) and bury his ashes there.  Lately I've been thinking I want to take some to Jamaica, where we vacationed 19 times.  I don't think I could go to the beach in Negril, where we liked to go, or any of the other areas we went to, but we'd often talked about going to the cliffs.  There are a lot of small hotels there and I'm considering going for a short 3-day retreat and taking some of his ashes with me -- like 3 days to be alone, have some fresh Jamaican food, and cast just a few ashes into the Caribbean Sea that he loved.

Comment by barbee on August 27, 2014 at 5:28pm

flannery, Take as much time as you want or need. The cremains aren't going any place. My husband's sit on a shelf in a hall closet. We had said for years we wanted to be scattered together. So now my kids wait until it is my turn to become dust. Hopefully, at least another 20 years! 

Comment by FF343 on August 26, 2014 at 7:28am
That was beautiful and inspiring. Thank you for sharing!

Originally after Alicia's passing my intention was to spread a little of her ashes in many of our special places or places she had always wanted to visit(Australia). When I went to the funeral home to pick her ashes up I had such a feeling of calm and completeness again that I am in no hurry now.
Comment by Choosing life on August 25, 2014 at 3:34pm
Flannery -- if there is one thing that I have learned (actually still learning) it's that my time table is mine. I have talked to many people who moved on quickly after their spouse died. Some moved to a new house or town; some remarried; and some removed all traces of their spouse by giving away their possessions. I believe that this was the right thing for them to do. As for me I feel that I am strong enough to live in my house with my husbands things still here. It gives me comfort to see his belongings. I have no illusions about the fact that he is never coming back. But in my heart and soul are all the memories from our life together. I have no idea when or if I will ever give his things away. But that is OK. It is also very OK for you to still have your husbands ashes. We all have to do what is right for us.
Comment by laurajay on August 25, 2014 at 9:18am

Ashes to ashes  dust to dust.  Interesting notion of good deeds or just an incomplete cremation vs a complete one?  I would be very careful to take on such a belief which may be founded on superstition .  If you sift through John's remains and find no debris would you for one moment believe John performed no good deeds in his lifetime on earth?  Rethink this my friend.  Don't let the romance or seductive notion keep you from your truth.  He lived and loved and did good and is now dead to this life.  His spirit lives on but not in the ashes he left behind.  Just my reflections,  my friend , just my viewpoint.     Decisions are yours alone.   hugs  lj

Comment by Morgana (Janet) on August 25, 2014 at 9:08am

Flannery, I still have my husband's remains even after just over 2.5 yrs. I will be scattering where he wanted this October.  I had to find peace and the right time to let go. Take your time and do it in your own time. This is our own personal journey and how we travel it is our decision and no one else's. I wish you softer days ahead. (((Hugs))) 

Comment by Doug02122014 on August 25, 2014 at 9:07am

Thanks for this post. Since the passing of my wife Darlene, I have grown so much as a person learning about other cultures, beliefs, etc. Since I'm not a Buddhist I find your post quit enlightening and educational remembering only a little from my college "religious studies" class.

Guess what I wanted to say is only you will know when it is right to release his ashes. Be easy on yourself (easier said than done I know), and take all the time you need. And like the Soaring Spirits Facebook feed recently said and I'm paraphrasing this don't let anyone else but you hold the pen that writes YOUR next chapter of your life. Sorry if I got the quote wrong.

Take care.


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