Saturday, October 5, 2013

Is It OK to Change Cremation Urns?

Cremation Urns by Legacy's Morning Glory Urn
Whenever I've been asked 'Is it OK to change cremation urns?', my answer, without hesitation is 'Yes, of course, if it makes you and your family feel better'.

The moment we lose a loved one, our decision making capacity becomes impaired by grief at exactly the time when myriad important decisions must be made. The choices that are made now will permanently affect our remembrance of this major life event.

Funeral planning is no easy task, but it provides us a valuable ritual that becomes a meaningful passage into the healing process. One of the first major decisions to be made regards traditional burial versus cremation. If burial is chosen, the casket will be seen only during pre-funeral viewing, at the funeral ceremony itself, and finally at the grave site as it is lowered into the earth.  If cremation has been chosen, the urn choice is one we hope to be happy with forever, as we will in most cases live with it in one way or another.

With the Memorial Service scheduled within a few days, the family often lacks the time, focus, or emotional wherewithal to research and find an urn that aptly represents the style and spirit of their loved one. Sometimes they will simply accept the plastic or cardboard utilitarian box from the crematory as a temporary container for the cremated remains, with the intention of finding that perfect urn after the whirlwind of the funeral is over. Other families will choose quickly from a limited array of urns, because it's important to them to have the urn present during the service. Unfortunately, if this hastily chosen urn isn't one that makes them feel good long term, it will too often be relegated to the closet or the basement for storage. While avoiding the discomfort of living with an object that isn't particularly inspiring or befitting of their loved one's persona, this alternative can engender instead the guilt of putting it away.

In my opinion, the purpose of a cremation urn is not only to act as a vessel for containing ashes. To me, the higher purpose of an urn is to truly reflect the unique persona of the loved one, so that it might evoke warm and special memories every time it is seen. This is especially true when the family has chosen to place the urn in a distinctive location within their home, where it is encountered often and becomes part of their everyday life.  And it's similarly true when the urn has been placed in a glass-front columbarium niche at the cemetery, funeral home or church, because going to visit the urn's location is an act of deliberate meditation on, and communing with, the loved one.

When we lose a loved one, our lives are literally upended.  At a time when we are most distressed, we are faced with dozens of decisions and tasks - cremation versus burial; arranging the funeral or life celebration; choosing who will deliver the eulogy; gathering all the required information for the necessary paperwork; communicating with family and friends; helping to coordinate travel intentions; and in the process, trying to cope with our own deeply felt grief. We don't even know what will be expected or required of us until we're swept up into it.  By the time we turn to finding a funeral urn, the urn choice is not necessarily what we would have made if we'd had the luxury of time or the benefit of emotional well-being.

This is why I've encountered the question about switching cremation urns.  When our lives have returned to relative normality, we can take a deep breath and consider finding an urn that truly expresses the essence of our loved one.

When we've found the perfect urn, we now must make decisions about the transfer of the ashes.  Some turn to their funeral home to provide this service. Others assign one family member or close friend to make the transfer for them. Still others embrace the opportunity to handle the transfer themselves, treating the occasion as an act of deep caring for their loved one. And some families opt to create an intimate ceremony in the presence of immediate family. With the benefit of time to breathe and talk about it, families can bond through the discussion, and decide on how they would like to make the transfer.

If a family is asking the question 'Is it OK to change cremation urns?', it's likely that they chose an urn in haste during a very difficult time. They sense it would be the right thing to do to switch to a more appropriate urn. Rather than living with misgivings about an urn choice they made under pressing conditions, they wish to find a sense of completion by honoring their loved one with a beautiful resting place that will forever evoke fond memories.

A cremation urn is an important statement about the loved one, who would no doubt approve of changing it to make their family feel better in every way possible. Surely, if I may project for a moment, the loved one would wish their family to have happy memories about them, and feel good when they see the urn. Ultimately, a cremation urn becomes a memorial we live with, and one that can help in the healing process. 

Let's open the discussion - comment here for the benefit of others who are considering switching to a different cremation urn. What do you think about changing cremation urns?

Barbara Bergen is a designer of cremation urns, keepsake memorials, cremation jewelry and pet urns at Cremation Urns by Legacy.