When I retired as a humanist celebrant I thought I'd stop writing this blog, but my fascination with all things death-related prompted more posts. They're just written from a slightly different perspective, that's all. Oh, and I still do the odd one, by special request.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Ashes, rockets and paperweights

When you pop your clogs, you can have your ashes sent heavenwards in a fireworks display. The company says it will be "Celebrating life through the spectacular and tasteful dispersal of cremation ashes by firework." They wisely don't guarantee where the ashes will land, so they possibly take the precaution of not firing any rockets near a motorway or sewage farm, particularly if there's a strong wind. They say "Each firework is labeled [sic] with your loved-ones [sic] name and a named Certificate of Authenticity is provided." Judging from the website, they might not spell the name right, but what does it matter if it's labelled anyway? It'll burn. You can have a "Manned Professionally Fired Tribute Firework Show" from £1,750.00 inc. VAT.

If you don't fancy a firework display, what about being turned into a paperweight? Might as well make yourself useful when you're dead.

Tom Sutcliffe wrote about this sort of thing in The Independent, and how his dog almost peed on a pile of ashes - not quite the dignified ending the family might have wanted. At least a paperweight might not get peed on, unless you carelessly leave it in the loo.

A few years ago, a retired RAF officer told me how a former colleague had requested that his ashes should be scattered from a light aircraft. It proved to be difficult to fulfil his request, as the ashes blew back into the cockpit as fast as they were thrown out. Some were swept up with a dustpan and brush after landing; he didn't say what they did with them.

A lot of people choose to have their ashes scattered in places that had special significance for them - on the top of hills, on football pitches, and so on. So many people are doing it these days that it's become a pollution problem and the government had to bring in new anti-pollution rules. Surely the ashes firework displays might be in breach of these rules, as they can't control where the ashes will land?

Carelessly throwing ashes around is as anti-social as littering, it seems to me, and not nearly as "tasteful" and romantic as many people might imagine.

6 comments:

Adrianne Dow said...

I had a conversation with some people around the pizza counter. We all had stored our parents' ashes in mundane places. The tool shelf, the linen closet, behind the television.

What surprised me was the amount of ashes and their heft.

Charles Cowling said...

It ought to be a sprightly little parlour game, to dream up the most outré things to do with ashes (or even pulverised bone). But the entrepreneurs have already left parody for dead.

My own favourite story is that of the aristocrat who had his ashes fired from a cannon on the battlements of his Welsh castle, which overlooked a broad estuary. There was a terrific bang and a great puff of smoke. As the onlookers applauded the encased remains smashed through the rigging of a yacht below, almost killing a crew member.

Margaret said...

It would have made interesting evidence at the yachtsman's inquest.

Margaret said...

According to Wikipedia,

"The mean weight of adult cremated remains in a Florida, U.S. sample was 5.3 lb (approx. 2.4 kg) for adults (range 2 to 8 lb or 0.91 to 3.6 kg). This was found to be distributed bimodally according to sex, with the mean being 6 pounds (2.7 kg) for men (range 4 to 8 lb or 1.8 to 3.6 kg) and 4 pounds (1.8 kg) for women (range 2 to 6 lb or 0.91 to 2.7 kg). In this sample, generally all adult cremated remains over 6 pounds (2.7 kg) were from males, and those under 4 pounds (1.8 kg) were from females."

As Charles points out, they're mainly pulverised bone.

In our local crematorium they have a box full of spare parts - metal plates and rods from orthopaedic surgery mainly - that have been removed before pulverisation. Must ask if they get them recycled.

Charles Cowling said...

People like to talk of cycles of life, which I have never understood. It seems to me that we flat-line until we hit the buffers; that what goes around (if you're cyclically minded)doesn't come around (unless you fall for supernatural recycling theories). No, it's alpha to omega, with as many letters of the alphabet in between as we're lucky enough to get. It's omega, pht.

For all that, I enjoy the coincidental equivalence of our birthweight to our deathweight (as bone dust).

Margaret said...

Hadn't considered the birth weight/death weight thing. As you say, interesting...