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Cremation Ashes And What To Do With Them
Cremation ashes are an intriguing subject, to say the least, and there are several bits of information about them that people who work in the memorial and funeral industry are quite familiar with but which the average person has never considered. Here are just a few of the more interesting, and perhaps startling, facts about cremation ashes.
Many states and municipalities have laws on the books that require all cremation ashes that are not scattered across some special place to be stored in “permanent” containers. The common assumption is that these laws mean that ashes cannot legally be stored for more than a few days in the “temporary” container (usually made from cardboard or sometimes simply a plastic bag) provided by the cremation establishment. This assumption is very likely wrong, however. The laws requiring a permanent container for cremation were more than likely adopted in an age when funeral homes and cemeteries were much stronger lobbying forces than they are now in the early 21st Century. Because they were, as some in the industry now admit, clearly intended to artificially drive business to establishments that sell cremation urns, many governments no longer enforce them (even if they are not technically on the books) for fear that they will not fare well against a court challenge. It is widely presumed that, should these bans be tested in a court - no matter whether it be a state or federal court - these laws would ultimately be declared unconstitutional – perhaps a violation of free speech and expression. (Constitutionally speaking, banning cremation ashes from being stored in containers of certain materials could be considered the equivalent of, say, banning writers from using a particular color of ink or artists from painting on particular types of material).
Cremation ashes are sometimes referred to as cremains, but many professionals in the memorial industry frown upon the use of that term and suggest the use of “cremation remains” when the word “ashes” does not seem to be appropriate. In general, one should feel not stigma against the use of the word ashes, but - for reasons that have mostly to do with taste - the word cremains may best be avoided. That said, many professionals have adopted the regular use of cremains and appear to be in no hurry to change that habit. So, consumers should be cautioned to avoid making professional judgments about a memorial proprietor simply over the use of the word cremains. Some in the industry have made a push to eliminate the contracted name for cremation ashes, but their opinion on this issue is still far from universal. Customers should not let themselves feel intimidated if they choose to use the word cremains.
Much of what is stored in a cremation urn is not purely cremation ashes. While certainly the bulk of an urn's contents will be cremation ashes, but a person who is opening an urn in preparation for a scattering ceremony should not be surprised to find other material in the urn as well. Cremation practitioners will always inspect a body before the procedure and remove anything that is not combustible: heart pace makers, metal joints and other implants, dental work, etc. This material will be returned to the family along with the cremation ashes, and, generally speaking, it is stored in the same container as the ashes. Cremation ashes have been known to be scattered in a huge variety of places, not all of which are legal. It is illegal, for example, to scatter cremation ashes in most public parks - particularly national parks. And, likewise, it is usually illegal to scatter cremation ashes over an inland body of water - or any place that is less than 3 full miles off shore. But stories abound in which people have skirted these laws and scattered cremation ashes in these places anyway. Enforcement of laws prohibiting the scattering of cremation ashes is very difficult - particularly if the scattering is done in a very remote area - and one will be hard pressed to find a documented case in which a person was cited - much less arrested - for such an offense. Some official sources and websites warn that scattering cremation ashes is punishable by a prison stay of several years, but that is a bit of an overstatement. In the vast majority of cases, such a violation would be treated as a minor misdemeanor, punishable by a fine. In the case of situations in which cremation ashes are scattered without permission over private property, the property owner could likely be awarded damages in a civil case. The defendant could also, conceivably face jail time if prosecutors were to pursue trespassing charged. But, in truth, the likelihood of that is very low in most cases. So, while no one encourages the scattering of ashes in places that are not officially approved, those who decide to do so anyway - usually in honor of a rebellious lost loved-one who left very specific requests - can almost always rest assured that they are unlikely to face any jail time (though the risk is always there).