Ashes matter, and it matters what we do with them.

Cremation is convenient. You can have your person cremated, and then figure out what to do with the ashes later. In the flurry and heightened emotion around a death, especially a sudden one, not having to make decisions about disposition can be a relief. It might also leave things hanging, ritually speaking.

The ceremonies around a death are, among other things, designed to bring completion to a person’s mortal existence. Disposition of someone’s body/ashes is an important ritual punctuation point in this task of saying goodbye. It’s part of the process that helps the dead person move on and the living begin to adjust to life without them physically in it.

I generally recommend that families include disposition of the ashes as part of the sequence of ceremonies immediately following a death. Part of my job around a death is helping families face the things that feel too hard to face and do the things that feel too hard to do. Disposition of ashes can be one of those things. The right rituals can help families lean into the community support that’s available at this time, and it’s easier to do difficult things with the help of our village.

If taking the next action with the ashes right away isn’t a fit, then I suggest that families make a plan to do it within the next 2-3 months. Even if the ceremony takes a few months to pull together, setting the ritual intention to do it sends a message that completion is coming. The souls of both the living and the dead can lean on that date, and prepare for the next phase of the ritual process.

Our bodies are on loan from the earth, and returning them to the earth when we die matters. There’s a palpable settling that happens in the field when a person’s physical remains are received back into the larger cycles of life. It allows the wheel to continue turning.