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Cremation Urns

Updated on September 16, 2014

Ashes to Ashes

2 Corinthians 4:7

But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.

Most of us are guided through the process of selecting urns for ashes by a mortuary or crematorium. The same way we rely on funeral homes to provide a casket, most of us rely on the people handling the services to offer a selection of appropriate cremation urns. This is convenient, but more and more of us are interested in a selecting an urn that expresses the character and individuality of our loved one.

My own preference would be to decline purchasing an urn at all. The crematory delivers the ashes in a temporary container, and that would be enough for me. I will request that my ashes be scattered anywhere they won't disturb the environment, with no marker or memorial. Of course I won't insist, and I won't be around to object if someone wants to preserve my ashes. My request reflects my view about the insignificance of the physical remains. Others see things quite differently. The purpose of this article is to give you an overview of what you can do to honor a loved one in a way that is meaningful for you following cremation.

You may opt for a traditional ground burial with a biodegradable urn and a grave marker. Some cemeteries allow the ashes to be buried in the existing plot of another family member. You may choose to have the remains housed in a columbary (a place for storing funeral urns usually located in a cemetery). Scattering the ashes at a spot that was meaningful to the deceased is another popular choice. You may also want to select a biodegradable urn for this purpose. You may choose simply to scatter the ashes directly from the temporary container provided by the crematorium.

Simply keeping an urn at home is another very popular choice. For many, this is the best way to keep the loved one close - a reminder to everyone that the loved one is not forgotten. It's likely you will want an urn that says something about your loved one. Here is an overview of some of the options.

The Temporary Urn

I was surprised to learn that it is not necessary to select an urn at all - it depends entirely on your plans for the cremains. As I mentioned, the cremains of a loved one will be returned to you in a temporary urn provided by the crematorium. This is usually an inexpensive but sturdy plastic or cardboard container. The cremains are held in a durable plastic bag within the temporary urn until scattered, buried or transferred to a permanent urn. You may wish to purchase an inexpensive wood urn to hold the temporary urn long enough to arrange to have the ashes scattered or buried. Otherwise, the ashes can go directly from the temporary urn to a standard permanent urn of your choice.

Standard Adult Urn

The standard sized adult urn measures about 200 cubic inches. To give you an idea of the size, a standard football measures about 232 cubic inches. This urn is designed of hold the ashes of one adult. This is the urn you choose to be placed on the fireplace mantle, or some other dignified spot in your home. The selection of an adult urn is based on your budget and personal taste. You can find an urn to serve the purpose of holding the remains of a loved one in a simple and elegant way for as little as $100 and there's no real need to spend more than that. But we have a tendency to equate cost with the importance we attach to the loved one. Certainly there are gorgeous urns costing tens of thousands of dollars. This is going to be a very personal choice.

Keepsake Urns

The function of a keepsake urn is to hold a small amount of cremains (cremated remains). Keepsake urns are often used for dividing remains among family members.They may also serve to house a small amount of ashes as a keepsake after most of the ashes have been scattered or buried. A keepsake urn will be much smaller than the 200 cubic inch standard sized urn. You can purchase a modest keepsake urn for as little as $20, or you can spend a great deal more according to your proclivities.

Some people like to have a keepsake urn at their bedside, while a standard-sized urn is displayed on a fireplace mantle or other dignified place in the home. I found a couple examples at Amazon to give you a hint of what's available in keepsake urns. These are ideal for families who want to distribute ashes among family members.

Companion Urn

A companion urn is designed to hold the cremated remains of two adults. It will typically be about twice the size of a standard adult urn. This type of urn is exactly what you would expect. It is a double urn made to hold the ashes of two people separately, but the urns are joined at the base. You might consider this the equivalent of side by side burial plots.

The companion urn is symbolic of the closeness two people shared in life. It is a quiet way of joining the memories of people who shared their lives together.

Picture Urn

Many people get comfort from looking at pictures of departed loved ones. You may select an urn that is fashioned as a dignified picture frame with a secret compartment housing the ashes. Select a favorite picture and you can see the face of your loved one every time you look at the urn.

This type of urn combines the emotions attached to seeing the face of a loved one with the emotional connection of having their cremains in your home. A favorite picture may add life to the memory as you learn to deal with the separation.

Variations of the Standard

Urns for ashes range from modest and dignified to wild and humorous. In the standard adult urn category, the choices are unlimited. If it's important for you to have an urn that reflects the personality of your loved one, you may certainly do that. I have pictured a personalized sports fan urn. There are many, many more depending on how you wish to remember a loved one.

Our purpose here has been to give you an idea of the options for honoring the remains of a loved one following cremation. Clearly this is a matter of personal taste. I have a relative who cherishes the urn holding the ashes of her deceased husband to the degree she thinks of the urn as being him. When we lost our youngest son, I found I had no desire to have the ashes around. That was my choice and I made it without hesitation and never regretted the decision.

In this age of newer and faster, there will be many new ideas for honoring the cremains of our loved ones. I read about an option of having the remains launched into outer space, but chose not to include that in this article. People will do the thing that gives them the most comfort and there can be no arguing with that approach.


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    • met2014 profile image


      4 years ago

      Thank you for this amazing compilation on urns. Your article inspires thought in an area that is not typically discussed. It got me thinking - what about the DIY option for an urn. There are excellent pottery and even metal and wood working open studios for the artistic and the wanna be artistic. Design a loving and creative commemorative urn for someone else or for your own.

    • mary615 profile image

      Mary Hyatt 

      4 years ago from Florida

      I definitely want to be cremated and my family is aware of that. There is a new (for me) concept of having the ashes placed in a biodegradable urn and planted in the ground along with a seed of a tree.

      So a person can be recycled into a tree!!

      Interesting Hub.


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