Bereavement due to traumatic death

Burial or scattering ashes

People from different cultural backgrounds and with differing beliefs are likely to differ on where a person should be buried or where the remains should be scattered. In medieval Christian Europe people thought that it was important for the destiny of the soul to bury people in consecrated ground, and as close as possible to the altar of a church. Some people still believe this, but others don't think it matters.
 
Some people we talked to were still trying to decide what to do with their relative’s ashes, months or even years after they'd died. Some had made plans but were waiting for the right moment to scatter the ashes. A few people had stored the ashes in a box or pot in their own house. Erykah’s family didn’t believe in having gravestones.
Some people had wanted the ashes put in a definite place. Sally left her mother’s ashes with the funeral director for a year while the family decided what to do with them. After some discussion, the family buried the ashes in the churchyard and paid for a plaque to mark the place. Sally wanted to have a place where her children and grandchildren could take flowers on special occasions to remember her mother.
 
Marcus often visits the London cemetery where his fiancé’s ashes lie. The place is marked with a headstone. Godfrey’s son’s ashes were buried in their garden at home. If ashes are buried in the garden people may be reluctant to move house later. However, ashes in the family’s garden can be dug up and moved.
Marni’s sister knew that Marni didn't want to be buried, so her ashes were scattered on common land in the village, but people may not make their wishes clear before they die, especially if they die young and unexpectedly.
 
Some people had already scattered the ashes in a beautiful place, such as on local Downs, on a special hill which brought back memories of climbing expeditions, on a beach, on a local canal or in a woodland area.
Linda said that she thought it would be harder to ‘move on’ if her son’s ashes were buried in one particular place. She felt that by releasing his ashes ‘he could fly’ and his ‘soul could soar’.
Some felt bad about cremations and burials. They hated throwing earth onto the coffin and making final farewells. Martin accepted that he would have to cope with seeing his wife’s coffin lowered into the ground.
 
Others said it had been a sad occasion but that the sun had been shining and that there had been moments of humour during the ceremony. Alison had a special chest made so that her children could be buried together. She made the coffin look like a treasure chest because her son liked pirates, and she scattered paper stars onto the coffin instead of earth.
 
In some families opinions differ about where a person should be buried or the ashes scattered. Susanna commented that traumatic bereavement does not always bring out the best in people.
 
After Dorothy’s son died his ashes were divided. Some were put into two caskets, one for his wife and one for his daughter. Some of the ashes were also mixed with his grandmother’s ashes and scattered along the bay.
 
Burials may be in a churchyard or cemetery or on private land. Jocelyn’s son’s body was shipped back to Ireland after the Bali bomb, for burial in the family graveyard.
Josefine’s husband was buried on their own land (see Josefine’s account in ‘The funeral or commemoration’).

Last reviewed October 2015.

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