Friday, 22 April 2011

The Ashes Series

Driving to Montpellier, the big city, the other day, the in-car conversation between J. and me was mostly about the scattering of funerary ashes. It's a topical subject with us at the moment, and special measures are being taken to carry out our scatteree's wishes.

Luckily the scatteree had been as practical and sensible as we might have expected and hadn't imposed too impossible or unwelcome a load on the next of kin. No last wish, for instance, to have ashes scattered on the outgoing tide at the Cape of Good Hope, or in the Church of the Nativity at Bethlehem, or thrown to the four winds from the top of Chimborazo and Cotopaxi, the deceased having once been seduced by a poem with these magical names in it and having been led away by the Grim Reaper before he/she had a chance to alter the will. Or, come to that, on the moon, theoretically possible, but where presumably the scatterers would have the embarrassment of the ashes hanging in mid-air, if there was any air for them to hang amid, in the absence of gravity as we know it.

The most recent issue of The London Review of Books carried a very readable piece about the business of death. We learn, for instance, that cremation ashes are relics of the hard bits, bone mostly, ground up into a kind of grit. Foreign bodies impervious to great heat, the remains of stents, dental implants, ceramic hip-joints, etc, are raked out before the ashes are delivered to the customer. Having that sort of mind, I suspect that the whole business of cremation may be liable to more-or-less honest error, and that what goes on behind the velvet veil may not always be what it seems. I sometimes feel the same about abattoirs.

We learn also that the life of death, so to speak, is 25 years, that's to say about a generation. It's after this period (unless the deceased is someone very notable indeed) that graves become forgotten, physical memorials decay, while memorial funds, always dodgy and the very devil to administer, run out of puff much sooner than that.

When I made a will some years ago I specified exactly where I wanted my ashes scattered. It was the only specific request I made, and I don't know why I made it. It's not appropriate now and it would put my next of kin to fearful trouble. Every other disposition I left to them, to do whatever they felt appropriate. After all, all that dreadful paraphernalia of funerals is for the living, not for the dead, and I can't imagine that ex-I would have the slightest concern about or involvement in the whole wretched business. So I'm going to change it, and leave the scatter venue, if any, up to them. If to aid them in their choice I had to identify the places where I had been truly happy, there would be an awful lot, but two places would be paramount: the playing fields at school (so the scattering would probably have to be done secretly, at dead of night), or in bed.



Rosie said...

If it is windy be careful where you stand and don't freak out when the desceased person's name flutters out at the end. Boy,I have some truely awful ashes stories, ha, ha.

Vicus Scurra said...

It all seems an awful lot of trouble for an unoccupied vehicle, doesn't it? I think that I need to write to East Hampshire District Council to see if they can't extend their recycling project. Even if they do, I expect that it will result in tedious debate about the colour of the bin.

Dave said...

The last time I looked there is gravity on the moon - even as we know it - just slightly less than we are used to.

I hope this helps your next of kin in their choice of venue.

ps I'd be very willing, provided my (reurn) mileage is paid to conduct a ceremony for the scattering of ashes.

Tim Footman said...

I'd like to be dropped into a volcano.

Rog said...

I remember the Buncefield Terminal explosion near Milton Keynes and someone wondered if it had been such a good idea to cremate George Best

Sarah said...

Oh you are such a tease....I had to read the whole post..... to find out what the pic was about.. Tut tsk.
I think funerals are such a rip off. Actually, a man living down the road, on his fathers death, went to B&Q bought some wood and screws, made the coffin. Went on line to get what ever papers are needed and did the whole thing him self for under £500. Yay. It did leave me wondering what he did with the body before he was able to dispose of it tho ! LOL
Anyway Christopher, I hope you are not going to die before Z's wall party !

Z said...

I'd prefer to be composted, because I do like to be useful. Failing that, I will be buried anyway, because I discover that fear of being burnt lasts beyond my death. I like to think that I will be eaten, if only by worms (in the general sense).

I'm not sure if I ever blogged about my mother's complicated funeral. At some point someone (might even have been me, I can't remember) wondered aloud if she bloody thought she was the Queen Mother.

letouttoplay said...

I always thought ashes were good for roses?
I hope so since some of my Father-in-law's ashes were scattered in his garden, the rest being carefully buried in the corner of his local cricket pitch. We were given permission to bury him there so it wasn't at dead of night, though it did seem rather odd trudging across the field with assorted digging implements and a (surprisingly heavy) cardboard box.

Christopher said...

Rosie: Perhaps you could share them with us one day?

Vicus: I do agree. Maybe EHDC could arrange to have a series of colour coded recycling bins for still-usable organs, green for gall bladders, deep pink for livers, brown for brains, etc.?

Dave: I'm sure you're right about gravity on the moon, but 'reurn'? You think that once scattered, ashes should be collected up again and put back in the urn for e.g. annual re-scattering? I knew there must be money in this somewhere.

Tim: This proposal would trigger ash-scattering on the grand scale, like the Eyafjallajökull eruptions last year. You would certainly go with a bang.

Rog: Yes, Buncefield...there had to be money in it too, like Dave's scheme.

Sah: Tease? Me?

Z: Just about the only thing I can remember about the late Queen Mother's funeral (sorry, 'late' is redundant there) is Lord Lyon King of Arms or some such personage reciting her list of titles, snapping a (pre-cut?) staff in two and dropping it into the vault. Very curious.

Yes, Mig, quite right, life's a bed of roses.

Charlene said...

We ordinary folk are remembered by the length of the lives of those we left and loved or perhaps left funds for merriment, or perhaps as a grudge by those not left what they expected to receive.

I know where I will lie unless of course there is a snafu of some type, which we know can certainly happen. SMILE