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Spreading Ashes

Spreading Ashes

   This is a personal story about several of my loved ones who were cremated.  I share these as different possibilities of either releasing or keeping the ashes.  I hope it will be helpful to see how every situation is different.  The best decision is the one that works best for you and your loved ones.
   In my first preaching ministry in Carlsbad, New Mexico, we had in our congregation an elderly retired couple from Detroit, Michigan.  The husband, Derwood, was a professional photographer whose hobby was building miniature train models complete with train depots, towns with tiny plastic people, cars, animals, mountains, valleys, and scenery.  His hobby took up an entire two-car garage, and he spent well over fifty thousand dollars over the years on this hobby.  Gertrude, his wife, was a sweet lady, who raised two daughters with Derwood’s help.  After some time, Derwood passed away and was cremated.
   We had a sweet memorial service, but his wife had no idea where to spread his ashes.  As her minister, I encouraged her not to get in a hurry and that God would reveal the place and time.  Sure enough God gave her a dream where to spread her husband’s ashes.  Decades ago, Derwood and Gertrude discovered an old mining trestle just outside of the city limits of Cloudcroft, New Mexico, and that’s where she wanted her husband’s ashes spread.
   So in the middle of July, Gertrude and I, along with a friend of hers, ventured out to that trestle.  It was a cloudy day that was very unusual for southeastern New Mexico.  We finally found the trestle surrounded by what appeared to be five-to-six foot trees.  I had the ladies sing hymns as I climbed down to an old wood-framed trestle.  I walked out to the middle to spread his ashes.  At that very moment, the sun popped through the clouds, and we could feel the warmth of the rays.  As I continued to walk out onto the old railroad track among those small tees, I now noticed that they were over a hundred feet tall, and it was only the tops of the trees that I had seen from the road.  The ancient seventy-five-year-old trestle swayed with the gentle breeze that blew … and also with my weight … as I cautiously crept toward the middle.  Now, I’m not deathly afraid of heights, but I do have a healthy respect for the danger of falling.  As the ladies continued to sing their songs, I quoted Scripture while spreading Brother Derwood’s ashes, praying silently that I would not plummet to my death among those tree trunks in the ridge below.
   Now fast forward in time five years later when Sister Gertrude died.  Guess where she wants her ashes spread?  Naturally, with her dear husband’s ashes.  So this time we are with her two daughters and their spouses, singing the same songs that Gertrude and her friend had sung previously.  This brain-damaged preacher walked out onto the old eighty-year-old trestle once more.  The trees now look like they are ten-to twelve-feet-high.  As the trestle swayed in the wind … and also with my weight …
I spread her ashes and quoted the same Scriptures as I had at Derwood’s service.  God was with us and everything went smoothly, without any accidents or problems.
   Several years later, my stepfather died, and he wanted me to conduct his funeral and spread his remains at his favorite fishing hole immediately after the service.  I had my two sisters sing his favorite hymns while I spread his ashes and quoted God’s Word along the bank of a river.
   Here are some suggestions I would offer:
   1. Release the ashes when it feels right to you.
   2. Create a ceremony that is meaningful to you.
   3. Feel all of the feelings.
   4. Connect with your loved one’s spirit.
   5. Look for the messages that connect you forever.
   * When you schedule this ceremony, be sensitive to the family and the significance of the day.  For example, some people prefer to use November 1, “All Saints Day or the Day of the Dead,” which is the day people traditionally remember their loved ones in spirit.  Some believe the “veils” are thinner between the living and the dead on that day.  Another time that many like their ashes to be spread is on their anniversaries or birthdays.  My goal as a chaplain is to make the event as meaningful as possible, one that will honor their loved one and give glory to God for this precious person’s life.
    **A word of caution here:  you need to research city and state ordinances about spreading ashes of loved ones on public land or city lakes and ponds.  In the oceans, you have to be several miles out from the land when ashes are spread.  Also, always spread ashes down wind from your body (common sense 101).
   John T. Catrett, III
   Scissortail Hospice Chaplain
   306 North Main Street, Suite E
   Bristow, OK 74010
   918.585.2297

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