Charles Cowling



Our religious correspondent, Richard Rawlinson, ponders the importance of a physical signifier of absence.


Whether we choose burial or cremation, should we offer those we leave behind a tombstone or plaque forming a physical destination for paying respects?

I know the reasons for favouring cremation: immediacy over slow decomposition, shortage of burial space, cost and the difficulty of upkeeping graves among families who might live far away.

But how widespread is the trend for throwing cremains to the wind in a natural setting cherished by the deceased rather than burying them in an urn, either on consecrated land or another favoured burial site?

A plaque marking the site of cremains doesn’t require the upkeep or the space of a stone above a body in a coffin. Is it not helpful to the bereaved to know they can visit a specific memorial destination, even if circumstances don’t allow for regular visits? Do they get the same emotional impact from visiting the scene where cremains were scattered, but have since dispersed into, at least physical, nothingness?

3 thoughts on “Earth to earth

  1. Charles Cowling
    james showers

    Interesting post, Richard, and gm’s comments too.
    Surprisingly, families seem pretty clear about what they prefer – a plaque in a cemetery with other monuments to grief and memory (to help focus feelings?)and used as specific pilgimage site; or a place of wild beauty, which represents a more universal dispersal. Water seems attractive, with the thought that the person will now go everywhere. This universality perhaps a more frequently visited reminder?
    PS. Basic upkeep round here is covered by the burial fees, so not an issue.

    Charles Cowling
  2. The Good Funeral Guide – Humanising the ancestors – The Good Funeral Guide

    […] ceramist, Alan Braidford — in answer, it almost seemed, to Richard Rawlinson’s post earlier on today. Wonderful work, we’re sure you’ll agree. There are virtually no makers of funeral urns […]

  3. Charles Cowling
    gloria mundi

    Humane thinking here, I feel, and practical too.

    Does the answer to your question depend on how people feel about the web of life, returning to the natural elements amidst the beauties of nature (after an industrial sort of process, it must be admitted!)

    You might say, Richard, that if people let go of the idea of a soul and an afterlife, they look for some way of feeling continuity in the physical world – and a little stone, or a tree, might offer more comfort to those still living than a spatially vaguer sense of rejoining the flow.

    Also, sometimes the dear departed might have a powerful association with a lovely part of the world(“he always used to sit and look across the bay of an evening”) but it may not work so well on the North Circular, if he lived there all his life, and retired to Margate a year before he died.

    Certainly, there are sensitive quandaries and very different alternatives to be explored here.

    Charles Cowling

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