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“I can’t bury my parent’s ashes”. What to do when you can’t part with the ashes of the people you’ve lost

“I can’t bury my parent’s ashes”. What to do when you can’t part with the ashes of the people you’ve lost

I was asked about this by someone who lost several family members and hasn’t been able to bear burying their ashes even though she has bought the plots and beautiful headstones for them.

People can behave so differently when it comes to ashes of someone they love.  Some feel a great attachment to them, unable to spread or bury them. Some refuse to even pick them up from the crematorium/ funeral parlour. And then others are fine to go out and spread the ashes straight away.

If you are struggling to part with the ashes of your parent or someone else you love I would ask you these questions: What does burying/spreading the ashes mean to you?  What are you frightened of?  Why are you holding on to them?  What do you think will happen when you no longer have the ashes?

For most people there can be a belief that these ashes are the last physical part of your parent or loved one that you have left……so it makes sense that you wouldn’t want to let them go.  But really these ashes just represent them. These ashes are the remnants of the home your parent or loved one used to live in.

Ironically, the closer and tighter you hold on to things like this the harder it is to feel free to think about them when you want because you tie their memory to a particular box or location.  Holding on to the ashes doesn’t bring you closer to them.  As their child or family member you are a living breathing piece of them…far closer to them than a box of ash.  Once you realise that their memory and your love for them live not in those ashes, but in your heart, mind, and memory, you don’t have the same connection to the ashes.

You can read this blog that I wrote about what to do when you don’t have a grave to visit – it talks about how to remember them without having to be in a certain place or holding a certain object.

If you would still like to keep some part of the ash then there is no reason why you can’t.  Spread or bury most of it but keep a small part for something else.  There are all sorts of creative and interesting things you can do with the ashes of a loved one.  This blog will give you some different ideas, from the normal to the very different to the out-and-out wacky.

Feel free to comment or ask any questions below. I’d love to hear your ideas, opinions, experiences around the ashes of your loved ones.





kate smith July 12, 2011 at 12:05 am

My family found it so hard to decide what to do with dad’s ashes that eventually we agreed on a three way split… that avoided any dispute but has meant there will be more goodbyes to be said. I think scattering the ashes has been more difficult than other things just because it has a different meaning and a different weight for each family member
The funeral director mentioned something that was obvious but helpful – dad’s widow wanted to have some of his ashes in her garden and he suggested she bury them in a box so that if she moves she can still move them with her.

Kristie West July 12, 2011 at 4:24 pm

Thanks for the comment Kate. Really appreciate you sharing here.
There are all sorts of interesting things you can do with ashes – like separating them out etc to take with you. I guess where that gets problematic is when you move away (like me, I’ve lived away for a long time…and all over the world…and I seem to get a lot of expat clients in the same situation), and the grave or where the ashes are spread are on the other side of the world. My dad’s ashes are spread at a beach in Wellington (where I’m from) and on my 4 or 5 trips home since he has died I’ve never once visited the beach again. I guess I’ve never felt the need to. To me he isn’t there. He’s wherever I am. At least a part of him is.
Here’s another interesting article on things you can do with ashes if you’re interested in it!


Garett September 8, 2012 at 9:59 am

I’ve had my fathers ashes now for about 10 years. Every time I think I should part with them I breakdown in overwhelming sadness. I know now why, it because when he died I never got to say goodbye because he had a heartache at home alone, and I feel that is forever is a mark on my soul. As his son I feel I should have visited him earlier after returning oversea’s to check up on him. I hope he understand why and it wasn’t intentional it was just bad timing. The regret still it hurts and I don’t think it will ever go away until I see him again. Just last week my mother-in-law passed away. Most of her children and grandchildren were there, it was loving and as peaceful under the circumstances (lung cancer). When we went to lay her to rest at the cemetery my wife cried out ” I don’t want to leave her here”, my heart sank, because I knew that feeling, but we are all bound by Gods laws and our lives must end at one time or another. I guess my point is where you put your loved ones ashes is only determined by what’s in your heart. Keeping them lets them know that you will do whatever it takes to keep them close to you. Letting them go lets them know your at peace and you’ve accepted fact that their memories are strong enough to push you on through life. Don’t let anyone determine what is the right or wrong time for this parting I believe you will know.

Kristie West September 25, 2012 at 11:42 am

Hi Garett,
Thank you for sharing your experience.
There are a couple of things that stand out to me in your comment. As you identify, you have unresolved issues around the fact you couldn’t be there for your father’s death. Now this is something that can be completely changed and something I could help you with. I do not believe this is ‘a mark on your soul’ – it is your own emotions at what it means to you not to have been there – I would guess there is guilt among various other emotions, both obvious and not. To believe that it is a mark on your soul and that it won’t ever go away actually acts subconsciously as a decision and disempowers you so you can’t do anything about it. The reality is that you can feel completely different and totally at peace with the way your father died and the fact you weren’t there. It just takes being willing and then knowing what questions to ask yourself.

Unfortunately whether we can spread ashes etc doesn’t have as much to do with what’s in our heart as is does have to do with what’s in our emotions. Our hearts are always connected to them and don’t need a physical presence or ashes to hold on to….but consciously with often limited awareness we can’t see or feel this. Our painful emotions get in the way and act as a barrier, not a means of staying connected at all. We cling to them fearing that letting our own emotions go will let our loved ones go….which couldn’t be further from the truth.
I would encourage you to look at why you can’t spread the ashes of your dad. Now some people are quite happy to have them living in the house or in the garden…or spread far away. It isn’t about what you decide to do with them. It’s about the emotion behind that decision – and if you can’t bear to do anything with them then that is something that needs investigating if you are to clear this pain so you can heartfully connect to your dad again and experience him without pain.

Pat May 5, 2013 at 6:18 pm

My dad has just passed on and he was cremated. When I was offered some of my dad’s ashes before he was buried, I declined. At first, I was guilty, but after reading this entry, I am not. My memories of my father are in my heart and memory, not in some ashes. Thank you for making me feel better.

Kristie West May 9, 2013 at 8:16 pm

You are very welcome Pat. As you say, your dad is not in some ashes. And if you do need a tangible remembrance of him – look in the mirror. We are great big walking chunks of our parents. 🙂


Rosemary May 24, 2013 at 12:12 am

if you scatter someone’s ashes and keep some will her soul rest in peace

Kristie West May 28, 2013 at 10:39 am

Hi Rosemary,
People have very different beliefs but here is mine – the body is simply the house of the soul. If you’ve been around a dead body you know that it really does feel like an empty building or an empty vehicle – like something was there – soul/energy/chi – but has now moved out. So the ash is just the remnants of the physical body…and the soul has left the building and no longer has any tie to it’s physical body. I don’t believe at all that what we do with the ash – bury it/spread it/bake it in a cake/keep it in our pockets, affects the journey of the soul.

yvonne August 16, 2013 at 4:00 pm

See I think differently. If we keep a part of the ashes with us the soul/spirit is then earthly bound longer and we have a harder time letting go. My question then if the person wasn’t cremated would you keep a part if there body with you . \

Kristie West August 17, 2013 at 1:25 pm

Hi Yvonne,

I can’t say I’ve heard before of an actual body part being kept…but I have heard plenty of times about hair, nail clippings, and even teeth being kept. A friend of mine even recently sent me a site of a woman she knows who makes beautiful jewellery and keepsakes from hair and teeth. I could find the details if you were interested.

You and I have different beliefs as to whether this affects their spirit and their (and your) ability to let go, as you say, so I cannot advise you on this. It is up to you whether this would feel like the right thing for you to do or not.

Much love,

Jessica September 26, 2013 at 1:12 pm

My brother was tragically killed in a cycling accident. He was riding at dusk in dark clothes and the car apparently did not see him. He was airlifted to a trauma center and died on the way into surgery. What is worse is that he died on my fiancees birthday. It is so hard for me to separate the two things when my fiancees birthday comes around though I have tried to have a mass for my brother close to the date of the anniversary at my church and that helps me remember him while not taking away from my fiancees day thought it is incredibly difficult because as soon as late September comes I get really depressed.
My brother was cremated. When it was time to go and get the ashes, no one in my family would do and no one wanted them in their house because it happened so suddenly no one knew what to do with them. I love my brother so much that to me it was an act of respect to go pick them up. To me it was about love and respect for someone who meant so much and we hope when we are gone that someone cares enough to follow through on our lives. To love beyond life. So now my mom an not bear to have the ashes in the house so she put them in a closet in the garage that has nothing in it but it is interesting…when I go home, I look in there and there are dried rose petals and pictures and remembrances of him but she said it spooks her to have them in the house. So now she is talking about a final resting place for him and I am petrified of burying them. It is like we have to say goodbye all over again and I can’t bear that. I really can’t. It took me over a year to function again. Then I thought it was strange to be attached to ashes but after all they are my brother…the one I was closest too in my entire life.

gmom November 7, 2013 at 1:48 pm

I am dating a man who keeps his wife’s ashes in a ‘mini-shrine’ in his house. he says they agreed that when he dies theirs’ will be intermingled together. my counselor says cut him some slack since he’s still grieving (less than 2 years.)Till his demise, in my opinion, there is no hope for me to ever be ‘first’ in his life or relationships.
He’s got about 30 years to go til death, as he’s in good health. response?

Sue Ann April 3, 2014 at 4:10 pm

My father died in August 2011. When he died a fight ensued with the step brothers (my stepmother predeceased him in 2003). My father’s wishes were to have his ashes spread in the garden in the back yard with his wife’s. Because of the fight with the step brothers, they have her ashes, I have my father’s ashes. I am at a loss of what to do with the ashes. The house has been sold. I have had thoughts of putting him with his mother and father in the cemetary, I think he’d like that and I’d like it so I could visit. He also served in the military and is eligible for internment in Arlington. Or let him go free in the ocean with my mom, his ex-wife (giggle giggle). Opinions?

Dawn Matthews May 6, 2014 at 10:56 pm

I want to cancel the burial of ashes. ….can I do this

Kristie West May 11, 2014 at 11:26 pm

Hi Dawn, what do you mean by cancel? You were planning to bury them and now you don’t want to anymore? If thats the case then you can do what you like, provided it is only up to you of course. If there are other people/family members involved then you’ll need to discuss it with them. xx

Tami Lara February 15, 2015 at 2:47 am

My dad committed suicide on the 9th I’m beyond broken.. He never left a bury me or keep me wish.. I feel like he’s stuck being on my table.. Help me set him free..