When grief is fresh, it may be better to lovingly inform, rather than confront
Last month my grandfather passed away and my parents, aunts, and uncles (his kids) decided to have him cremated. I didn’t object to the cremation because I didn’t know what kind of arrangements my granddad made with his kids, and the Church isn’t against cremation per se, but now they are talking about dumping his ashes on a golf course because he loved to golf. I’d like to know what I can do to prevent their desecrating his body like that.
A little background on us. My granddad and I are Catholic; his kids (my parents and aunts/uncles) are not. They are technically but they haven’t been to Mass in forever and they go to a charismatic evangelical type of nondenominational church. My parents didn’t raise me Catholic, I converted out of college and my granddad was my sponsor in RCIA. I know how much his faith meant to him and he was always sorry that all his kids stopped going to Mass as adults. I’m his only Catholic grandkid left to carry on our family faith through my own kids.
I’m just glad I managed to arrange a funeral Mass for my grandfather. Since his funeral, his kids (he has four) have taken turns sharing his ashes at their house. His cremated remains are currently hanging out on my uncle’s fireplace mantle next to his fishing trophy. I told my mom that he needs to be properly interred in a columbarium but my thoughts are being ignored because I’m “just a grandchild” and he’s “their dad.” I know everyone is still grieving but I feel like this is getting out of hand. They’re just gonna keep floating his ashes around until they can all take a family trip next year to Ireland and dump his ashes on some golf course they say he always wanted to play on. It doesn’t seem to bother them at all that there will be no gravesite to visit or that they’re planning to fling their dad’s corpse on a golf course.
First, let me offer you my sincerest condolences on the loss of your grandfather. It sounds like he was a wonderful man and that he took great joy in sharing his faith with you. I’m sure being able to be part of your conversion to Catholicism made him very proud.
I can tell you’re angry with your family right now, and while I can understand the cause of your anger, it might not be entirely justified. Your parents and their siblings are acting out of ignorance. Their understanding of Catholicism probably never developed beyond their adolescence. Being angry at them is like being mad at small children for breaking rules they didn’t even know existed. I know you said your mom won’t hear your thoughts on the subject because you’re “just a grandchild,” and while her words probably deeply hurt because they dismiss the relationship you had with your grandfather, I’m sure they were directed more out of grief than malice. Your grandfather just died a month ago and feelings are still fresh and raw. Take whatever comfort you can in your grandfather’s Catholic funeral Mass and try not to dwell on where his remains are resting right now.
You have a whole year for tempers to calm down as acceptance at your grandfather’s passing sets in with the whole family. I wouldn’t do anything more right now other than mourn his loss, remember his life, honor his faith, pray for his soul, and comfort your parents. That’s enough right there.
Be kind to your parents and your aunts and uncles; they just lost their father. Love them and pray for them. It’s almost entirely impossible to stay mad at someone you pray for daily. Let time heal their wounds and prayer heal your own. God will let you know if and when they are ready to receive your wisdom on this matter and He will help you when the time comes.
A lot can happen between now and next year when they plan to scatter his remains in Ireland. They could come to regret their decision to deny the family a gravesite to visit, as you stated, and properly house his remains in a columbarium. Problem solved. But just in case… in the meantime, when the time is right, help them grieve for their dad by showing them how they can honor him by respecting his Catholic beliefs. Invite them to Mass. Give them a framed picture of his favorite Catholic prayer or saint. Let them know how much Catholicism meant to their dad and perhaps out of their love for him they’ll become more receptive; however, if they left the Church due to some anti-Catholic sentiment then they might not welcome your attempts. Be prepared for that.
You said your parents and their siblings attend a non-denominational type church so they have a shared belief in God and the resurrection. Perhaps if they understood that the practice of scattering the remains of the deceased came about as denial of the Christian resurrection of the dead they wouldn’t be quick to fling his remains unceremoniously on a golf course. We talked about faith, patience, and prayer, but now I’d like to address their fundamental lack of knowledge. Catholicism celebrates, after all, a marriage of faith and reason.
Canon Law (1983) stipulates, “The Church earnestly recommends that the pious custom of burying the dead be observed; it does not, however, forbid cremation unless it has been chosen for reasons which are contrary to Christian teaching” (No. 1176, 3). Therefore, a person may choose to be cremated if he has the right intention. However, the cremated remains must be treated with respect and should be interred in a grave or columbarium.” –Fr. William Saunders
More to read: Cremations now outnumber traditional burials in the U.S.
It’s highly unlikely his cremation was meant to be an intentional contradiction of Christian teaching. His children probably made the decision to have him cremated without understanding the full meaning of the practice. Christians bury our dead because of our awareness that as humans we are a body-soul unity made in the image and likeness of God, and in anticipation of the resurrection of our bodies at the end of time. Pagans burned their dead. Christian martyrs were burned at the stake and their remains scattered as a sign of contempt for their beliefs.
You may never get your parents and aunts and uncles to accept the Catholic teaching on this matter, but they can certainly understand that the human body, their father’s body, is deserving of the utmost respect. We are made in the likeness of God and as such should treat our bodies as holy temples, not as empty vessels to be scattered to the wind.
I know it probably seems obvious to you but still be aware that your family may never get rid of this romanticized notion of scattering his remains. Don’t let this ruin your relationship with your family and certainly don’t let this negativity have an effect on your grandfather’s memory. Ultimately the decision is to be made by his children. You’re going to have to be reconciled with whatever that final decision ends up being.
My final suggestion for you would be for you to talk to your priest or seek a professional grief counselor if you feel you need to. Above all else pray. I hope your grandfather’s remains meet a dignified end.
[Editor’s Note: Take the Poll – How would you like to be laid to rest?]