During a recent drive, I tuned into an episode of CBC Radio’s Tapestry, an interesting program that focuses on issues of faith, spirituality and religion. This particular episode featured stories and interviews on the subject of ashes and cremation. As an estate litigator, a profession that is intrinsically linked to death and dying, the episode grabbed my attention.
Of particular interest was a segment called “Ashes Through the Ages.” This portion of the show was comprised of an interview with Professor Douglas Davies of the University of Durham in England. Professor Davies is an authority on the history, theology and sociology of death and co-editor of the Encyclopedia of Cremation.
The interview deals mostly with the cultural history of cremation, a practice that goes back to ancient times and one that differs immensely across cultures and geographic locations. In India for instance, cremations are often very public outdoor rituals. In the West however, cremations are extremely private affairs. The body is burnt indoors in a private facility and the ashes are provided to loved ones so that they may perform a variety of personal rites and rituals.
In our society, ashes are usually either kept in an urn in a surviving loved one’s home or scattered in a place that holds some personal significance to the deceased. I’ve heard many touching stories of ashes being scattered in places such as a body of water where the person who has passed liked to fish, a golf course where they spent many hours playing golf, or simply a park where they liked to sit and enjoy nature.
Professor Davies mentioned one particular cremation practice I had never heard of before: turning a loved one’s ashes into gemstones. Because ashes are essentially carbon, they can be compressed into gemstones and turned into jewelry for a surviving loved one to wear as a reminder of or physical link to the deceased.
While you might think that this is a new idea, Professor Davies pointed out that people have been putting deceased loved ones’ locks of hair into lockets worn as necklaces for centuries. In my mind, this is merely a more modern and technologically advanced version of that practice. It’s also much more expensive. These “memorial diamonds” can range from $3,500 - $20,000 depending on the desired size of stone. Also, for animal-lovers, they can be made from a beloved pet’s ashes as well.
To my surprise, when I mentioned to a colleague that I had just heard about this practice, he informed me that his mother had in fact requested that her ashes be made into a “memorial diamond” upon her passing. She likes the idea of her ashes being turned into a shiny diamond as opposed being in an urn or in nature.
While I don’t see this practice becoming as commonplace as other cremation rituals, it is an option that some might want to consider when planning for their deaths. If you do find yourself wearing a ring made from a loved one however, make sure to be extra, extra careful around sinks and toilets.