A reader writes:
I was widowed fairly young (age 46) and struggled with both of these issues. I find them related. I decided to have Jane cremated but purchased a niche in a very beautiful nearby cemetery. I like having a dedicated place to go, with her name on it, on special occasions (her birthday, our anniversary, etc.). I don't know that I'd get the same positive feeling and connection if she had been scattered on San Francisco Bay, even though she loved sailing it.
Her niche is marked only with her married name (she took mine) and the years of her birth and death, for privacy's sake (and also because I had heard – I don't know if this is apocryphal – that having the full birth date "out there" can invite identity theft).
We weren't religious, though I think about faith and the afterlife quite a bit. What I've come to is this: Nothing I or anyone else does on earth can hurt or help her now. If she's in heaven, then she's so blissed out that she doesn't give a whit what I do; if she's in hell, she has bigger fish to fry than worrying about my actions; and if she simply vanished when she died, she's not even around to care.
Another also stakes a middle ground between cremation and burial:
A number of years ago, my parents talked with my father’s parents about their end of life wishes. For all of them, being cremated was more appealing than burial, but they still liked the idea of having a dedicated spot where friends and families could go.
Instead of buying a cemetery plot, they donated money to the local university botanical garden endowing a cove in their amazing Japanese garden. My father and my grandfather were both lifelong woodworkers and wanted to contribute something for the space. They worked closely with the garden staff in order to identify something that would have the right feel for the space, and together they built a Japanese lantern and an amazing plank bench. My grandfather was 82 at the time, and it was the best piece of woodworking he ever completed.
For years when I would come to visit we would all go to admire their cove; the azaleas growing nicely and the plantings maturing to leave a beautiful contemplative spot overlooking the garden’s pond. When my grandfather died at 86, we had a standard memorial service, but the most memorable event was our immediate family (grandmother, sons, grandkids, and great-grandkids) going to the cove and one-by-one scattering his ashes. It seems gruesome, but the most amazing part of that experience was realizing that within the ashes you could see the remnants of metal spiral aortic stents and pins from bones that had been reset; these ashes were definitely my grandfather.
I love that in perpetuity I have a beautiful space to go to remember the four of them, to sit on the bench built by their hands and watch the koi swim by. Creating this space was a fantastic gift to their family, and to their community.