Loved ones’ ashes are being kept in a lot more than urns these days
Beer steins. Cookie jars. Model train cars. Funeral professionals says there are a lot of creative ways people are storing cremated remains.
It’s that time of year when people are thinking of pretty packages all tied up with a bow. But what about some of the most precious packages of all?
Funeral professionals say people are coming up with a lot of creative ways to store cremated remains these days. In beer steins, for instance. And cookie jars. Model train cars, too.
Even in a Chanel shoebox. That’s what fashion designer Sharon Harris Hart picked as her final resting place.
Brooke Benjamin, a funeral director in Chicago with the Cremation Society of Illinois, was discussing arrangements with Hart when the subject of storage came up. Benjamin told her she could use something of her own choosing and not just the traditional urn.
“It can be anything,” she told Hart. “It can be a shoebox.”
Hart “got this funny smile, like a Cheshire cat,” Hart’s assistant Terese Walton says.
The couturier went to her closet. She came back with a Chanel shoebox.
It was perfect for Hart, who created classic clothes for Chicago society figures. She adored Chanel and kept important papers in the Chanel shoebox.
“She loved Chanel,’’ says Walton, founder of the personal concierge company Living Made Easier. “Her Chanel flats were her favorite shoes.”
When Hart died in September at 85, that’s where her ashes were placed — inside a sealed, heavy plastic liner.
“That is where they are at this moment,” Walton says.
Hart isn’t the only person Walton knew who made a nontraditional choice.
“We had a lady who used to like [Chinese] takeout food,” she says. “So her kids put [her sealed-up ashes] in a take-out container and put it in her favorite chair — the chair she used to sit in that overlooked Lake Michigan.”
Mike Shea, office manager at The Oaks Funeral Home in Itasca, says, “I know a family that used a tackle box because he was such a fisherman.”
“I had a woman whose husband collected beer steins,” says Stephen Dawson, owner of Sax-Tiedemann Funeral Home & Crematorium in Franklin Park. “She didn’t like traditional urns. She brought in this great big beer stein and placed the ashes in there instead.”
For a train collector, “We were able to put cremated remains in each of the freight cars for his model train,” Dawson says. “The family took them home.”
Tim Harrington of Barr Funeral Home in Edgewater had a tall client nicknamed “Big Bird.” When he died, “His cremated remains were put into a Big Bird cookie jar,” Harrington says.
Benjamin says she helped clients whose mother told them to make sure they got a good price for her collectible Red Riding Hood cookie jar after her death. Instead of cookies, they used it for her ashes.
“They didn’t have to spend money on an urn,” Benjamin says. “They didn’t have to worry about selling the cookie jar. It was delightful.”
In accordance with his wishes, the ashes of Stephen Mullins, founder of the American Toby Jug Museum, were stored in a mug with his likeness after his death in June.
At the service, “The mug was carried out by his family to the tune of ‘I Did It My Way,’ ” says Kevin Pearson, curator of the Evanston museum.
At Graceland Cemetery on Chicago’s North Side, “There was a family who decided to use an ice bucket,” according to a staffer. “They had it engraved with their wedding day. They mixed the ashes together.’’
Some people have incorporated ashes into jewelry or concrete formations used to create artificial ocean reefs.
After suffering a heartbreaking loss, Roberta Scott found comfort in a unique container for her baby, who was named Arrow. Moments after he was born last year, his heart stopped, and he died.
“He was alive and looking at us,” she says. “He closed his eyes, and he was gone. He never did make that first big cry.”
Scott, who studied art at Michigan State University with Jeff Blandford, asked him to create meaningful keepsakes. After Arrow was cremated, Blandford “blew the ashes into a glow glass,” she says.
Blandford, who operates the Jeff Blandford Gallery in Saugatuck, Michigan, says the phosphorescent paperweights glow because he used a form of the element strontium in the glassblowing process. Fellow artist Todd Knight made pendants.
For Scott and her husband Sean, the luminescent objects are lights in the darkness.
“It’s the baby never being in the dark,” she says. “He sits on my nightstand, and he glows all night long. I often think of him and hold the glow glass. That’s where we keep him.”