What To Do With Ashes After a Cremation.

 

 

What to do with ashes after a cremation is probably one of the most difficult decisions to make following a death. Whether your loss is a person or a pet, what to do with ashes can be an emotive subject.

what to do with ashes

A grand old lady called Penny

We got the call from the vet telling us our beloved dog had died in the night, the morning after we had taken her there with disturbing symptoms. She died there of old age. We were naturally distraught. So when, in the next breath, the vet nurse suggested that we have her ashes in a box, we agreed straight away. It cost a lot of money; it cost more to have her cremated alone to ensure we got just her ashes. Twelve years on, we still have a box of ashes that we don’t know what to do with. We won’t bury it in our garden as we are likely to move. We also don’t want to scatter the ashes anywhere. So what is the answer?

what to do with ashes

Was this the best we could do with her ashes?

Well, it seems there is another choice that is gaining in popularity. People who have suffered a loss are turning to specialty jewellers like Natasha Susman for help. Natasha is a skilled artisan based in the UK. She turns ashes and even hair, into treasured memorial jewellery.

The idea is not new but it has been making a comeback here since the 1990s. Mourning jewellery has been worn for hundreds of years. It is sometimes referred to as Memento Mori, a Latin term  meaning ‘be mindful of death’.

I recently visited Natasha’s studio workshop to find out more about her intriguing work. The tiny workshop is tucked away at the back of Curiouser & Curiouser, the amazing  jewellery shop Natasha runs with her mother, Ingrid Zeige. The shop has been a part of Brighton’s colorful alternative shopping district, The Lanes, since 1992 when Ingrid opened the shop with partner Paterson Riley. (You can find out more about Curiouser & Curiouser here in a post from a few weeks back.)

To me, the shop is a curious mix of boho, goth, classic and chic all rolled into one. I have never been into a jewellery shop like it. So I was not surprised when I discovered that Natasha was designing bespoke memorial jeweller to order. And after talking to her, I was not surprised that clients  are finding Natasha based on her growing reputation.

what to do with ashes

Natasha Susman – A Jeweller at Work

What to do with ashes after a cremation? Keepsake jewellery is a comforting option for some.

Natasha prefers to call her pieces ‘keepsake jewellery’. She never intended to go into the business of creating fine jewellery incorporating the cremated remains of people or animals that have passed on. It was more a case of keepsake jewellery discovering Natasha than the other way round. In 2009, the beloved pet of a good friend passed away. His dog Cory had been with him for 17 years and he was naturally distraught.  He begged Natasha to make him a piece of jewellery incorporating his dog’s ashes and hair. And so she did. It was the start of a new business for Natasha, a graduate of the London Guildhall University.

what to do with ashes

Remembering Cory

Another commission quickly followed for more pieces of bespoke keepsake jewellery for several members of  a grieving family. However, this time, the tragedy that prompted the commission involved the death of a person. Natasha, quite understandably, will not talk about the circumstances of the commission. It was an untimely death that left a family heartbroken and with a deep need to keep their loved one close. She was honored to be trusted with such a sensitive commission and moved by the comfort that the family got from having the jewellery.

Keeping a loved one close.

Keeping a loved one close is a great comfort for many.

 

When interviewing Natasha about her work, I got a strong sense of her having been pulled into the world of keepsake jewellery slightly reluctantly. But once there, it seems as if the peace and happiness she has seen her jewellery bring to grieving relatives has made her stay. She comes across as deeply philosophical about death and is passionate about the peace keepsake jewellery can bring into someone’s life.

Having previously seen only pictures of some finished pieces, I was intrigued to actually see and hold one of her creations in real life. Watching Natasha work and listening to her talk about her commissions gave me a great insight into the world of keepsake/memorial jewellery. Natasha spoke of the sensitivity needed when taking on the huge responsibility of creating a memorial from the ashes and/or hair of someone’s cherished relative.

A plait of hair around a picture encased forever in silver.

A plait of hair around a picture encased forever in silver.

It is clear that this work can never ever be taken lightly. Natasha  finds working with the death of a child the hardest. She also worries that people may come to her too soon after a death. She said:

“I am not a trained counsellor. It can be really challenging to make sure I deal with these situations carefully. People often need something to focus on when someone has just died. They are looking for comfort – it’s a journey, it’s a way of carrying on to the next level. People are left wondering, how do I get on with my day now that you have left me? It is always the ones left behind that suffer the most in the long-run.”

Maybe it is the very fact that Natasha does not take this work lightly that makes her the ideal person to be dealing with people who are seeking comfort. The concerns she has, in my opinion, make her more than just a jeweller turning out keepsake pieces to order. I could see during our interview, every aspect of every new commission is important to her and she thinks about everything in depth.

what to do with ashes

A very special piece with great significance to the client

The issue of price is another thought provoking area for Natasha. Her main concern is to keep it fair and accessible. She said:

“I want to be someone who is affordable. If someone has a budget, I try to work around that. Some people don’t have anything – some people are millionaires – it isn’t easy and I want to be fair.”

When people come to Natasha, she knows exactly what to do with ashes in a way that creates something beautiful and comforting.

Another of Natasha's early pieces - a huge comfort to the wearer.

Another of Natasha’s early pieces – a huge comfort to the wearer.

So what exactly happens to the ashes once someone has made up their mind to have a piece of keepsake jewellery made? Natasha explained that she goes through the ash to find pieces of bone that she can mix with resin. In the case of a ring for example, the resin/ash/bone mix is then put into a reservoir either inside or outside the ring.  She told me that the ‘Secrets’ ring is the most popular because the groove is on the inside and no one knows it is there. The ring is then hand-finished to an incredibly high standard.

what to do with ashes

Secrets – inside the ring where resin, hair and ashes are held.

Natasha uses 925 Sterling Silver – a sought after grade due to the exceptionally high silver content. It is 92.5% silver with the remaining 7.5% being the  metal alloy that gives the precious metal durability and allows it to be shaped. She also works in 9 – 18ct gold. The wax carving work done prior to reaching the metal stage is carried out with extreme skill and precision. Natasha honed these skills during her time learning from fellow jeweller Chris Hawkins.

Although Natasha is a Guildhall graduate, she believes the guidance she received from Chris took her skills to another level. Her resulting expertise can be seen in the wax models she carves when creating  tiny details such as the mint leaf and Frangipani flower seen here.

what to do with ashes

Beautifully hand-carved waxes ready to be cast in silver.

These waxes will be used in a process that will create delicate silver charms depicting a mint leaf and a Frangipani flower. Natasha created these as part of a keepsake commission for a person whose pet used to go into the garden and roll in the mint leaves. It is pieces like these that show the diversity of the kinds of things clients ask for when discussing designs for their jewellery. And Natasha does her best to accommodate whatever people want.

Keepsake jewellery will not appeal to everyone I am sure. There are probably some people who will find the concept bizarre. However, we all deal with death in different ways and some people find having keepsake jewellery an enormous comfort. If at least some of the cremated remains have been kept and incorporated into a piece of jewellery to wear close, the rest of the ashes can be scattered. Maybe this helps alleviate the feeling of complete loss if all the ashes are buried or scattered. Perhaps it is a huge comfort to know there is always a tiny part of a loved person or pet still close by.

 

what to do with ashes

Keeping a loved one near

Natasha can be found here at Forget You Not. She has just returned to work after taking extended maternity leave and is in the process of updating her website. However, you can still contact her there. Natasha works worldwide and is willing to consider commissions from most places around the globe.

If you are ever in the difficult position of wondering what to do with ashes after the death of a beloved person or pet, remember this option. After talking to Natasha for this article, I can honestly say you will not find a more compassionate, fair and thoughtful person to trust with such a sensitive task.

What to do with ashes? The last word goes to Natasha…

 

The 'Secrets' ring showing the secret groove containing the ashes and the high standard of hand-finishing.

The ‘Secrets’ ring showing the secret groove containing the ashes and the high standard of hand-finishing.

 

“When I was approached by a dear friend of mine, to make a keepsake of his recently deceased dog Cory, I was a little hesitant. First of all I had never worked with hair before and, my only reference to this kind of jewellery was the somewhat morbid Victorian rings with braided hair.

I accepted the challenge but decided I would make the piece more about love than grief. I also wanted to reflect the personality of my friend in the piece, so that when he wore it, the piece would be as much a part of him, as was Cory.

Word got around, and I started getting commissions for people as well as pets. Due to this quiet demand for a precious memento, I decide to form a small company, Forget You Not, dedicated to designing and producing exquisite jewellery that honours the unique artifacts within.

A unique way to remember your loved ones. A keep sake that is both affordable and beautiful. All commissions welcome. We create custom made ‘one of a kind’ pieces tailored to suit your individual desires.”

Forget You Not

 

27 comments

  1. What an interesting concept, just not for me. When I read the title, my first thought was…..you bury the ashes, of course. That’s what we did with my dad, and that’s what my mother wants to have done as well. Instead of getting new grave sites, they have and will be added to my grandparents grave.
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    1. Hi Jennifer, many thanks for your visit and comment – yes, I know what you mean, that is what my family does too. I guess some people would get huge comfort from having the ashes close to them but then others would find it bizarre. Different strokes. Thanks again for stopping by.

  2. Hopefully,this email doesn’t cause you any inconvenience.
    This is Karida from Dongguan impressive jewellery Co.,Ltd..
    Main products:pendant,necklace,ring,earring,bracelet/bangle,sets,cufflink,keychain
    Cremation jewelry,sale in stock,good quality with low quantity.
    Can we talk about this project ?
    Waiting your kindly reply.

    Best regards,
    Karida

  3. When my mom first died five years ago, my daughter, then 18 and very close to my mom, asked if she could use some of her ashes for jewellery. At the time, I said no. I found the idea a bit macabre, plus I wasn’t ready to part with my mom, or any part of her, at that point. However, recently, I have been thinking of getting something done for my daughter and I. We have a couple of jewellery makers here in Australia who do the same thing (and apparently a company who seems to mass produce them in some way which is a tad worrying). Your post has resurfaced the idea and I may have to look into it more seriously. Am sorry to hear about your dog by the way. A loss is never easy. My aunt has decided she would like her ashes to be buried under a tree in a park – not a cemetery – where people will rest from the sun and children will climb. I love that idea too.
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    1. Sorry to hear your mum died Sarah, five years is nothing and it probably still feels like yesterday. I can’t imagine that it ever gets easy anyway. Yes, the concept is a little bizarre! I was sceptical at first too but then changed my mind when I saw the process. However, my parents have both said, ‘please don’t do that to our ashes’, so I am kind of stuck with them. Your aunt’s idea is a good one. My husband and I are toying with the idea of leaving our bodies to a teaching hospital (after hearing how much medical students get out of practicing operating techniques on cadavers). So I guess when they are done, the remains could be cremated a buried that way. OMG – morbid for a Monday morning!

  4. Natasha is obviously a very special person and the fact that every item is crafted individually highlights that she not only possesses a creative gift but has the gift of empathy and understanding her customers needs. Definitely something to bare in mind, but not sure I would be able to wear the item for fear of losing it, but I could treasure it and “remember” whilst looking at it.

    1. Thanks Gaynor – really appreciate you taking time to read and comment. It’s a good point you make about the risk of losing a piece of memorial jewellery if worn outside. Sounds like something I would do!

  5. Gilly, I’m very sorry to hear of the lose of your dog, Penny. Obviously she was precious to you, and having personally experienced the death of a treasured family pet (a cat, named Hairy) I can understand a lot of the emotions expressed in this article. I also have a number of friends and family members who might really be interested to know about Natasha and the beautiful keepsake jewelry she makes. Thanks for sharing.

    1. Thank you for reading and commenting Paula – yes we all miss our lovely animals when they go but they are so worth it aren’t they. We have had a another dog since Penny died 12 years ago. He died of Cancer at only 6 years old and we miss him too. No more dogs for us! Thanks again.

  6. Dear Gilly ! Wonderfully written, very precise & true! I’m Natasha ‘s Mother & I’m proud of her Work! At the same time, I think no one else could have written this Blog any better than you!!! We feel quite honoured to have met you. Thank You!!! Kind Regards & Best Wishes, Ingrid.

    1. Hello Ingrid, thank you for your kind words! It has been an absolute pleasure meeting you all. I have really enjoyed writing about Tash and Paterson and I am really looking forward to coming back to do the story of all stories when I interview you – can’t wait as I know the road that led you to the UK was a very interesting one. Love to you all and see you soon. x

  7. Hi Gilly! With both our beloved dog and cat we scattered there ashes in the mountains where they loved. I never even thought about hanging on to them or “wearing” them but I can see where if it was someone even closer to you it might seem like a good way to keep them in mind. Still, I don’t think I would want my husband wearing a piece of my “remains” when I’m gone now that I think about it. This was an interesting perspective…thanks for sharing it. And yes, the jewelry is quite beautiful. ~Kathy

    1. Hello Kathy, thank you for reading this and commenting as well. Yes, I thought the same thing, not sure I would want to be ‘worn’ either. I think it’s a great idea for pets though. However, it is so long since Penny died, we have become comfortable with our memories of her. I think we will just open that box now and do what you did with your dog and cat. We will let her go in the woods where she loved to walk. Thanks again Kathy – see you in your next blog post!

    1. Hi Jodie, thanks for reading and taking the time comment. Yes it is a brilliant concept and definitely gives another option for anyone who is having trouble deciding what to do.

  8. Gilly, this is such an interesting post on a delicate and emotional subject. I like the idea of keepsake jewelry, although wearing ashes from a person is something I would have to get used to. When my daughters lost their step-mom to breast cancer, they were given lockets with her ashes. They have never worn them. I would be more likely to wear ashes from my dog. As far as animals, we buried my cat and dog when they passed under their favorite trees in our yard and my husband created small cement grave markers for them. They would be portable if we ever moved. Thank you for this very well-written and researched post! Good food for thought! #MidlifeLuv

    1. Thank you Terri – it’s really great hearing other people’s views on this subject. I agree, I think animal ashes would somehow be more ‘wearable’, if that’s the right word, than human. I also think I would need to consider whether the person in question would have WANTED to be ‘worn’. Not sure I would – just let me float around the universe in peace! 🙂 Really good to hear from you.

    1. Hello – thanks for reading and commenting. The shop is in Sydney Street in the North Laines. I am sure they will love to see you if you pop in.

  9. Gilly you are a wonderful writer! I think you have captured what I do beautifully and I cannot thank you enough! x

    1. Thanks Tash – I appreciate that. But don’t forget – I have to have good material to work with in the first place. It was a pleasure writing this. x

  10. I heard years ago about a company that actually made diamonds out of cremated remains and I used to tell my kids that I was going to state in my will that part of me would end up in a diamond for each of them so they could feel me “choking” them the rest of their lives…they didn’t think it was funny 🙂 All kidding aside, I think this is a really great idea and definitely fulfills a massive need for those that just don’t know what to do.

    1. Well diamonds are forever – so why not! That is so funny. Our kids have no sense of humor! Thank you so much for stopping by and taking the time to comment.

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