In response to Angela Alaimo O’Donnell’s “Good Grief” (December 3, 2010), I would like to present an alternative view of cremation. In 2006, my closest friend was cremated by her own choice, which she explained to our religious community this way: economy (significant savings can go to the mission); ecology (the earth is less taken up with metals that cannot become part of it); and symbolism (the “whole burnt offering” of Scripture, giving all to God, as she had tried to do in her life). Her remains were carried directly and respectfully from the nursing home by the funeral director. They were carried into the church by a sister and placed by the altar with flowers and a photograph. She was very present to us as we talked of her, prayed, and commended her to her eucharistic Lord. A sister carried her urn to the cemetery, where we completed her rites. She now rests among members of her community.
I expect this scenario to be repeated for my own sister and for myself. It feels perhaps less unnatural than the cold hardness of embalming, and no less respectful. It, too, is “how Catholics bury our loved ones,” and it did not—does not—feel as if it requires a “rite of atonement.”