With cremation on the rise, survivors often are flummoxed about what to do with their loved one's ashes.
For a year after her husband's sudden death, Jackie Wallin had no idea what to do with the ashes from his cremation. After painstaking and painful consideration, she landed on his beloved Lyndale Park Rose Garden as the first "scattering spot." Anticipating a serene tribute, she and a close friend toted some remains to the Lake Harriet haven.
"We got there, and they were doing Shakespeare in the Park," Wallin, of St. Louis Park, said with a half sigh, half chuckle. "I had thought I'd have this private moment, and then all these people were there. But I said, 'No, I've got to do this.'
"You're so emotional, something just kind of comes over you. I don't know if it's a spiritual thing, but this big gust of wind came up, and my girlfriend and I had ashes all over us."
As more Americans opt for cremation -- the rate increased more than tenfold over 50 years, from 3.56 percent in 1960 to 40.6 percent in 2010 -- their surviving loved ones often are left with the quandary of where the cremains should land. Sometimes that comes without any direction from the dearly departed, and that can be by design.
"I think they should go where it has meaning for the next generation, not where it has meaning for" the deceased, said Betsi Baker of Bloomington, who has placed her father's ashes in three wide-ranging locations.
He had shared no destination directives, so Baker took her time choosing the sites. All three resting places are at cemeteries that provide connectivity with ancestors or descendants.
Kevin Waterston, owner of the Cremation Society of Minnesota, said the most popular destinations he hears about from clients are "a local cemetery or some favorite lake."
Most cemeteries allow people to scatter or bury ashes at the gravesites of their relatives, Waterston said.
As for the lakes, well, let's just say that Minnesotans are pros when it comes to aquatic interment.
Don't ask, don't tell
Most lakes are defined as public, but Maj. Roger Tietz of Minnesota's Department of Natural Resources said there are no laws prohibiting the placing of ashes in a body of water.
Such an act, he said, might be "technically littering, but the littering statute doesn't describe human remains." State statutes on human remains deal primarily with burial and "a subdivision does not apply to cremation or burial at sea.
"I'm not aware of a procedure that allows it ... [but] I think there would be some insensitivity to say, 'I'm writing you a ticket for disposing of these ashes.'"
Among those anticipating a "lake burial" is Sarah Fahnhorst of Minneapolis. Her mother was cremated in January 2011, and Fahnhorst is waiting until her sister moves back to Minnesota from New Zealand within the next few years.
The likely destination: "Mom loved Lake Superior," Fahnhorst said.
The only certainty: "I don't think I want them in my dining room forever."
So is the presence of ashes morbid? "No, not at all," Fahnhorst said. "She is sitting in the dining room in the west window, not directly in line of sight. When I raise the blinds every morning I greet her. It's sort of like visiting the cemetery. It doesn't feel strange or macabre, just sort of like she's still there."
Tessie Rodkewich of New Brighton admitted that she has been a little more spooked about her father's ashes during the six years since his death. "I wasn't comfortable even having the ashes in my house, so they have been at a family friend's house since the day of the funeral.
"I feel bad about it and I really should do something with them, but my father wasn't super clear about his wishes. It's also very confusing for my kids who sometimes ask to go and visit his grave at a cemetery, I don't want to explain the whole cremation process."
It's not at all unusual for survivors to take their time in deciding where their loved ones' ashes might end up, Waterston said. For a parent, for example, "a lot of people hang on to them until the other spouse dies, especially if they think it's going to be within a reasonable time."
In the interim, if not in perpetuity, the ashes stay in some kind of container. The Cremation Society offers a choice of 50-plus vessels ("People now want more biodegradable material," Waterston said, "ashes to ashes, dust to dust, I guess"), but no direct advice for the recipients. "We never make recommendations," he said. "If they ask, we tell them a cemetery or scattered on private land."
Some choose unusual destinations -- inside bullets, imbedded in jewelry, even infused into tattoos -- but most go a more traditional route. A few years after her Rose Garden afternoon and some consultations with her children, Wallin paid tribute to her late husband's Beatle fandom by sprinkling some of his ashes on Abbey Road in London.
The remaining ashes are in her linen closet. "It's been 15 years, and I still have a small amount of the ashes," she said. "Why, I don't know."
Bill Ward • 612-673-7643