This is a question Shiya asks and it seems that there are two answers… what happened to Ayrie’s body AND what happened to Ayrie’s life force. Â While the spiritual component of this question is hard to answer and one I’ll write about later, I wanted to share my thoughts about his body.
When I think about Ayrie and I think about life. I feel his energy, his vibrancy, his contagious smile. As I held him in my arms early September 29th while the medical team was trying to resuscitate him I saw this life leave his eyes, I saw him leave his body. It became clear to me in a flash that Ayrie and his body were not one and the same. Ayrie’s body, covered in a white sheet on the hospital bed was small and damaged and his skin was cool. The energy that was Ayrie was gone.
I felt just as clearly, in another flash, that I would not be burying him. Ayrie would not want to be tied to one spot in the ground, he would want to become a part of life, a part of the universe. He would not want one spot where people would gather to mourn and feel sad. He would want us to remember him in nature, in solitude, in our actions.
So I decided to have him cremated. If you are like me, you haven’t thought about cremation much and don’t have the words to explain it yourself, much less to your child. So here’s a brief and very emotion-free description:
- Cremation takes place at a one of the more than 1,000 crematoriums in the United States today. Within the crematory is a special stainless steel vault called a cremation chamber.
- The body is placed in a sturdy cardboard container and the container is slid into the cremation chamber, at which point the chamber door is tightly sealed and the operator turns on the heat. A gas jet creates a white hot heat in the back of the cremation chamber. Because of the intensity of the heat, the body ignites and burns until only bone fragments remain.
- This process takes approximately 2-3 hours. The remains are then placed in a processor and refined down to the consistency of coarse sand. The white or grayish remains, often called ashes or cremated remains at this stage, are then sealed in a transparent plastic bag along with an identification tag.
- Often the family requests that the cremated remains be placed in an urn, which can then be buried, placed in a columbarium (which is a special above-ground structure at a cemetery), taken home or transported for scattering.
I get sick to my stomach reading this description. To think about this happening to his body. I will see visions of cremation in my nightmares. But I still think it was the right decision. I am going to scatter his ashes in the places he loved or would have loved. I named him Ayrie because it means ‘the lofty nest of a bird of prey’. When chose his name I thought of an eagle soaring above the world against a clear blue sky. I still want him to have this freedom and by scattering his body in beautiful places I feel that I will be setting his soul free.
I’m not sure how to share the idea cremation with a child. Some would say that cremation is too violent a process to explain to children whereas others say that children can cope with what they know. They cannot cope with what they don’t know or have never been told. Often their imaginations can conjure up explanations much scarier than reality. I guess my response it always to let the child lead and tell them as much as they seem ready to know.
Below are some answers to questions your child might ask:
- There is no smell and no smoke when a body is cremated. It just gets very hot-about three times as hot as your oven at home can get. The heat burns away all the parts of the body except for some pieces of bone.
- After cremation, what’s left of the body looks like fishbowl rocks or kitty litter, except it’s white because it’s bone. It’s put in a clear plastic bag so you can see it if you want to.
- When a dead body is buried in the ground, it breaks down after months and years and just a skeleton is left. Cremation makes this happen much, much faster.
- Cremation has been used for thousands of years. The ancient Greeks and Romans built funeral pyres (rhymes with hires), which were stacks of wood the body was put on top of. The wood was set afire and the body burned, too. Funeral pyres are still used in India today.
- Cremation doesn’t hurt. The person is dead, which means the body doesn’t work anymore. It’s heart doesn’t beat, it’s brain has stopped working, it doesn’t breathe and it doesn’t feel anything anymore.
- The people doing the cremation take it very seriously and handle the body with a lot of respect. Just like you do, they understand that Ayrie was a unique, special person who deserves to leave this world with dignity.
There are also a lot of books talking to children about death. This is the book I’m using to talk to Shiya about where his spirit, soul or inner light has gone…
Nora, Thank you so much for writing this and all you are sharing with us. I like this link as a way of talking about cremation to children: http://www.thehospice.org/resources_support/downloadable_resources/index.aspx?id=43. I feel in my heart that Ayrie’s soul is free.