Cemetery, Cremation

Columbarium conundrum

The realization that  57% of cremated remains are not accounted for by means whereas the deceased can be memorialized into the future has caused some church communities to wonder if their ministry can help address the needs of the community that would lower this number.  According to this article in the Rancho Santa Fe Review, 35% of cremated remains are buried at a cemetery and about 8% are placed in columbariums.  The remaining 57% are returned to the family or scattered at non-cemetery locations.

The Village Community Presbyterian Church of Rancho Santa Fe, California, is hoping to move ahead with plans to build a memorial garden and columbarium on their acreage in San Diego County.  A problem has arised, however, as it has been discovered in the Rancho Santa Fe Association’s protective covenants, that were written in 1928, prohibit such a use of the land.

The church is moving forward with their plans and hope to convince the association that the word “columbarium” had a much different meaning in 1928 that it does in today’s society.

Funeral Director Daily take:  This is an interesting article whereby a church, in my opinion, is just trying to do something for their community.  However, covenants are created for reasons, and regardless of circumstance, need to be recognized as to their restrictions and original intent.

I understand cremation and I understand how values and mores about death care have changed.  However, on two different fronts, I find it difficult to accept that many relatives of those who are cremated do not seem to have a regard for the perpetual memorialization of their loved ones.  By that I mean that they are willing to just take the cremated remains home where they will sit in a closet or they just scatter the remains to the wind in some place that holds meaning for them or the deceased.

I understand their right to use these options and that it seems to be an evergrowing trend, but I find it hard to accept.

On the first front, I look at history and what seeing a monument or marker tells me.  I look at it, decipher the dates and try to imagine what kind of life that person lived.  And, when you know the person – as maybe somebody from your own family tree – the history comes alive and can be passed down.  I think of my own great-grandfather, John Anderson.  His simple marker is at Kinkead Cemetery in Alexandria, Minnesota, and simply says “1847-1905”.  Yet, when I stand there and look at his marker, his life comes alive to me.  I see a 25 year old who, with a 21 year old wife and one year old son crossed the Atlantic Ocean  from Sweden to reach a new life awaiting his young family.  I wonder what he was thinking at this time and wonder if leaving the rest of his family in the old country for this new life was eventually worth it.

By not putting remains in a cemetery or columbarium it is my opinion that families are losing out on this piece of history for future generations.  And then again, maybe not, as I understand the history is still intact. . . .but what is missing is the memorial marker to jog ones memory.

My second front where I believe permanent memorialization is important is that, from my belief, it is important to acknowledgement a life that has been lived.  We do that with a funeral service, memorial service, or other celebration.  However, those events are at a simple point in time and do not give the “staying power” of a marker on a grave, columbarium, or even a scattering garden.

So, I believe what the Village Community Presbyterian Church of Rancho Santa Fe is doing is honorable and in keeping with the best traditions of history and memorialization.  However, it remains to be seen if it is within the legal capacity and will be allowed as to the protective covenants of where they are located.

It is my hope that there is a way to allow for this.

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