August 31, 2013

"I don’t care who you are; it’s not right to put a human person’s ashes in a Wal-Mart bag."

When you get cremated remains, they're in a plastic bag inside whatever outer container you ordered — perhaps the standard cardboard box, perhaps some urn that you imagined was what urns are supposed to look like. How you feel when you receive that package will depend on a lot of things, but seeing the plastic bag — especially if you chose the ancient-bronze-looking Vessel of Somber Respect — is probably going to hurt. So then what if you pull the bag out and see that it's the cut off bottom of a bag that you recognize as a Wal-Mart bag?

If you're this lady in Ohio, you call the local TV station and let them put you in front of a camera to enact your grief. And you name the funeral home on television and to the Kentucky attorney general’s office and the Board of Embalmers and Funeral Directors. The woman's ex-husband, father of the 17-year-old boy who died of a heart condition, also appears on camera, just to say what the funeral home did was "not malicious."

What if your family member had died, and you discovered the ground-up bones they gave you — they aren't really "ashes" — are in a Wal-Mart bag? Fragile souls should close that container back up and forget about it. Cover memories of the bag with memories of the dead person. Look at your best photographs. Remember life.

For less fragile souls: Find the humor. A remark about the value of recycling or what the dead one thought of Wal-Mart — for example: "He was always trying to get me to shop at Wal-Mart and I said I wanted a more posh shopping experience, and now, I can hear him laughing at me for wanting a more posh urn experience. Laughing at me from the grave. I mean from the goddamned Wal-Mart bag. No, not damned. He's not damned. He's gone to the Big Box Store in the Sky."

ADDED: Inevitable movie reference:


Shouting Thomas said...

You have not accounted, Althouse, for those of us who stand in awe of Walmart, and are not looking for a "posh shopping experience."

I love the People of Walmart. The People of Walmart love the Old Dawgz, too, and they know all the words to Ripple (Grateful Dead). I know, because I can see their mouths moving from onstage.

Costco sells coffins! Big discount!

Bag Me Up at Walmart!

Ann Althouse said...

@Shouting Thomas

Why should I "account" for that in my humorous fictional vignette? I invented 2 characters, neither of whom is me, to create a comical scene... and the one who wants the "posh shopping experience" isn't elevated over the one who liked WalMart.

Have you clicked on my WalMart tag and checked to see what I've written about Walmart and whether I've ever linked to that website you think I've missed?

I call bullshit.

Shouting Thomas said...

My legal proofreading skills have gone to hell, Althouse. I haven't done that stuff for 25 years.

Was I supposed to throw in a case law citation?

I'm having enough trouble remember the words to Ripple.

Tyrone Slothrop said...

A friend of mine from fourth grade on worked his ass off through high school and by the time he was eighteen he had qualified as a commercial pilot. One of the few odd jobs available was scattering peoples' ashes. The first time he had this job, he was expecting just the funeral director as he waited at the small municipal airport, but a whole train of limousines and crying relatives arrived with the ashes, which were contained in a coffee can inside a Von's paper shopping bag. He and his "assistant" flew out over the designated spot. The assistant opened the coffee can, then opened the Cessna's door. The dear departed's ashes exploded out of the can in the ensuing hurricane, filling every crevice in the cabin. They flew around for an hour holding the doors open, scattering ashes. Back at the airport, a vacuum cleaner took care of the rest, pretty much covering the "dust to dust" part.

thebrokenrattle said...

"People of Walmart" is a sign that Wal-Mart Shaming is one of the most acceptable forms of snobbery today.

Ann Althouse said...

"My legal proofreading skills have gone to hell, Althouse. I haven't done that stuff for 25 years. Was I supposed to throw in a case law citation?"

What you reveal about yourself you reveal. I'm just calling attention to it. Do with the information what you want. What I see is:

You're very hung up on your own class consciousness, which you project onto me, imagining me to be putting down people when I am not and exaggerating the idea of me as a lawyer. You show your anxieties about your own inferiority. I thought you might like a heads up.

You never stop self-promoting, mentioning your band's name. You're trying so hard to look bigger than me, trying to put me down as legalistic or snobbish while boosting yourself, but this post isn't about you. Look up narcissism. Think about it.

Seriously, this post had a lot of good topics in it, and the topic wasn't me and it wasn't you. Get a grip.

Ann Althouse said...

@Tyrone Did he tell that story before or after seeing "The Big Lebowski"?

I mean... coffee can and all. Was it Folger's?

The best part of never waking up again...

Ann Althouse said...

The best part of never waking up again....

ALP said...

This has inspired me! I thought I had made my decision about my final resting place: I want my ashes to be made into a gemstone ( My funeral will be an unveiling of the piece of jewelry I will be set into - before I embark on my final journey from pawn shop to pawn shop. Or thrift store to thrift store.

But this has changed my mind. I want my ashed stored in an old Shed Spread Country Crock container or, better yet, an old Best Foods Mayonnaise jar. Because its NOT A SANDWICH until you've added some Best Foods mayo.

Titus said...

Did you know folgers is the best selling coffee in America?

I learned that on NPR's Marketplace.

Inga said...

My family was friends with a lovely couple, the husband was a well known person in Madison. His face is still seen in public places in Madsion. He died before his wife and was cremated. When my friend got his ashes, she was still quite grieved and stuck her finger in his ashes and licked off a bit. It was almost a communion of sorts. Sadly, she died only a couple years later, suddenly, also a a young age. Her ashes and his ashes were together at her memorial in front of their photo together. Very touching.

Freeman Hunt said...

I think they should tell people that's it's ground up bones, not ashes, before giving people remains. I was a bit surprised when I looked at my father's remains. They were obviously not ash, clearly tiny chips of bone, and that surprise was a little gruesome. Also, they came in a plastic ziplock-type bag, the urn having been ordered elsewhere. My brother and I did find a lot of humor in that. I started to post our morbid jokes, but I'll refrain.

EDH said...

How can you be sure you received the correct remains in the first place with those damnable Wal-Mart shopping bag carousels?

Freeman Hunt said...

The most humorous parts of the funeral home experience are looking at coffin descriptions and looking at the urn catalog.

The coffins have all these notes about comfort measures, as if the things have any reason to be comfortable! Pillows and padding and all this nonsense as though you were going to bury the guy alive. More money, more comfortable--for the dead body.

The urn catalog is full of grieving people clip art. How is this clip art obtained? Who poses for it? Is this clip art in the portfolios of the featured models? "This is me looking sad for an urn catalog." And the urns themselves, yowza! That's a trip too. I won't go into it so as not to offend those who've lost loved ones and purchased the urns I would otherwise mention.

Lionheart said...

Shouting Thomas... Althouse...


netmarcos said...

There's really just one thing to say:

Kirk Parker said...

3 Idiots has some pretty important ashes, too, iirc.

Rusty said...

Funny shit, Altouse. Funny shit.

I mean... coffee can and all. Was it Folger's?

My dad and my grandfather snuck into Ridgewood Cemetery with a post hole digger to bury my great uncle between his mom and dad. I believe the can was from Hills Brothers.

Foobarista said...

Everything would be good if the ashes were in a Whole Foods veggie bag, or at least a Trader Joe's bag.

Foobarista said...

The best riff on ashes was this:

(Married with Children episode "Ashes on the Grill"):

ironrailsironweights said...

It's sort of weird that the photos of ashes in the Wikipedia article are from Germany. You'd think that the Germans would find the whole concept of cremation a bit awkward.


Kirk Parker said...


" I started to post our morbid jokes, but I'll refrain. "

How you disappoint us!

EDH said...

"The coffins have all these notes about comfort measures, as if the things have any reason to be comfortable!"

Isn't that how they refer to the "undead" in those zombie movies?

ironrailsironweights said...

What crematoriums hate more than anything else are fake hooters. They burst during the cremation process and can damage the oven linings. Unlike most medical implants, they can't be removed without causing significant mutilation to the bodies, something which the crematory workers would prefer not to do.
The issue hasn't come up too often so far, but it will become more frequent in the future.


Freeman Hunt said...

I still get marketing emails from the funeral home. They're like any other business.

One such email sent around the time of a picnicking holiday contained a recipe for ribs.

"We are so happy you hired us to deal with your dead body. Thank you so much. We hope you use us for all of your future dead body taking care of needs. And while we're on the subject of corpses, what about the cow and pig corpses in your life? Here's a summertime recipe for some delicious ribs!"

Those were not the words they used, but they did feature a recipe for ribs, so that is how I have re-imagined the email.

Freeman Hunt said...

The funeral home director does not appreciate people laughing at the urn catalog. Or the coffins. Or laughing in general. There are to be no jokes. No giggling. You may weep and look distressed, but there is not to be any humor found in anything, lest you be one of those detestable, gauche mourners.

You know, the type of mourners who will demand that the big screen television be removed from the chapel prior to the service. And you'll have to undo all of those mysterious color-coded wires. And here they could have had a PowerPoint flashback of the departed's life, but no. They just want people talking. And they're bringing their own music even though there's an extensive collection of popular artists performing soft pop versions of appropriate hymns right on site.

So difficult, these eccentric relatives of the dead!

R. Chatt said...

I had my cat cremated as I was living in a rental property and didn't want to keep going back to a burial spot where I no longer lived. I picked up the "ashes" and I was also shocked to see little bone bits in a zip lock bag.

I don't know how I would feel about getting my beloved's remains back in a Walmart bag but I probably wouldn't have made a fuss about it on TV -- that seems extremely undignified as well.

Loved the imaginary dialogue.

Finally, it's better to save little locks of hair for memory sake. That used to be a popular thing.

Shouting Thomas said...

Some lecture, teach!

I'll get to work on that homework right away!

I'm having fun, Althouse, and, yes, you are a stuffed shirt.

And, no, girls giving me the "you're conceited" thing has never had much affect on me, and there are so many girls who have wanted to give that lecture to me.

The crowd called us back for an encore today, by chanting the "Who let the dogs out thing."

So, no, I don't have to rein it in.

As Myrna said: "If you've got it, flaunt it!