Going to garage sales was nothing new to Jane Mozer, but what she found at one recently was certainly unusual. There among the toasters and knick-knacks was a porcelain container, one that she immediately knew likely held cremated remains.
"There was no name on it, no identification, nothing that indicated what it was. I asked the gentleman if he knew what it was. He didn't," she recalled. "He thought it was a bank or something that you put valuables in, but he was unable to get the bottom off to see what was inside."
A family service counselor for Catholic Cemeteries for the past seven years, Mozer was determined not to leave without that urn.
"I asked him if he would let me have it, because I thought I knew what it was. He said he'd let me have it for $8." After she told him she thought the urn contained cremated remains, he held firm, so Jane reached into her purse and made the purchase.
"When I brought the urn back to the cemetery, we were able to open it, and there were remains in it," Mozer said.
Believing that every person deserves a proper burial, Mozer made arrangements to have the urn placed at one of the cemeteries. In doing so, she was honoring her own Catholic teachings, giving her a sense of peace.
While coming upon cremated remains at a garage sale is highly unusual, Mozer said it's not uncommon for families to keep the remains in their home. Oftentimes the remains start out on the living room mantle, then are moved into a bedroom, and eventually end up stored on a closet shelf.
"Few people consider the fact that there are others who wish to have a place to go to remember and pay respects to the deceased," said Nancy Weil, director of Grief Support for the Catholic Cemeteries. "Friends and other relatives may feel lost without that place to visit. Also, if a person's cremated remains are brought home with no final burial, the genealogy is lost for future generations. I have had people come in search of relatives who died over 100 years ago and they are thrilled to learn about them and to have a place to visit."
Of course, the desire to keep a loved one close is only one of the reasons people do not opt for final placement in a cemetery. Sometimes cost is a factor and people believe that they cannot afford burial. In keeping with the corporal works of mercy to bury the dead, Catholic Cemeteries offer a number of affordable options, including in ground burial or above ground niches, where multiple cremated remains can be interred.
"We never want a family to feel that they cannot fulfill their duty as Catholics to bury their loved one," said Carmen Colao, director of the Catholic Cemeteries. "We work with all families, no matter their situation, to find a solution that works for them."
When meeting with families, Mozer often hears, "I want to be cremated and I don't care what happens to my remains." She advises families to make a plan for the proper placement of cremated remains and not leave that decision to the family they leave behind.
"Perhaps they feel in making light of their desires, they give their family permission to scatter or keep the cremated remains at home. Yet many times this leaves a family torn as to whether to honor their loved one's wishes or follow their own beliefs with placement in a cemetery," Weil said.
If you have your loved one's cremated remains at home, it's never too late to think about Catholic burial.
"We have had people bring their loved ones for burial decades after they died," Colao said. "Sometimes a spouse holds onto their partner and then when they die the two are placed together at the same time. This may mean a delay of years before they are finally interred, yet they are given the same level of care that all of our families receive. They may have a committal service at any time." A military service can also be arranged for veterans, as long as an honor guard was not present at services at the time of death.
"In the end, deciding to place your loved one in a permanent, dignified final resting place provides relief and comfort," Weil said. "It is not just a matter of worrying that someone you love may eventually end up becoming an item available at a neighborhood garage sale; it is knowing that you have honored their life and respected your faith."
For more information on interment of cremated remains call Catholic Cemeteries of Buffalo at 873-6500 and ask for a Family Services Counselor.