When her husband passed away after nearly 50 years of marriage, Bernie Mussen found it difficult to say goodbye. She thought keeping Charlie's ashes on the family mantle would make her feel they were still together. She later found the best way to take care of him was to give him a permanent final resting place.
This month marks the 10th anniversary of Charlie Mussen's death. It was something the Amherst couple didn't like to talk about. Bernie had mentioned she wanted to be cremated when the time came, rather than be buried. "I didn't want to be out in the rain," she would say.
Finally, her husband agreed to be cremated too, so the couple would not be separated after death.
After a lengthy illness and a period in McAuley Residence in Kenmore, Charlie seemed to be getting better. He came home. He seemed fine. "Then one Sunday he took a nap. I took a nap. I woke up. He was gone," Bernie said. "I guess it was sudden for me."
The standard procedure after a cremation is to have the ashes presented in a plastic bag and a small plastic box. Urns or decorative displays must be purchased separately. Charlie Mussen sat on the mantle in his plastic box for a while, then moved to Bernie's dresser.
"I kept him at home for a few years," she said. "I just felt that he was still there with me. I think I got to that point finally where I felt if I wanted to move on with my life, I needed to bury him. It gave me closure. I felt like I had done what I should do."
He now rests in a niche at Ascension Chapel Mausoleum at Mount Olivet in Kenmore. "He's Q, and I'm going to be right next to him," Bernie said. "We're way up at the top because I'm short and he was short. I figure we could keep order there. We can watch and make sure everything is going OK."
The Mussens' three children all visit regularly. Their oldest son, Chip, now serves as director of marketing and development for Catholic Cemeteries. Bernie will leave one red rose on Charlie's birthday, a tradition the couple started while dating. Bernie's birthday comes right before Valentine's Day, when roses are expensive, so Charlie would present her with a single red rose. "When he gave me my engagement ring, he put it on a single red rose," she recalled.
The Catholic Church, which once forbade cremation of the deceased, reversed that decision in 1963, saying that the sacraments and funeral rites should no longer be denied to those who have chosen to be cremated, under the condition that this choice has not been made through "a denial of Christian dogmas, the animosity of a secret society, or hatred of the Catholic religion and the Church."
In October of 2016, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith released "Ad resurgendum cum Christo," regarding the burial of the deceased and the conservation of the ashes in the case of cremation after consulting with various Vatican bodies and considering cultural practices.
The remains, whether it be the body or ashes of the deceased, should still be placed in a sacred place that "adequately corresponds to the piety and respect owed to the bodies of the faithful departed who through baptism have become temples of the Holy Spirit and in which as instruments and vessels the Spirit has carried out so many good works. Also, burial of the faithful departed in cemeteries or other sacred places encourages family members and the whole Christian community to pray for and remember the dead, while at the same time fostering the veneration of martyrs and saints," according to the document.
"The reservation of the ashes of the departed in a sacred place ensures that they are not excluded from the prayers and remembrance of their family or the Christian community. It prevents the faithful departed from being forgotten, or their remains from being shown a lack of respect, which eventuality is possible, most especially once the immediately subsequent generation has too passed away. Also it prevents any unfitting or superstitious practices."
Bernie Mussen still sees her husband often, popping in every time she passes Mount Olivet. "I'm so glad he's there, because I feel like we're rooted there, in a sense. It gives me a comfort to know he's all taken care of," she said.
For more information about how Catholic cemeteries can help with the internment of ashes call 873-6500.