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Last on

Mon 12 Mar 2012 11:00 BBC Radio 4

Duration:
28 minutes
First broadcast:
Monday 12 March 2012

Tens of thousands of ashes remain uncollected or unscattered. Amanda Mitchison looks at the choices, conflicts and absurdity in the new British ritual of ash scattering.

More of us than ever choose to take the ashes of the deceased away from a crematorium or funeral directors: but it's what should happen then we can't figure out. In fact, every undertaker has a whole room of unclaimed ashes - those whose next of kin either couldn't decide, or agree, what to do with them. As a nation, we used to know which death rites were, well, right - but as more and more are cremated, we lawless Britons started improvising.

We speak to people who are yet to collect ashes - or have made the decision to keep them, at home - exploring the complex emotions these plastic containers provoke, even in modern 'un-spiritual' Britain. We'll hear from people whose personal ceremonies did not go to plan, where uncertainty about bylaws and prevailing winds has led to farce instead of reverence. The practicalities always seem to fox our need for something 'spiritual', so perhaps we're not adequately prepared for what we receive from undertakers.

We ask whether the whole process is a hangover of the industrial revolution - and look at the feelings that municipal buildings like crematoria can elicit. In the quest for something special and unique, those who are in the business of ash-scattering tell us about the more dramatic means of scattering - miniature Viking ships and all.

Perhaps we could take a lead from other traditions which have practiced cremation for thousands of years - what is the Hindu perspective on cremation? Should we let those around us know to 'Feed Me To The Wind' if that is what we would want?

Producer: Caleb Parkin.

  • Unclaimed Ashes, A-Z

    Unclaimed Ashes, A-Z

  • Unclaimed Ashes

    Unclaimed Ashes

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