“Ashes to ashes, dust to dust, if the women don’t get you then the whiskey must.”

— Carl Sandburg, “The People, Yes.”

Hold the ashes, put down the urn; we Catholics just got some breaking news: The Vatican’s doctrinal office just sent out an email, not to be found on Hillary’s or Huma’s laptops, but straight from the laptop of Pope Francis himself.

To be brief: Put down the matches and buy a coffin; your plans to exit this world in a burst of flame, have your ashes swept up and put in a fancy jar or dusted over the Kennebec, have been dashed. The Vatican will have none of it.

The Vatican announced Tuesday that Catholics may be cremated but should not have their ashes scattered at sea or kept in urns at home.

This will come as annoying news to different parts of my family, which by now, after reading me for 30 years, you know was a family written by Tennessee Williams.

First, baby sister Dawn has the ashes of my oldest sister, Rita, in a golden urn in her home. Rita was more a mother to Dawn than her real mother, with whom she never got along.

It’s a long story, but the bottom line is Dawn puts the golden urn on the dining table on important holidays like Thanksgiving. Some in the family are of a mind that Dawn is weird to do this, but I think it’s cool, unless some of it gets into the stuffing.

Now, according to new guidelines from the Vatican’s doctrinal office, cremated remains should be kept in a “sacred place” such as a church cemetery. That’s not going to happen to Rita. First of all, Dawn’s daughter, who lives with her, is a tough, no-nonsense cop.

All of this comes as a bit of a shock to yours truly. I have it written explicitly in my will and in my lawyer’s safe that I am, upon my demise, to be roasted and toasted and temporarily placed in a large Chinese restaurant take-out carton with a strict set of instructions.

Then I got to part two of the Vatican’s newsletter: “Ashes should not be divided up between family members, nor may they be preserved in mementos, pieces of jewelry or other objects.”

This is a problem, for I clearly state in part two of my will that She, who will survive me, must have some of my ashes put in a large locket for her to wear daily, in case of a scenario that might go like this:

She accepts a date some years after my demise, and the guy she’s having dinner with asks, “What’s in the locket?”

“That’s my dead husband Jerry,” she says. End of dinner, end of date.

My plans for the remainder of my ashes also violates the Vatican’s guidelines. The aforementioned part about ashes not being “divided up between family members”? I have planned for separate jade boxes containing my remains for both daughters. Neither are practicing Catholics, so that rule won’t apply to them.

Then there’s this part: “Catholics should not have their ashes scattered at sea.” This is not a problem for me, as I’m afraid of deep water and I don’t know how to swim.

So what’s the reason behind all of this from the Vatican?

The Vatican is concerned that the practice of cremation often involves “erroneous ideas about death.” Personally, I have no ideas about death, erroneous or otherwise. I’m only doing all of this in case She divorces me before I pass, and my ashes wind up in a Dumpster behind Wal-Mart.

The church, according to a CNN report, is alarmed about trends such as “companies (that) offer to load cremains into shotgun shells so that families can take them on turkey hunts.”

The report adds that “cremains can be shot into space or refashioned as diamonds.”

The Vatican makes clear “that there are valid sanitary, economic and social reasons for cremation,” the report said, but those remains must be buried and not kept at home without “special permission from a bishop.”

Just to be safe, I put in a call to the bishop in Portland, but the line was busy. I left a message.

I hope he answers soon, as I don’t feel all that well.

J.P. Devine is a Waterville writer.


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under: