When a person is cremated, the family has to decide what to do with the ashes. Sometimes the decision is easy; maybe the deceased had previously asked to have the ashes scattered in a particular spot, or there's one particular person who wants to keep the urn and ashes, and no one else minds. But if no previous plans were made other than for the cremation itself, or if people in the family can't agree on what to do, there is an alternative: the columbarium.
Offsite Urn Storage
A columbarium (plural: columbaria) is a structure -- not necessarily a building, though many columbaria are built as buildings -- that houses walls full of niches. Each niche holds one urn of cremains. Think of them as burial vaults for cremains instead of whole bodies. Each niche has a plaque on the door that functions as a mini-headstone.
As mentioned, columbaria can be buildings where the walls of niches are located inside (similar to a mausoleum, though mausoleums are for whole bodies), or they can be freestanding structures where the niche doors are on the outer perimeter of the structure.
Columbaria have changed over the decades; traditional structures have metal or marble doors, or some such similar material, while newer ones sometimes offer options like glass doors that let family view the urn.
Costs Are a Factor
Finding an available columbarium niche is fairly simple as those rely less on available land, so more niches fit into a smaller area, allowing the cemetery to add more niches. (You may still run into issues if the cemetery and crematorium you're working with are crowded.) However, you still have to buy the niche and the plaque, and this can raise the cost of the funeral/burial. If you are aiming for the lowest cost possible, you may have to take the ashes with you.
Keep in mind, though, that urns and a niche are still more affordable than a full cemetery plot and large headstone.
Storing the ashes in a columbarium might not be to every family member's liking. But it is the most neutral option. The ashes are accessible for mourners who do not want to dispose of the ashes, but no one is tasked with keeping a box of ashes or finding a suitable place to scatter them. You could bury the urn at your home, but if, years from now, you move away from the area, you don't have to worry about digging up the urn.
The columbarium is also more secure. Many people have started looking into alternative disposal methods like turning the cremains into jewelry, but those items can be lost or stolen. With the columbarium, you know exactly where the ashes are.
Inquire about niche and plaque price, and if those are within your budget, you may want to buy a niche so that the deceased has a resting place that is peaceful. Even if the disagreement about what to do with the ashes is friendly and no one's actually arguing, it's often easier to just go with the most neutral option.
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