What size urn do I need?

Lidded Jar with floral band
Floral Sash

We will all eventually have this conversation. What to ‘do’ at the end of a life. Bury. Cremate. Along with many other alternatives that may come along.
And once that decision is made – if to cremate – there are many things that it would be helpful to know. That isn’t common knowledge.

First let me tell you, when deciding to navigate towards urns and keepsakes for those in need, there was a learning curve. There are a lot of questions we don’t even know to ask. So, I am going to share some of the things I have asked, and learned, that may help you along the way.

A simple Q & A converted into a lighter conversation with many analogies.
What actually creates the cremains?
Ok – if this is an uncomfortable topic for you – I understand if you leave this blog post. However, I will be gentle in this conversation.

Are you still here?
Ok then….
Back to the ashes. I have learned a lot and I would like to share.
It is no fun getting an urn that …. ahem….is tooooo small! Or just as importantly…too big.
(I have learned that it is just as important for many clients to not get an urn that is too big.)

Analogy #1
Imagine a home (bear with me here….) …it burns.
(Been there. Seen that. (sad face…))
Now imagine the shape it had, and what is now left. Not. Much.
Here is my segway. If the home was made with 2×4 metal studs (instead of the typical wooden ones), the studs would still exist right? These would be the skeletal remains. The wood, the sheetrock, the fabric, all would be gone.
Now imagine the home if it was made with 2×8 metal studs instead of 2×4 metal studs.
Those skeletal remains would be more significant.

You can tell I have a history with building homes. Yeah…
So we all agree the actual quantity of 2×4 remains is going to be smaller than the 2×8 remains.

Pause: The same happens with bodies. The amount of cremains is dictated by the structure. Large structure. More cremains. Small structure. Less cremains. Make sense?

Analogy #2
Another perspective. Large overstuffed sofa. Comtemporary streamlined sofa.  (Ahhhh…right. I think you know where I am going here.) Whether it is large and overstuffed, or streamlined and minimally upholstered. It doesn’t make a difference. It’s all about the structure.

There is a rule of thumb in the funeral industry. For every pound of weight, figure one cubic inch of cremains.
That doesn’t always apply. You know that now.
The equation however is very ‘forgiving’ and helps when selecting the right sized urn.

However here is an exception.
Analogy #3
(Sad story but true…)
A young person is killed in an accident. They need to do an autopsy. The body is placed in a body bag….
The body, after the autopsy, is cremated…in the body bag. Why is this important?
A body bag is made from products that do not completely disintegrate (Disclaimer – I learned this in 2012. Products may be different now.) In fact, it will almost double the quantity of the total cremains. That is important to note right?
More cremains. Larger urn.

So back to cubic inches.
Analogy #4
Yes, the rule of thumb is helpful if you are a scientist. I for one, am not a scientist. However, I do cook, and can relate to a cup of flour.
Did you know almost 17 cubic inches are in 1 dry measuring cup? Me neither! (Until I became interested in urns…)  In fact, it is actually 16.8 ci per 1 dry measuring cup.
Want a bit more help? Let’s figure it another way.
If a person weighs 170 lbs. (I am making it as easy a math equation as possible….) how many cups is that? 170 lbs divided by 16.8 ci/cup is just under 10 cups of cremains. Sorry for the food/ashes comparison, however most people can envision a measuring cup more easily than say the volume of 170 ci.
Yes, that is helpful.  However – remember the caveat. 2×4 vs 2×8. Remember? Structure.

Ok. Here is something else you may or may not know.
Analogy #5
When you receive the cremains, they will be in a heavy plastic bag.
No matter what type of urn you decide to purchase, you will want to keep the cremains in a similar plastic liner, not unlike the one you received from the funeral home or the crematory.
The reason for this is, if, (unlike in the movie Chocolat ) a vessel filled with the cremains of a dear relative is dropped, it is protected from an unintended scattering, with the help of the plastic liner.  (Sorry to spoil the near ending of the movie if you have not seen it…)

For urns with smaller openings at the top, and you are wondering how do I transfer the ashes? Take a gallon freezer bag (or any heavier gauge appropriate sized plastic bag), cut off the zip-locking top, if there is one, and tuck it into the vessel – with the opening of the bag still above the opening of the vessel. This will allow you to transfer the cremains into the vessel bag, and then close up the bag with a twist and then a twist tie, wire, or zip tie, before depressing the whole bag into the vessel.

And finally, my last bit of information.
Analogy #6
What if you have too many cremains for the size of the vessel?
I do not know the exact percentages for this, but I will share what I do know.
Through another analogy….Imagine transferring store bought stone-ground whole wheat flour into a flour jar. You still have some left over from the bag to transfer into your flour jar, but your jar is full. If you take the jar and gently rock it back and forth with its base tapping against the counter, you will help the flour settle to give you more space.  The same applies with cremains, only more so. Because of the irregular shapes of the cremains, there is a large compaction factor that may be implemented to help in a similar situation to the flour jar.

Ahhh, that wasn’t too bad…was it?

Living fully – carving a life,


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