Sunday February 28, 2016

Sprinkling Grandma's ashes from your pant leg: is there a right and wrong way to scatter human remains?

Quebec City's Saint-Charles cemetery.

Quebec City's Saint-Charles cemetery. (Radio-Canada)

Listen 8:20

When his grandmother died, journalist Daemon Fairless travelled to Victoria to carry out her final wish: to have to her ashes scattered illicitly at Butchart Gardens. 

"I had told her [over a martini] that I would take her remains into the gardens and kind of shake her down my pant legs," says Fairless. "She wanted that. That was her final wish." 

After she died, his grandfather reminded him of the promise he had made. They took her ashes to Victoria and rigged up a contraption that would allow Fairless to scatter her ashes surreptitiously at Butchart Gardens, where scattering human ashes is not allowed. 

It's easy to imagine that scattering human ashes down your pant legs would be frowned upon by the authors of a proposed new law in Quebec, which states that "no one may scatter human ashes in a place where they may constitute a nuisance or in a manner that fails to respect the dignity of the deceased person."

But Fairless argues that while it's reasonable to place some restrictions on how we dispose of human remains, "dignity" means very different things to different people. 

"My grandmother, you have to understand, was a very unconventional woman," he says."She was a spitfire....The thought of my grandmother sitting in an urn somewhere in a mausoleum, I think, went against what she felt a dignified death would be."

"Just like we respect people's rights and wishes during their life, I think we should make some effort to do that when they die."

You can hear Daemon's story in the audio player above. We want to hear what you think: should there be any restrictions placed on how ashes are scattered?  Send your thoughts - and your stories - to the180@cbc.ca or leave a comment below.