Tips on What to Do
If you follow the memorial industry’s rule of thumb when deciding upon a cremation urn to purchase, it’s unlikely your urn will be too large. The rule is that, generally speaking, one cubic inch of urn space is needed for each pound that a person weighed. Following this rule will almost always result in an urn that is the perfect size for the cremation remains. But, by perfect, we mean that it will be large enough to hold all of the remains. It is important for families to realize that there is absolutely nothing wrong with purchasing an urn that is larger than needed. (For example, if a family desires a particular 350 cubic inch cremation urn to memorialize it’s 180 pound loved one, there would be no problem with buying it.) Problems can result – though not significant ones, fortunately – if a cremation urn is too large, but if an urn is too large, a family should rest confidently knowing that, really, there is no problem after all.
Is the extra space a problem?
No, the extra space is not a problem. In fact, it is highly unlikely that anyone, except perhaps those involved with the installation of the ashes into the urn, will realize that an urn is too large. There is no reason to fret over unfilled space in an urn. Some people may worry that there are religious, cultural or even legal concerns with storing ashes in a cremation urn that is significantly larger than needed. But there is no need for such worry. No major religion, nor any country has any rule or tradition that prohibits displaying cremation ashes in an urn that is too big.
How did I end up with an urn that is too large?
It is possible that you miss ordered. Many cremation urn retailers offer a single style of urn in each of the three most popular sizes, keepsake, individual, and companion. Companion urns are typically 300-700 cubic inches in size and are intended to hold the remains of two people (such as a husband and a wife). If your cremation urn is larger than you intended, it is likely that you ended up with a companion urn instead of an individual urn. In such cases, the retailer will likely be happy to accept a return and make sure you get the size urn that you need. (It is important to note, however, that many laws prohibit retailers from accepting returns of cremation urns that have already been filled. We discuss that below.) If you are confident you did not miss order your urn size (or that the retailer did not make some sort of mistake), it is important to understand that the rule of thumb mentioned above is not perfect. There are a number of circumstances – beyond the scope of this article – in which a body may yield more or less than the predicted amount of cremation remains.
Can I put other things in the extra space?
In general, you can do whatever you please with the extra urn space. Some families have utilized extra space in urns that are too large to store remains from other family members. There is no law or cultural rule against mixing cremation ashes. Other families have used the extra space to store small mementos of a person’s life. So long as it will fit into the urn’s opening (which definitely varies according to the design), anything from jewelry to precious family photos can be stored along with cremation remains in an urn that is too large.
One family even shared with us an interesting story on how they used the extra space in their urn. On the anniversary of their loved one’s passing, they each wrote a letter to their lost loved one, and placed them into the urn. They said this simple gesture was a truly heartwarming experience, as they felt they got to say one final goodbye to the departed. This is just one of many ways that a family could utilize any extra room left in the cremation vessel of their loved one.
Can I return the urn?
As we mention above, many laws prohibit cremation urn retailers from accepting an urn for return if it has been already filled with remains. The reasons for these laws have to do with sanitation issues as well as (probably more so for) cultural practices. It is very important that, on the off chance that you end up with a cremation urn that is too large and have already filled it with ashes, that you respect the laws and not try to simply clean the urn and return it anyway. You may be able to get away with such a practice, but your conscience would certainly bother you, perhaps for decades. It is far better for your spirit to simply enjoy the urn in the spirit in which it memorializes your loved one and learn from any mistake that you may have made.