In November 2018, a Facebook user shared a set of screenshots showing a separate post about finding post-cremation ashes in “brick” form:
In the first few screenshots, the original poster poses a question to fellow users about the purported condition of her father’s ashes. Stating she has “something weirdly specific” she needs help with and that her “mum [just] told her the funniest thing,” she adds:
So my dad passed away in 2011 a month after my 18th birthday, right? We had him cremated.
Now I live in Australia but my parents are both from New Zealand. My dad’s parents have since both passed and for both their funerals [my] mum took over some of his ashes to be buried with them. Recently, she also gave me some as I’d finally found the perfect thing to keep them in.
In the following screenshots, the original poster states that during a visit to her parents’ home, her mother discovered they “had a problem.” According to the user, the previously referenced unsealing and re-sealing of her father’s urn exposed the cremains to air, subsequently causing the remaining ashes to have solidified into “a big square brick.” Her mother admitted having to “chisel at his ashes” in order to decant some of them into her daughter’s newly acquired container. The user adds:
I can’t stop laughing. Does anyone know how to break the ashes back up [in a way] that doesn’t involve a chisel or putting it in a pillowcase and driving over it with a car (my mum’s other suggestion I can’t)???
We were meant to scatter them into the ocean and my mum said I can either wait for her to chisel away or we can just OVERARM THROW THE ENTIRE BRICK INTO THE WATER HAHA
I told her I’m not throwing a brick of my dad’s ashes into the water like I’m a cricket player [laugh/cry emoji]
Although the original poster’s initial post ended there, the screenshots did not. Part of the viral post were a number of humorous suggestions given to the poster — as well as comments indicating that upon seeing the post, some readers examined cremated remains in their possession to find that the ashes had similarly “hardened into a brick.”
Initial commenters suggested using dry oven heat to desiccate the cremains, but a third poster suggested the poster mix him with “slime” because it was popular at the time. From there, more people jokingly made suggestions that the original poster “add baking soda and vinegar,” either to separate the ashes or make “a dadcano.” Another suggested a sculpture project, and yet another using dry rice, as is suggested for mobile phones that have been dropped into water.
Subsequent commenters indicated their fathers-in-law and great-grandparents were “also a brick,” suggesting the occurrence was perhaps more common than expected but often went unnoticed unless a period of time passed between cremation and scattering the ashes.
On November 18 2018, Yahoo! Australia’s lifestyle section spoke with the woman who originally posted the story, Kaitlyn Putt, and her mother, Gaewyn. They confirmed that the story was accurate, and had not yet received any advice on how to proceed in separating and spreading the ash “brick”:
Gaewyn says they will likely try a few things to break the ashes up but would leave the decision on what to do up to Kaitlyn.
“Going to try a few things this weekend and see what happens,” Gaewyn tells us.
The whole situation has led to lots of laughs among family and friends.
“I told a couple of friends and we all burst out laughing, stopped and went OMG we shouldn’t be laughing about this, and then we carried on laughing.”
The claim about hardened or solidified ashes does not seem implausible, as a number of businesses offer services “pressing” human ashes into jewelry or vinyl records. However, most advice pertaining to the storage and spreading of cremains does not address how to manage a “brick” of ashes. Over time, cremains typically remain in a stable and unchanged state.
Another relevant detail is that the composition of ashes varies from person to person, although the process is typically uniform:
When placed in the [cremation chamber], the high temperature of the fire effectively vaporizes all the organic matter (tissues, organs, etc.) in the body through vaporization and oxidation. It also causes all the water in the body to evaporate. Gases (largely form carbon and sulfur) and water vapor are released through the furnace exhaust system. Typically, the only remains after the cremation process is complete are the fragments of the bone. The time required for the cremation process will vary depending on the heat intensity of the particular cremator being used and the size of the body. Generally, the cremation process ranges anywhere from two to two and a half hours … The processing of the fragments generates a uniform, pale grey to dark grey powder which is usually similar in texture and appearance to coarse sand. The cremated remains of an adult male will usually weigh around six pounds while the remains of an adult female will be closer to four pounds. The height of the deceased rather than their weight has a strong correlation with the weight of the ashes produced through cremation.
And while the common term for human remains after cremation is “ashes,” they are actually “pulverized bone fragments,” per experts:
Interestingly, the exact percentage of certain elements within the cremated remains varies according to the individual. No two samples of human ashes will be precisely the same in terms of elemental composition … Although all that remains of a loved one after the cremation process are bone fragments, which are then processed into ashes, these ashes have a very special elemental signature that identifies them as belonging to your loved one and no one else. All of the unique habits and environments experienced by your loved one during their lifetime leave a distinct elemental fingerprint on their skeleton which is then present in their ashes after the cremation process.
It’s possible the composition of some sets of ashes are likelier to become a “brick,” and different environments (arid versus humid, for instance) likely further affects whether stored cremains harden into a solid mass. A compounding factor in various regions is the relatively recent popularity of cremation. In the United States, only 6 percent of people were cremated in 1975, a figure which leapt to nearly 34 percent in 2006.
Unfortunately, most available information about separating ashes had to do with either religious restrictions (Catholics typically do not divide ashes), or general etiquette among the various bereaved loved ones of the decedent. Few if any sources addressed the actual physical division of solidified ashes, and we were unable to locate any advice for people attempting to separate or scatter “clumped” ashes, or ashes in a “brick” form.
It is highly likely the “dad’s ashes a brick” story represented a genuine issue, possibly exacerbated by more frequent unsealing of the urn and a humid climate. But we were unable to locate similar reports outside the comments on the post, and similarly unable to obtain advice from morticians about moving forward when ashes have “clumped.” Loved ones wishing to scatter ashes that have hardened into a “brick” would probably do best to contact a funeral home or crematorium for assistance in resolving the issue.