Bereaved families are leaving the ashes of their loved ones behind in boxes on shelves in funeral homes at a greater rate than ever before.
About 67 per cent of the 56,000 people who die in NSW are cremated, and only a third of them are "memorialised" at a cemetery, according to Crematoria and Cemeteries Agency NSW (CCA), the government body set up in 2014 to oversee the industry.
Its 2017 figures on the "disposition of ashes" (the volume of ashes scattered at a cemetery or interred) shows only 32.5 per cent are interred, either in a niche wall, or scattered in a cemetery.
As a result, thousands of boxes of cremated remains are believed to be sitting uncollected and forgotten in funeral directors' offices and crematoria across the state.
Joanne Schroder, from Godfrey Smith in Bathurst, said their funeral service is storing cremated ashes from as far back as 40 years ago.
It’s a similar scenario for Orange-based funeral directors Norman J Penhalll, who have the ashes of 297 people stored on their premises.
Thankfully, those figures are far lower in Bathurst, with Mrs Schroder estimating they are storing around 20 boxes of unclaimed ashes.
“We do have quite a few unclaimed ashes, we have tried to contact the family but many of them predate us, which makes it difficult,” she said.
Mrs Schroder said some of the ashes date back to cremations in the early 1980s, but the funeral service still retain the ashes.
“We never dispose of them,” she said.
She recalled one family who contacted the funeral service 14 years after their family member had passed.
“They called and said ‘we don’t suppose you still have the ashes?’
“They were tickled pink we were able to return them.”
Mrs Schroder said she suspects many of the older ashes were from funerals organised by distant family members, who have since forgotten to claim them.
Grief is another reason some people don’t claim the ashes, finding it too confronting to have them around. Others don’t collect them because they just can’t decide what to do with them.
Mrs Schroder said Bathurst was lucky to have a beautiful memorial garden at the cemetery, where ashes can be scattered and the older style niche walls where the ashes can also be placed.
Fiona Wookey, from Renshaw’s Funeral Service said at their funeral service families sign a form they will collect the ashes within 365 days.