As a part of the Ten Things You Need to Know About Death Workshops, we talk a lot about “doing” dying your way. Here artist Ashley Fiona tells us the story behind her bespoke urns or AshKeepers, and how she came to make peace with death and dying through her creative process.
Ashkeeper: A vessel to nourish and replenish your soul with memories of your beloved
My name is Ashley Fiona. I’m an artist. I create artworks to help others celebrate those loved and lost. I was only 13 when my mother died and I still remember the plastic container that held her ashes for so many months. It was unsightly and unrefined, everything she wasn’t. I wanted to create an urn or vessel that instead brings life to the sadness of death and encourages us to cherish positive memories forever.
Crafted by hand, Ashkeepers are a beautiful way to help cherish and nurture the memories of those loved and lost. Each piece is designed to hold the ashes of a loved one to then be replaced with personal souvenirs. Once inverted, the lid creates a special candleholder for times of remembrance.
My mother was only 44 when she died suddenly leaving behind my father and three teenage daughters. I was the youngest and for many years felt utterly alone. No one we knew had been through the same experience. We struggled with how we should remember someone so immensely important to us.
For the first few years after her death, we would come together and visit her favourite beach on birthdays, anniversaries and special days. But there was nothing for those days in between, no blueprint or guide to grieving.
My emotional healing process was long and difficult. I now have an Ashkeeper filled with some of my mother’s personal treasures and souvenirs. It’s there with me every day and once in a while, I’ll light a candle in celebration of the amazing woman she was and will always be.
I form the Ashkeepers using a high fired porcelain and I intentionally create them into spheres as it is an immediately relatable form and is also connected to the cycle of life: birth, death and rebirth. An outcome of my own personal healing, an Ashkeeper is designed to do just that.
I created the very first Ashkeeper for my beautiful grandfather. My favourite memories of him are the songs he used to sing to anyone who would listen. The love and warmth he generated with his singing was infectious.
One of his favorite songs was 'Danny Boy' and I scripted the words of the song around the whole piece. I gave this to my grandmother so she would always have a beautiful vessel for her beloved. "O Danny Boy, O Danny Boy, I love you so.”
The surface designs on each Ashkeeper are hand painted and are inspired by mandalas, nature and the personality of those passed. The intricate pattern evolves organically as I hand paint directly onto the exterior of the Ashkeeper.
One of my most special Ashkeepers was custom-made for a beautiful stillborn baby girl. I scripted “I carry your heart with me, I carry it in my heart, I am never without it” by E. E. Cummings around the top of the piece with a number of hand painted hummingbirds gracing the body of the Ashkeeper.
Hummingbirds are some of the world’s smallest birds who continuously beat their tiny wings – just as the baby girl’s heart will continue to beat inside her families’ hearts forever.
Crafting such personal and meaningful pieces is quite a meditative practice where each piece is unique and no two are the same. Creating the Ashkeepers is about helping the people I was born to help. The Ashkeepers are my soul's purpose – they are my heart work.
As I become more familiar with death, I am closer to making my peace with the experience. Once traumatic and unspeakable, I am now able to recognise an element of beauty and inevitability in the process. This has instilled within me an ability to pause and take pleasure in the simple things in life.
I don’t believe death is the end. My Nan’s grandmother used to say to her “We will all meet again, in a more beautiful place.” I believe there is truth behind this statement and this belief allows their memories to flourish inside of me, until we meet again.
Death and bereavement are incredibly personal experiences and no two people ever experience loss in the same way. Ultimately, my work is an expression of my life’s experience. My hope is that by incorporating these special pieces into your daily life, you too may uncover the gifts and wisdom they have to offer.
What to learn more about death?
Attend one of our Ten things you need to know about death workshops.
While it may seem scary to think about your own mortality, becoming death literate and building your capacity for end-of-life planning can help create healthier community attitudes about death.
The 10 Things Workshops will teach you what you don’t know about death; allowing you to set aside your fears of having ‘the conversation’ and walk away knowing how to plan your end of life the way you want to.
At the Groundswell Project’s 10 Things Workshops you will walk away with ten facts about death that will impact you and your loved ones.