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Dearly Departed: Coping with death through jewelry

Dearly Departed: Coping with death through jewelry

By Rich Griset

Chrisell Vasiliou at home in Chesterfield with some of her jewelry. Chrisell Vasiliou at home in Chesterfield with some of her jewelry.Chrisell Vasiliou’s jewelry holds a secret: The flowers represented on her glass pendants are made from the ashes of the deceased.

The Chesterfield resident began making glass jewelry while caring for her ailing husband at home. After he died last year, Vasiliou began incorporating his ashes into her jewelry.

“It’s a way to have a piece of the person always close to your heart,” explains Vasiliou of her Forever Fields line of jewelry. The glass pendants feature the image of long grass blades and white flowers. “It kind of looks like Queen Anne’s lace.”

For Vasiliou, making jewelry has become a way to cope with tragedy. Earlier this year, Vasiliou’s mother died. Last fall, her German shepherd Ava was killed after she ran out in front of a car.

“This helped me rebuild myself,” Vasiliou says of her jewelry.

Since she began making the pendants, Vasiliou has made roughly 30 pieces for six clients, and says she hasn’t experienced any negative reactions when telling people about her craft. She also has a line called Precious Paws, creating paw prints from the ashes of pets.

“It doesn’t take but half a teaspoon” of ashes, Vasiliou says. “They come in a bag. You just open the bag and take a little bit out.”

Karen Walters commissioned Vasiliou to make five pendants with the ashes of her husband of 17 years.

“When she showed me them, I was awestruck,” says Walters, who works with Vasiliou at Stony Point Surgery Center. “It’s really serene and beautiful. You’d never know that they were ashes.”

Walters says the pendants help her feel connected to her husband.

“He was an ideal stepfather for my kid, just a really wonderful person that we all truly, deeply miss,” she says. “Even today, it’s not easy living without him.”

Rick Sikon, operational director of the Virginia State Anatomical Program, says incorporating human ashes into jewelry is nothing new.

“People have done a lot with cremated remains over the years,” said Sikon, who oversees the distribution of cadavers to medical institutions for study and instruction. “There’s a company where you can put cremated remains in a golf shaft and play golf with them.”

According to Virginia law, once a body has been cremated, it is considered disposed. Aside from spreading ashes in places where it is banned, most any use of ashes is considered legal. Sikon says that cremation has become more popular recently as it’s less expensive than traditional burial.

“People are moving away from just burying cremated remains,” he says. “They want to do something more personal with them.”

While other jewelry makers charge around $100 per cremation piece, Vasiliou usually charges about $35.

“I want people to be able to wear my jewelry,” she says. “I’d rather have 10 people than just one or two.”

For Vasiliou, her connection with her jewelry has taken an interesting twist. On a recent trip to West Virginia, she visited the area where her mother had grown up. Her mother’s home had been torn down, but the hilltop was now covered with something else: Queen Anne’s lace.

“It’s something to hold on to,” says Vasiliou, fingering a pendant around her neck with her husband’s remains. “Maybe he is looking out for me, helping me.”