Cremation has exploded in popularity in recent years. According to a CANA (the Cremation Association of North America) publication The Cremationist, the national cremation rate for 2021 was 57.5%. Among Homesteaders’ policyholders who prearranged, the cremation rate for 2022 was 57.0%. Here are thoughts from families who chose cremation services. While it’s not the most environmentally friendly method for disposition, cremation does have several eco-benefits. Families who choose cremation often forgo traditional caskets, which saves on resources like wood, metal and concrete – as well as the energy used to produce them. Cremation often takes up less space in a cemetery or none at all if the urn is kept at home or the ashes are spread on private property.
With so many people choosing cremation, often the question is what to do with the ashes. Have you ever thought about having your cremated remains shot out of canon alongside exploding fireworks under the summer night sky á la famed writer Hunter S. Thompson? Or wearing your loved one’s ashes that have been carefully pressed into a diamond necklace á la tv show “How I Met Your Father”?
The topic seems to be creeping into the pop culture realm. And while some options (such as a cremated remains necklace) are still depicted as taboo and strange by popular cultural standards, the mention of it hopefully means the topic of cremation is slowly working its way into broader American cultural acceptance.
However, popular or not, you only need to choose the final disposition option for your loved one that they have requested or that allows you to feel connected to them and move through your grief in the way in which you are most comfortable. The sky is the limit (pun intended), and personalization ideas abound, but here are some options to reflect on, choose from or build off when deciding final disposition options for your loved one.
Cremated remains can be incorporated into a coral reef structure and submerged in the ocean, helping restore the destruction of natural coral reefs due to pollution, climate change and coastal development, and also providing homes for local sea life. According to this USA Today article, one Florida-based company that builds these reefs said, “a family can be involved [in the process] by mixing the cremated remains into concrete, adding handprints, written messages and non–invasive mementos like coins their loved one had traveled with or military metals.” Designed by a group of Georgia divers in the 1980s, the purpose was to “combat the degradation of coral reefs” and the structure looks “like a concrete whiffle ball cut in half.”
The reef ball structure is “made of a pH-neutral concrete, with 80% of its weight concentrated in the lower 40% to make the reef stable.” The article explained, “Storm energy will pass around, through and over the reef balls due to their hollow and vented design.” The price of the reef can range from $2,500 to $7,500.
Many options for compostable tree pods exist. Typically, they have two compartments: the top space for dirt and the seed to grow a tree and the bottom compartment for your loved one’s cremated remains. Your funeral home will likely have other purchasing options, but you can look at this company for ideas. According to the organization, The Order of the Good Death, when ashes get wet, they harden into a concrete-like substance. Also, human cremated remains are inorganic and don’t contain any human DNA, so the ashes are not actually contributing to the growth of the tree. If you’d like an alternative to a tree pod, The Order of the Good Death suggests planting a tree in a special spot or scattering your loved one’s ashes under an existing tree.
Compostable or Personalized Urn
According to CANA research in 2022 (published in The Cremationist magazine), about 25% of U.S. homes have at least one set of ashes. The Order Of The Good Death has a handy list of compostable and environmentally-friendly urns to purchase as a vessel for your loved one’s final resting place. From sleek handcrafted wooden urns that would look perfect on a shelf to biodegradable choices, you might find something that fits your loved one’s wishes and personality. Several casket and urn companies have developed biodegradable urns that disintegrate a short time after being buried. Read more about personalized urns here as well as other memorial service ideas for families who choose cremation.scattering
The most popular and well-known option for final disposition is to scatter your loved one’s ashes in a meaningful location. According to the 2022 NFDA (National Funeral Directors Association) Consumer Awareness and Preference Study published in The Director magazine, one-third of study participants chose to scatter the ashes of their loved one in a sentimental place. If you go this route on public land, clear your plan with local authorities or, if on private property, with the property owner. If you are thinking of scattering your loved one’s ashes in the ocean, you must be at least three nautical miles from the shore. Again, do your research and check with local authorities before scattering ashes anywhere. And don’t make the Big Lebowski mistake of scattering ashes against the wind instead of into it! The video below gives you tips to keep in mind before scattering ashes.
Mix into Garden Soil
On Gardner’s World forum, people who have lost loved ones suggest mixing a small amount of the ashes into gardening soil for a flower garden if your loved one loved nature.
A quick Google search will turn up dozens of companies that can turn your loved one’s ashes into a diamond and set it in a ring, necklace or another piece of jewelry. Alternatively, this company sells jewelry options that hold your loved one’s ashes inside.
Yes, cremated remains can even be turned into stained glass! Typically, the ashes are fused between two panels of glass along with the colored glass you desire. This glass can surround a mirror, hang over a window or even be made into an ornament, other decorative wall hanging or incorporated into a piece of glass jewelry.
Sometimes called a “solidification,” ashes can be “Combined with a binding agent and converted into a clay-like substance,” according to this Chicago Sun-Times article. “Lab techs then hand roll the material into stone shapes of various sizes before baking them in a kiln.” The average person’s cremated remains “can yield 40-60 stones.” The article suggests using the stones to decorate a garden, line the bottom of an aquarium, fill in bare spots in the driveway, provide drainage for flower pots or even use them as skipping stones on a special pond or lake. You could also use them as stepping stones in your yard. Alternatively, ashes can be used to create any sculpture shape—maybe your loved one would like a bust of themselves or, if they were religious, shaped into a cross or other meaningful symbol.
Concrete Slab and Engraving
Similar to the above memorial stones, your loved one’s ashes can be mixed into a concrete slab in your yard where you can engrave names, memories or handprints of loved ones left behind. You could even build a garden wall with concrete bricks incorporating your loved one’s ashes.
You can talk to your funeral home about the above options or any other ideas, and they can help you with the options available. Hopefully, this list spurs creativity, and maybe you’ve even found a new option that sounds like the perfect resting place for your loved one.