Boomer Alert: By 2025, half of us will choose cremation when we die. The $20-billion funeral business is not happy.
With the average cost of a funeral, today about $6,500, not including plot and headstone, cremation at $500 or less is a bargain to die for. At least one crematory here in the Tampa Bay area charges only $345. Of course, you must pick up the ashes or get charged another $150 for “disposal.”
Disposal! That’s the key to cremation.
What happens to the cremains, as the ashes are called, is a hot topic of conversation in elder circles. I know folks who have changed their wills a half dozen times just to accommodate new ideas on the fate of their ashes.
It’s wise to stipulate specifics here, or you could end up where my friend Jack Treadway’s dad ended up, rolling around on the back-seat floor of his son’s car. With every start and stop, Jack’s father’s urn lurched forward and back again, daily reminding Jack of the frailty of life and leaving him wondering why his dad never specified what he wanted done with his cremains.
Of course, Jack’s an artist and rather odd fellow. Most of us would have long ago stopped in disgust, dumping the ashes along a forlorn highway.
Fortunately, most choosing cremation also select a preferred method of disposal. Popular is the eternal rest in a columbarium – a fancy word for an often dark, expensive collection of niches holding urns of ashes – or a place in the home of a loved one.
Neither appeals to me. Why take up space anywhere? And isn’t forcing a daughter-in-law to dust you once a week insane?
Luckily, today we have many alternatives. New laws often permit the scattering of cremated remains on the 18th hole of your favorite golf course, along a beloved national forest trail, even by fireworks. One Rev. Gordon Bergin had his ashes placed in a shell that burst into a formation resembling crosses during his town’s holiday fireworks display.
Urn, Baby, Urn!
Or, if you yearn for some kind of immortal permanence, your cremains can be interred in a ceramic baseball, a silver martini shaker, even an urn in the shape of Elvis’ head. Glow-in-the-dark is extra.
You may even commission an urn that captures the very spirit of the deceased. Perhaps a tiny La-Z-Boy recliner or a working clicker? For some odd reason, stone frogs are quite popular.
A Seattle business can place ashes in glass-blown paperweights. An Illinois company puts cremains in jewelry. Diamonds can be made of our carbon-based remains. As can pencils. Two-hundred-forty can be made from an average body, a lifetime supply of pencils for those left behind.
In short, these days you can do just about anything with your ashes. (I fancy the idea of having them blown into the eyes of your enemies.)
It wasn’t always so.
From 1876, when Dr. Julius LeMoyne built the first U.S. crematory in Washington, Pennsylvania, the practice was denounced from the pulpit as an affront to the doctrine of the resurrection of the body, mocked in the press, and berated by cemetery and funeral home owners.
Cremation was bad for religion and business. Of course, that’s why cremationists relished it.
It wasn’t until the 1960s that cremation gained acceptance from mainstream Christians and nonorthodox Jews. Today, cremation’s popularity varies from state to state, with Hawaii (58.5 percent) and Nevada (56.5 percent) at the top, Mississippi (5.1 percent) and West Virginia (5.5 percent) at the bottom.
Granny In Your Eyes
These days, even Fluffy and Spot get the hot-body treatment. Cost: $80 to $200, depending on the size of the pet. The most popular urn sold holds a photograph of the animal, presumably taken while it was still alive.
Burial at sea, by ship or aircraft, may be the most romanticized treatment for cremains. Take care, or the wind will blow Granny right back into your face.
As for me, I’m still considering what to have done with my ashes.
Back in the ‘60s, I thought it would be cool to have my friends smoke my cremains – mixed with their favorite illegal substance, of course. Unfortunately, most are now dead, and none still smokes.
I’d have them scattered across my garden, from my yacht, or used as kitty litter for my cat. But I have none of those. So…
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