When my son was 9-years-old, I found him standing in front of our fireplace staring up at our beloved dog’s urn and pondering over the profound questions of life and death, or so I thought. As my middle child, he was analytical and advanced in his mental age with a dark, sharp blade of a mind.
He looked at me for a moment, his eyes full of questions. This was always disturbing as he had a long history of making my single friends feel uncomfortable by telling them all about why they were single. He is the type of kid that conversations take a complicated turn, and you walk away questioning your once unshakeable convictions.
I braced myself for the uncomfortable conversation to come, and he didn’t disappoint.
Boy: “That’s Toby, isn’t it.”
Boy: “Why did you put her in a vase?”
Me: “Because we love her and want to keep her with us always. This way, we can admire the vase and reminisce about the fun times and smile to warm our hearts.”
He gave pause as he processed what I just said. I saw the little wheels turning, and I thought to myself: You did good, mom. You delivered a heart-felt answer with an endearing sentiment-mastery level. No way he can turn this around and make me question things. Then inner thoughts proved to be false when he shook his head in disapproval and said:
“So, that’s it then? We live, work, and play in our lives, and for what? We end up in a box on someone’s fireplace? Our story in a vase ending up at a garage sale for 25 cents or accidentally broken when the rest of our family dies, and no one is left to care for us? I know it’s just our bones and not our soul, but that’s messed up and seems selfish. I expected more.”
Expected more?!? As he walked away, throwing his hands in the air in frustration and disappointment while simultaneously deflating my ‘bravo mom’ balloon (again), I realized the boy wasn’t wrong. He was alarmingly correct. Here I was; rethinking my thoughts, and ending up in a vase on a fireplace wasn’t appealing to me either, even if it was just bones. On the other hand, the thought of being underground in a casket was equally chilling because I am claustrophobic.
The question became: What is appealing to my bones and would make me smile thinking about it? As luck would have it, I came across several alternatives and found a solution that excites me much more than a vase on a fireplace. That boy of mine can be infuriating beyond words, but in forced self-reflection, I always find something to be improved upon—one of them being how to be immortal in style and preserve our planet.
The Morbid Truth
There are nearly 8 billion people on this planet. Millions of people die every year (half a billion in the next decade) and are cremated or buried. For every person breathing, there are 15 that are buried beneath the soil. The population above and below the earth takes resources and renders some useless. There is only so much room to cram people into the ground, and the business of death is expensive and taxing on the environment.
Caskets comprised of wood, metal, and luxurious pillows weigh in at a few hundred pounds. Generally, the more celebrated a person is translates into how much their casket weighs. Ronald Reagan was buried in a mahogany fortress of over 400 pounds. Even burial vaults take a toll, some caskets being encased in 3,000 pounds of cement or steel.
Added to the weight is the toxic embalming fluids (some hallucinogenic which does not alter state and stays in the earth forever) that average one gallon for every 50 pounds the human weighed. This brings the total weight of ONE body to around 2 tons.
Although embalming liquids slow the process, bodies decompose. It doesn’t matter how much wood, metal, or concrete they are encased in. Where does the decomposition of toxic substances and bodies go when they are in the soil? Our water table. Fluoride is the least of our worries.
Cremation is not off the hook in taking a toll on the environment or poisoning us with toxins. The Federation of British Cremation Authorities (yea, I didn’t know that was a thing either) reported cremators function on 760-1150C for 75 minutes per cremation using 285 kiloWatt hours of gas and 15-kilowatt-hours of electricity per cremation.
Let me ‘Merica that up; the energy & resources used during 75 minutes cremating a person is equivalent to the energy & resources one person uses in a month. It’s not only energy used. Cremation is responsible for 16% of the UK’s mercury pollution. Mercury? Yup, dental fillings.
Bodies are also cremated inside a coffin and formaldehyde. This residue makes its way into the atmosphere instead of into the soil and water table. It seems, either way, we are negatively impacting our environment. People are starting to recognize the stress on the environment and opting for ‘green burials’ with biodegradable coffins and headstones made of rocks or trees. The toxic embalming fluid is replaced with a plant-based concoction. The appeal is not only sustainability but also ‘saving the land for the living.’
The Green Burial Council provides a list of State locations participating in green burials if you are interested. Green burials are designed to leave the land looking untouched and not like a cemetery while protecting its resources. The locations are quite lovely.
In traditional cemeteries, the land becomes useless and, if uncared for, an eyesore. In my son’s words, that would be the epitome of ‘expecting better.’ Cremations have gained popularity and are fast becoming the preferred and affordable remedy compared to a $15,000 - $25,000 casket and funeral expense.
Memorializing the dead is starting to be less traditional and more ceremoniously meaningful, especially to today’s generations who are more about collective planetary restoration and sustainable solutions for dwindling resources. Some of these practices include:
#1 - Blossom Into A Tree
Being a tree makes me smile. It could be the Game of Thrones nerd in me with the whole ‘old gods’ thing, but it appeals to my romantic nature. I love the thought of being memorialized in a cherry blossom tree.
Life From Ashes
I mean, how beautiful to celebrate my life, right?! That is the cool thing about Bio Urns:
Can use any seedling of your choice, even plants or flowers, if trees aren’t your thing
Positive impact on the environment
They have parks dedicated to using Bio Urns
Commemorate loved ones in a meaningful way
Can use for both humans and pets
Incredibly economical & easy to do
Can use any cremated remains (including the vase on the fireplace)
Bio Urns allow you to plant the seedling immediately, or if you want to wait until the seedling is better established to plant or want to keep your loved one close, use an incube lite. Bio Urn offers eclectic solutions for minimalist lifestyles or people without a backyard.
Choosing the seedling you want to be is essential not only for sentimental reasons, but you want to make sure that your family and friends won’t require a horticulturist degree for your maintenance and care. Choosing something indigenous to where you intend to root is vital in observing ecological balance.
Bio Urn’s focus has been to add meaning to this process of life and return to nature. The standard urns are 100% recycled materials sourced locally. Over 47 countries in 5 continents have embraced the idea of celebrating their loved ones through rebirth in trees, plants, bushes, flowers, and many other types of seedling and sprouts.
Humans and pets being fused with nature promote reconciliation with the planet that provided a prosperous life in an intimate way (romantic, le sigh). Seeing myself in this cherry blossom tree makes me believe that the grieving process will be easier for my children because I continue to live. The thought is far less depressing, even for my soulful middle child.
Bio urns work by allowing the seed to germinate separate from the ashes until the plant or tree roots are strong enough to interact with the ashes. This is measured and timed with the decomposition process of the urn. The urn planters don’t have an expiration date, so you can purchase them whenever you like.
Not big on cremation? There is an alternative way to becoming a tree. You will need to check the rules in your state before committing to a body pod.
Life From Body Pod
Capsula Mundi incorporates the ritual of full body transformation versus ashes. An egg-shaped pod made of biodegradable material encapsulates our loved one’s body positioned in the fetal position. The egg is ceremonious with beginning and ending, the same way we start, we finish. The egg is seen as the perfect ancient capsule.
I know what you are thinking; I’ve seen this movie before as remnants of Soylent Green play in your head. It is much more...comforting. How it works is the loved one chooses a tree before their death. The tree will be planted on top of the egg serving as the headstone, or memorial, for the deceased.
This transforms the way cemeteries look today into a warm, receptive celebration of life while preserving valuable resources and caring for our planet. Capsula Mundi’s focus is to reconnect society with nature and redefine death from a taboo topic into a reverent celebration of life.
This resulted in a coffin using ecological materials and significant symbols such as the egg and the tree to reconnect us to nature. The tree is renowned for connecting the sky and earth. The process to commemorate a loved one is relatively simple and budget-friendly.
They have urns available for ashes as well. Capsula Mundi is made in Italy, and the body pods are still in start-up phases but gaining ground quickly. These burials are legal in many countries, but not everywhere. As green cemeteries take over, Capsula Mundi is hoping to raise awareness of this possibility further. I’m rooting for them!
#2 - Diamonds Are Forever
Creating a diamond from your ashes to pass down as an heirloom is an elegant way to be immortal. Eterneva takes the family through a complete journey from ashes to diamond, fully immersed in the deceased life story.
Upon payment of $100 for the welcome package, your journey begins. Eterneva has an ‘inauguration for your loved one. The inauguration entails adding the picture of your loved one to their wall and sharing the story of their life with the Eterneva team. Eterneva also memorializes the loved one with a dedication page on their website to remain for all time.
The family is taken through the entire process with videos beginning with the inauguration. The next video is about the ashes being purified into carbon, followed by the growth of the loved one’s carbon into diamond. Updates are given throughout the process, and the final video is the homecoming. Eterneva hand delivers the diamond.
During the process, you choose a diamond color that means something to you. The color of their hair, eyes, or their favorite color. They can also engrave the name on the side of the diamond. It is a bit more expensive than a traditional funeral cost, but you get so much more out of it. The value of this experience is hard to put a price on.
Diamonds are a symbol of eternity, which is why they are given as wedding rings. The unbreakable stone is a symbol of unbreakable commitment in love. What better way to keep a loved one with you and pay tribute to their memory. Diamonds are a physical representation of the spirit, affection, and charisma that warmed your life.
#3 - Oceans Eternal; Be A Reef
If you love everything about the ocean or are an avid Titanic fan, Eternal Reefs might be the way to go in your immortality.
Reef balls replicate Mother Nature in the ocean world by encouraging reef development and supporting ocean life. They are active in more than 70 countries to the tune of 750,000 reef balls in the oceans.
Reef balls invite microorganisms to land, burrow, and mature, which eventually propagates in sufficient numbers for predators to feed on them. Fish immediately occupy reef balls when they are dropped and find their forever home. This forever home is ideal for a permanent living legacy to commemorate the ashes of a loved one.
Creating a memorial reef serves as a medium that the loved one can contribute to the marine environment for eternity. During the casting, family members can place handprints or memorabilia in the soft mixture. Military burials are also popular in this fashion.
Reef balls mix the ashes with an environmentally safe cement mixture explicitly designed for ocean habitat to create artificial reef formations. Families can select from one of the permitted locations to deploy the reef ball and choose from one of the many take-home mementos that they offer.
Eternal Reefs is focused on creating a positive experience to heal the mind, sea, and soul in preserving, protecting, and enhancing ocean life. There are several ceremonies during the process to help in that endeavor.
A pre-cast reef ball is prepared and presented to the family for mixing remains and creating a ‘pearl,’ the centerpiece that fits inside the reef ball. After the reef ball is cast and finalized, a viewing is held where pictures are taken, rubbings of the bronze plaque are encouraged to take home, and final goodbyes and tributes are written.
A placement and dedication ceremony is held where a boat takes the family from the reef site to where the ball will be deployed. The family is given tribute reefs (miniature reef balls) as a devotion to their loved one and provided the GPS location.
Eternal Reefs are also an excellent alternative for pets; well, probably not the family goldfish due to the costs, which aren’t outlandish (see what I did there) but do have a comma in it.
It is for this reason that Eternal Reefs encourage holding on to your pet’s remains and ensure that the pet and family members are put together in a reef at no additional cost.
Affordable Alternatives For A Body
Although these ways to commemorate your life are not as permanent and sustainable as the previously listed, they are pretty righteous:
If you want to be creepy and haunt your family, you can have your ashes compacted into a vinyl record for about $3,800. The record will play 24 minutes of music or an audio recording (http://www.andvinyly.com/)
Light It Up
The UK is creative in ways to go out with a bang. Your ashes can be scattered in the sky courtesy of fireworks by Heavenly Stars Fireworks. They offer a full Remembrance Display package for about $600 that explodes into dragon eggs, flowers, and peonies. If this isn’t enough of a send-off and you need more thunderous applause, they have various pricier packages.
You can become friendship balls, suncatchers, paperweights, glass ornaments, and much more, thanks to Art From Ashes. Ashes are infused into a specialized glass blowing technique - just a teaspoon. The name of your loved one can be etched into the sculpture. Most items you would never know incorporated ashes unless someone told you.
I Need A Hero
Cremation Solutions does it ALL, but what captured my heart and sent my inner geek into euphoria were the 12” action figures in your likeness! Fandom reaches out from death and seizes the opportunity for your ashes to rest in Superman, Indiana Jones, and more for about $250. They also can create custom portraits in your likeness by adding a small amount of your ashes to the painting.
One of These Days Alice
I’m not saying hurry up and die, but the next launch date is in August of 2021, with registrations taking place now and ending June 30th! Celestis provides the unique opportunity to honor loved ones who were intrigued with exploration, adventure, passion, and the cosmic universe.
Celestis not only launches ashes into space, but a memorial spaceflight is not limited to those choosing cremation-any final disposition is welcome. Spaceflights are available for off-planet DNA storage packages.
Packages start at $1,295 for a portion of your ashes to be launched into space and returned to earth or $4,995 to be launched into Earth’s orbit. If you prefer to be in the moon’s orbit or on its surface, the price is $12,500. Loved ones attend the launch and are provided a tracking tool to watch your spacely progress.
Insanely Rich Ways To Do A Body
Do Like Han Solo
Alcor and its members believe that death is not an instant permanent state. Death is permanent when memory and personality are disconnected, and the person cannot be recovered. They believe that living to dead is not instant, and if you become a member of Alcor, they will ensure that professionals are at your bedside to start the process as soon as you are declared dead. What process? Cryonics.
Cryonics preserves life by pausing death through freezing. The theory is that once a cure or medical technology advances, a person will be restored. It is considered ‘an ambulance to the future.’ The ambulance ride is expensive.
The membership dues aren’t bad at $50 for you and $27 for each additional family member per month. Cryonic costs used to be paid by living relatives, but that process was found unsustainable, so now there is insurance. Over 90% of Alcor members have life insurance policies naming Alcor as beneficiary.
The requirement is a minimum of $200,000 for the whole body and $80,000 for neuro (brain) life insurance. Policies that increase with inflation are a wise decision and encouraged as the future costs are unknown. Alcor recommends insurance reps that are familiar with cryonic costs.
Upon death, Alcor will transfer significant funding from the patient to the Alcor Patient Care Trust to pay for storage costs. It then moves investment funds into legally separate Alcor Care Trust Supporting Organizations held at Morgan Stanley.
It is designed so that the patient storage costs are taken solely from the income of the Trusts to ensure funds for indefinite storage. The whole thing is hella cool, and if I had the money, I would.
Sorry guys, this one is only for animals. But still, who knows, am I right? Barbara Streisand gave a Variety interview in which she revealed that she had two of her dogs cloned after one passed. There is a wide range of people for and against the process.
The procedure rings in at around $50,000 for dogs and $25,000 for cats, even more for horses. Basically, the DNA extracted from the pet is cryogenically preserved until a host, or I should say surrogate, is found.
The DNA from the surrogate’s eggs is replaced with the preserved pet’s DNA altering the eggs. If all goes well, the surrogate becomes pregnant and carries the clone to term. The surrogate goes through several tests, multiple pregnancies, and chemical alterations to make an ideal climate for the clone.
It is an uncomfortable existence for a surrogate and one of the main reasons on the ‘against’ side. The hormonal supplements given allow for the surrogate to create embryos at will. Cloning doesn’t guarantee the same personality that you fell in love with. You could end up with an animal with a completely different temperament.
One of the companies that provides cloning services is Sinogene. They proclaim to be a ‘worldwide animal cloning expert’ and have successfully cloned and delivered hundreds of animals. They hope to expand breeding and genetic technologies. It’s a slippery slope, but if you want to ride it, cloning is a possibility.
Memorializing With Love
The death of someone you love is one of the hardest things to move past. Personally, cloning isn’t for me (or my animals) because I am a sucker for the imperfections, the nuances, the things that make that person, well, that person.
Having an opportunity to say goodbye and celebrate life as a tribute to your love for them is essential in letting go. Sadly, the family dog is not the only urn that we have in the household. Depending on who passes to the unknown first, one of us will be carrying my daughter’s ashes with us.
I’m still trying to convince my family that a cherry blossom tree is my wish, and it warms my heart thinking my daughter may be with me in nature. Whatever you decide, money should not be the primary reason you choose it. It’s just a body; the soul lives eternally.
My son was not wrong. Investing in a cherry blossom tree provides me peace for an easier transition, as it should for my family. What matters is how you spend the time between breaths. And who you share breaths with and how you can help your family keep on breathing when your breaths have ceased.
My son’s mind is at ease knowing that ‘it got better.’ My other two children feel comforted that they won’t have to worry about my urn through every move, during every generation because I am part of something bigger, something beautiful, that will live on. It certainly beats an urn on a dusty old fireplace.