According to the Cremation Association of North America, cremation rates in the US doubled from 1999 to 2014. Nearly half of all Americans are choosing cremation. Because of scarce land, changing cultural and religious norms, and environmental considerations, many countries across the world are seeing cremation become an increasingly popular option. As cremation grows, so do the options surrounding the disposition of the ashes produced by the cremation process. People are seeking options beyond the traditional scattering of ashes or containment in a memorial urn. Below are details of 10 unusual uses for cremation ashes for those seeking a final send-off that is anything but ordinary.
10. Become a Frisbee
Have you always wanted to spend eternity stuck in the neighbors’ roof gutter? Well, then becoming a Frisbee might be among the final wishes you wish to leave for your loved ones. Who would choose this? Only one person so far. That’s Edward Headrick, who spent his career working in marketing and product development for Wham-O, the company that sold the original Frisbee. Headrick is also credited with inventing the game of disc golf, a game that is like regular golf, but using Frisbees instead of golf balls and metal cages instead of holes.
Edward Headrick had long told his family that becoming a Frisbee was his final wish. Says his son Daniel, “We always thought he was joking, but he made it clear he was serious. He wanted us to use his ashes in making some Frisbees. He even said he hopes we throw them around in his honor.” After his 2002 death, Edward’s family complied with his wishes. They produced a series of limited edition “Steady Ed Memorial Ash Discs.” These special Frisbees contain Edward’s ashes and display some of his favorite quotes as well as the admonition to “Fly Free and rest in peace”. Proceeds from the sale of the $50 discs benefit the Edward Headrick Museum at the Professional Disc Golf Association Center in Georgia.
9. Go out in a Blaze of Glory
We’ve all heard the Katy Perry song in which she croons, “Baby, you’re a firework!” For some people, this isn’t an inspirational lyric. Rather, it’s the literal expression of their final wishes. While many families scatter the ashes of their loved ones at the person’s favorite places, some people choose to amp up the drama by scattering the ashes as part of a firework display.
Aaron Mayfield, owner of AM Pyrotechnics, a fireworks manufacturer that creates firework memorials, explains the process. He says that the remains are incorporated into a large aerial shell that, “explodes with a lot of beauty and covers a lot of the sky…It spreads the cremated remains into the sky and the particles are taken into the wind.” While this method of saying goodbye to the dearly departed is still rather unusual, it isn’t new. One British company has been offering the service for more than 20 years. In the words of Katy Perry, if you choose to make your final exit in firework form, “You’re gonna leave them all in awe, awe, awe.”
8. Never Leave the Office
All those workaholics who never left their desks in life won’t have to leave them in death, either. A company called Cremation Solutions is one of several companies that will preserve your loved ones’ ashes in a paperweight. Er, we mean, “cremation glass keepsake orb,” for eternity. Basically the ashes (apparently, a ½ teaspoon “scoop” of ashes is the amount needed per orb) are combined with colored glass and fused into a swirling design visible through the clear orb. And Cremation Solutions’ website assures that the cremated remains will be visible in the glass, noting, “The streaks of white…are the actual ashes of your loved one that become infused within the layers of glass during the creation process.”
Another company that creates these orbs extols the benefits of this option for squabbling families, thoughtfully noting, “Since each Memorial Orb requires only a small amount of ash, it’s possible to share a loved one between multiple family members.” For obvious reasons, just as it is not possible to return or exchange a family member in life, it is also not possible to return or exchange the paperweights in which they are preserved after death.
7. Become World’s Most Morbid Stuffed Animal
After the loss of a loved one, friends and family often wish they could have just one last hug. Now, in a (weird, weird) way, you can. In lieu of the more traditional, though less embraceable, urn for the storage of the ashes of the dearly departed, several companies offer stuffed teddy bears that can be used to store a loved ones’ cremains. As one cremation society explains, “Teddy bear urns allow you to hold your loved one close while keeping cremated remains in a safe place.”
Companies offer a variety of memorial bear options. There are bears of various colors and sizes to allow bereaved families to choose the one that best represents the deceased, as well as the intended purpose of the teddy. The Eddy Bear Company explains the design and personalization options of their bereavement bear, noting, “The ashes of your loved one are sealed inside a beautiful red heart and placed securely in the Teddy Bear’s chest. A personal message is embroidered on the Teddy Bear’s paws as a lasting testimony.” If you go this route, just be sure to remember which stuffed animal is the memorial bear, so that you don’t misplace it. One Alabama boy was shocked to discover an urn inside the teddy bear he had purchased at a thrift store!
6. Shine Bright Like a Diamond
Perhaps the deceased was a devotee of Tiffany’s. Perhaps an urn doesn’t fit with your décor. Or perhaps you’re looking for a more portable, or more sparkly, way to memorialize your loved one. If so, several companies offer the opportunity to turn your loved ones’ cremated remains (or a lock of hair) into gemstones, giving new meaning to the phrase, “Diamonds are forever.” The process of creating a “cremation diamond” involves superheating the ashes to more than 5,000 degrees Fahrenheit, and oxidizing the non-carbon elements and turning the carbon to graphite. It’s then combined with a catalyst, heated and pressed into a rough crystal, which is then cut to the desired specifications. The process can take several months from start to finish, and requires about a pound of ashes to make a single diamond.
Prices range from $2,000 up to $25,000, and depend on the desired color and size of the final stone. The stone can be set into jewelry just like any other gem. One purveyor explains that loved ones often talk to the memorial diamonds and mount them in jewelry so they can be kept close, and notes, “If a wife wears her husband’s diamond in a necklace, there are the usual jokes: ‘He was always wishing to be between my breasts’ or ‘He wanted to be close to my heart.’”
5. Blast Off Into Space
For those who want their final exit to be truly out of this world, there’s the option to launch your ashes beyond their earthly bounds with a space burial. Several private companies offer the opportunity to remember a loved one by launching their cremated remains into space.
The first private space burial took place in 1997, with the remains of 24 people. That included mind expansion advocate Timothy Leary and Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry, who were placed into orbit as secondary cargo on a satellite deployment mission by Celestis Inc. That’s the company that pioneered the idea of commercial space burial. Since then, several companies have offered various space burial services, including Celestis’s space burial option for pets and a lower-cost option ($1,990) offered by Elysium Space.
For those who are unsure about committing to an eternity in space (or at least until the fiery end of atmospheric reentry), there is also an option for your ashes to be flown briefly into space before returning to earth. In any case, because of the high cost of space transport ($10,000 per pound), only a “symbolic portion” of your ashes will be sent to the great beyond. While space burials may seem to serve a very niche market, Celestis’s founder cites studies that show that 1-6% of those who choose cremation would consider scattering the ashes in space.
4. Be Part of the Music
Many memorial services incorporate music, incorporating a favorite song to accompany remembrances of the life of the deceased. But the music doesn’t have to stop there. For prices starting at £3,000 for a basic package, a British service called AndVinyly will make you part of the music, pressing your ashes into a custom vinyl record. The company’s owner notes that getting the ratio of ashes to vinyl right is a challenge. An excess of ashes causes the record to jump, but each one will have a unique sound quality because of its contents: “People pop and crackle. It’s your true sound.” You (before death) or your loved ones supply the music and artwork for the record, and loved ones will receive 30 copies of a special album that contains not only your remains, but also the songs and images that represent your life.
While AndVinyly’s lighthearted website, with images of skulls listening to music, and a 10-step immortality checklist for producing your record (Step 6: “Die.”) makes it clear that this service will not appeal to everyone, it does offer die-hard music lovers a way to ensure that their passion extends beyond their lives.
3. Sleep with the Fishes
Burial at sea is not a new concept. It’s long been employed for sailors and others who died aboard ship, either in battle or from natural causes. However, there’s a new twist on this maritime memorial tradition—eternal reefs. Eternal reefs began as a marine habitat restoration project in the late 1980s. Specialized concrete reef balls were used to replicate declining coral reefs to support marine ecosystems.
However, after the father-in-law of one of the project’s founders requested, shortly before his death, that his cremated remains be placed in a coral reef, the eternal reef project took on new meaning. Now, ashes are mixed with the concrete that comprises the reef balls, and placed off the coast of the Southern US in a permitted location selected by the individual (before death) or his loved ones. The company reports that more than 1,800 Eternal Reefs have been deployed as of mid-2016 in what it describes as, “a unique memorial optional that replaces cremation urns and ash scatterings with a permanent environmental legacy.”
2. Leave Your Mark…as a Tattoo
Some may choose to memorialize a deceased loved one by getting a tattoo of their name or image. But some of the bereaved take the idea of a memorial tattoo a step further. They incorporate the ashes of the deceased into the tattoo ink, in what’s known as a “cremation tattoo.”
How does this process work? First, the ashes are sifted to remove any larger pieces. That leaves only a fine dust, which is then baked for additional sterilization. Then, a tiny amount of the ashes are mixed in with the tattoo ink before application. Some medical professionals caution that this approach could carry risks of infection. However, Bob Johnson, an Ohio tattoo artist, says that he’s been offering “commemorative tattoos” that incorporate cremated remains for more than 30 years without any recipients suffering complications.
While some experts suggest this type of tattoo is on the rise, many say the unknown health risks and the “eww factor” may prevent cremation tattoos from going mainstream. In a 2013 National Post article on cremation tattoos, the reporter found that most tattoo artists he interviewed found tattoos containing cremated remains “too weird” to offer. In a vivid rejection of the practice of adding ashes to tattoo ink, one tattooist added, “I couldn’t fathom having someone else under my skin.”
1. Get Trigger Happy
Who wouldn’t want “the peace of mind that you can continue to protect your home and family even after you are gone”? That’s what Alabama-based Holy Smoke LLC purports to offer—through integrating cremated remains into live ammunition. Two game wardens came up with the concept while discussing the death of a family member and their own final wishes. When one shared his desire to be cremated and have his ashes placed in shotgun shells for one last turkey hunt, Holy Smoke was born. It offered a way for hunting enthusiasts to take part in their favorite pastime after death.
The company’s website assures us that, “we can place the ashes of your loved ones into almost any caliber and gauge of ammunition.” One pound of ash will produce about one case (250 shells) of ammunition. Field and Stream notes that while other services had previously offered to load remains into just a single cartridge, Holy Smoke’s offering provides “250 chances to make a memorable shot.” They added, “How could you ever rest in peace if you were worrying that the person you trusted the one and only shell containing your ashes to might miss?”