Slide show: A look at the world of novelty cremains, from jewels to fireworks, and other ways to go out with a bang
Made into an abstract painting
A modern art oil painting made with ashes sure does makes an urn seem old-fashioned. Memorials.com owner Ralf Hackenbach says the artist takes 2 to 7 cubic inches of cremains and mixes them thoroughly with oil paint, spreading the remains throughout the work. (The paintings start at around $600.) Most of the paintings are abstract because, as he explains, “abstraction invites the viewer into the painting. You bring your own life and views into the image and that can also mean you bring your memories into it, too.”
Customers can choose a painting listed on the website, though no two pieces look exactly the same, or they can present an idea that reminds them of their loved one and the painter will try to reflect those ideas in the work.
Exploded in fireworks
For early man, cremation was a way to destroy evil spirits believed to be present in the bodies of the dead. We’ve come a long way from those days when grieving families can turn a funeral into a fireworks display.
Here’s how the website describes the unusual event: “At sunset, family and friends board a luxury yacht and are transported to the Service site … As the music plays, the family looks skyward over the beautiful ocean waters, watching the fireworks carry their loved one’s cremains into the air. Bursting over the ocean in exquisite patterns and colors, the cremains are scattered into the sea.”
The cremains are mixed with pyrotechnics into 200 firing shells and the ashes are “spread” during the show. “The ceremonies are built around choreographed fireworks displays set to music, typically chosen in honor of the deceased,” says Nick Drobins, founder of Angels Flight, based in Castaic, Calif. The company can work with customers directly or through mortuaries anywhere the law allows such displays. The price range for a local event begins at $4,250 and goes up from there.
Pressed into a vinyl record
Jason Leach, a London-based musician and producer, sprinkles a small amount of ash over a record and presses it right into the grooves with the music that you choose. The cremains’ bumpiness adds sound texture that gives the record an old feeling. “That’s what I like about it,” Leach says. “Each pop and crackle is a reminder of your loved one.” For the base price of $3,000, the customer supplies music and art for the album cover — and gets 30 copies for that. But Leach can also mix a record and commission portrait painter James Hague to do album covers. (Website: And Vinyl.)
Mounted on a walking stick
A couple of tablespoons of ashes are blended with sand, soda ash and lime to create the globe of a walking stick, while a woodworker selects and finishes pieces of windfall timber for the base. Jane Giat, co-owner of Art From Ashes, based in Amherst, Mass., says “different pieces just speak to different people. There are people who feel it’s just the perfect remembrance because they hiked with their husband or walked with their dog.”
Made into a diamond
We are all full of carbon, so any body can be a diamond. Dean VandenBiesen realized this and met with experts to learn what it takes to turn cremains into the exact molecular equivalent of the gem. Turns out it takes a lot of time and money (prices range from $2,490 to $24,999), but not much ash. “To make a 1-carat diamond, it takes about 200mg of ash. That’s the size of a Tylenol capsule.” Carbon from the cremains is isolated with an oxygen-free furnace and then sealed in a high-pressure clamp for six to eight months, depending on the size. It’s then formed by a professional diamond cutter. (Website: LifeGem.com.)
Fired into a sun catcher
Art From Ashes co-owner Jane Giat remembers a local customer walked into their downtown Amherst showroom one day certain she was going to order a piece of jewelry from a loved one’s cremains. Then she saw the sun catchers. “She said, ‘That just makes me think of her.’ There’s something very powerful about a piece that lights up with the sun and spreads colors around the room. It brings the memory to life.” Blending the proper amount of ash for the pieces, however, is the trick. “If you put too much of the ash in the mixture, it cracks.” (Website: Art From Ashes.)
Fashioned into a touchstone
Memorials.com owner Ralf Hackenbach says there is a certain intimacy that comes with ordering his products over the Internet. “People like this because it’s private. They’re not walking into a store and they don’t have to deal with anyone but themselves.” The loss of touch is one of the most profound aspects of grief, he says, which is why he suspects the touchstone is popular (it costs around $200). They’re made to be about 2 inches wide and a quarter-inch deep 00 enough to fill the hand and still be enveloped.
Dangled as a pendant
Keeping pieces of the departed to turn into jewelry has a rich historical precedent: In the 19th century, it was common to weave hair cuttings of the dead into bracelets and brooches, or to keep pieces of hair in lockets. So the Victorians would have loved this diamond pendant, also available from LifeGem.
Turned into a reef
Since 1998, Eternal Reefs has been mixing cremains with concrete and sinking the human reef into the sea. The idea came from the first man to be submerged. Just before he died, Carleton Glen Palmer told his son-in-law, who was making concrete reefs for ecological reasons, “I can think of nothing better than having all that action going on around me all the time after I am gone — just make sure that the location has lots of red snapper and grouper.” One man died, but an idea was born.
Novel as it sounds, returning the body to the natural world in this way is actually an expression of certain Buddhist concepts of impermanence, or the idea that earthly existence is constantly changing. In the “sky burials” of parts of Tibet, for example, the body is cut in certain places and placed upon a mountaintop for vultures to eat. Like being made into a coral reef, it’s an eco-friendly way to say goodbye. But it’s not cheap; prices range from $2,495-$6,495.