Embalming vs. Cremation
I mentioned this phenomena on my 20/20 interview.
I mentioned the Germany cremation fire that recently occurred in a post a few months back.
And now this news headline out of Austria: “Dead obese woman had so much body fat she set the building on fire during her cremation”.
I’m not a fan of macabre, but this news article highlights more than the grotesque … it also highlights the growing difficulty the funeral industry is having as we adapt to the every growing obesity epidemic.
As you may realize, when a morbidly obese person is cremated, there’s a danger of what can only be called (in layman’s terms) a “grease fire.” In the past — especially in America — such fires have prompted crematoriums to purchase larger retorts (a retort is the “oven”) and to use different methods of cremating morbidly obese persons.
Despite such responses by crematoriums, morbid obesity is a growing problem in first-world counties. A recent survey shows that 63% of Americans are either overweight or obese. That percentage has stayed relatively steady over the past couple years.
Yet, the percentage of morbidly obese persons (those who are 100 pounds over a healthy weight) has doubled every five years.
And as more and more people become morbidly obese, crematoriums — despite their efforts to accommodate this epidemic — are still behind the curve, especially the crematoriums in smaller countries which seem to be slower to adapt.
And so we have this out of Austria:
Firemen in the southern city of Graz were covered in thick sticky soot as they tried to prevent the blaze from taking hold of the building.
The case has been widely reported in Austrian media, including in the ORF – the country’s equivalent of our BBC – and has ignited calls for a weight limit on bodies to protect against future fires.
Firemen whose clothing was left covered with a layer of greasy black soot were snapped as they tackled the difficult to extinguish blaze in special breathing gear to avoid breathing in the fumes.
In the end they had to bring the fire under control by sending a blast of water in through the vents used to clear the filter. Repair work took several days during which time the crematorium was out of action.
Firemen said that after reports of similar problems at other cemeteries not only in Austria but also in Switzerland, officials were now are considering a ban on larger bodies.
And now for the picture of those greased covered fireman:
So … what would you do if you were in the Austrian government?
Would you ban larger bodies?
Would you accommodate larger bodies by increasing the size of the retorts?
(The research, creative humor and quotes are credited to Adrienne Doss whose article entitled “12 Weird Ways to Do With Your Cremated Remains” was this inspiration for the following post.)
In the funeral industry, casket companies will often name their caskets much like car companies name their cars. You have the “Promethean” (the casket Michael Jackson was buried in), the “Primrose”, the “Lord’s Prayer”, etc.
As the market moves away from caskets and moves towards cremation, everybody wants a poetic means of cremains disposal (think The Big Lebowski … except with less ash in the face). We want that epic moment where we release the cremains of our loved one into the world.
And, we especially want our OWN cremains to have an epic final send off.
Wouldn’t it just be easier if we named the various methods so that we all learn to speak the same language?
So here – without farther ado – are twelve names and twelve creative methods of cremation disposal.
“The Astronaut”: You can have some of your cremains rocketed to space. For a starting price of only $695, you can join the likes of Timothy Leary and Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry. Depending on the price you pay will depend how long you stay orbiting earth before you eventually crash back down as a shooting star. Find out how much it cost to go to heaven at www.memorialspaceflights.com.
“The Hourglass”: Always be a reminder to friends and family that their time is limited by having your cremains be the “sand” in an hourglass. Check out Hourglass Keepsake Urn.
“The Firework”: You can go out with a bang when your cremains are made into a firework. If you’re the flashy type, have your cremains bursting in a professional and epic display for your family and friends. If you’re more low key, you can be stuffed in small fireworks that your grandchildren and great grandchildren can set off in their back yard. Just don’t breath in the smoke! www.heavensabovefireworks.com
“The Coral Reef”: Make yourself into a fish house … a literal living legacy. Starting at $4,000, you can have your cremains made into a small reef and placed into the ocean. If you want to go family style, you can mix you and your family together (along with your pets) and have a larger fish condo reef. Or, if family style is too pricey, you can be mixed together with a number of other environmentally conscience strangers. www.eternalreefs.com
“The Diamond”: Did your loved one ever call you a jewel? Now you can actually become one. What takes nature millions of years, can be performed in a couple months with the help of modern technology and a whole lot of $$$. www.lifegem.com
“Memory Glass”: Can’t afford the diamond idea? You can be blown into a creative glass sculpture. If you’ve ever been called “a fragile person” in life, maybe the “Memory Glass” should be your method in death. Amazingly, this starts at $195 and the glass is pretty beautiful. www.memoryglass.com
“The Frisbee”: Do you want to glide in the next life? I think — but I’m not sure — you can, like the inventor of the Frisbee, be made into memorial flying discs.
“The Artist”: The artists at Ashes to Portraits create oil paintings of the deceased with traces of cremated ashes mixed in. They’ll also do portraits of your cremated pet. If you like something more modern, you can have some of your ashes sent to Art in Ashes.
“The Helium Balloon”: per budgetlife.com:
Scattering cremated remains by airplane is fairly common these days, but it can be expensive and difficult for family members to participate. The Eternal Ascent Society makes aerial ash scattering more accessible and affordable by placing the ashes inside a large helium balloon and launching it into the clouds.
The balloon itself is 5 feet wide and comes in red, green, blue and yellow. About 6 miles up into the sky, the atmosphere gets so cold that the balloon will freeze and shatter, and your ashes will disperse into the clouds. It’s biodegradable, so you don’t have to worry about damaging the environment.
I can think of so many tag lines for this method: “Become a part of the heavens”, “When you look into the heavens, you will be looking at your loved one.”
“The Teddy Bear”: Were you a hugger in life? I’m a hugger. If I sense you’d take a hug, I’m usually quick to give one. Hugging just makes life that much better. So, why not be made into a teddy bear? The lovely people at Huggable Urns will stuff you into a teddy bear. Just make sure the teddy is out of the reach of your dog.
“The Musician”: Yes, you can be pressed into a vinyl record. Stairway to Heaven anyone? www.andvinyly.com
“The Rider”: I’m not going to lie. I love to drive automobiles. I especially love to drive fast cars. So, having my cremains permanently attached to a car or motorcycle is kind of appealing.
As of 2010, roughly 38% of those who died in the United States chose cremation, while the remaining 62% chose a full burial.
By the time my generation starts hitting the cemeteries on a consistent basis the majority will be choosing cremation. Based on the current projections, roughly 60% of our dispositions will be direct cremations.
So, where are you at? I know it’s a morbid question, but where better to confront the question than on a funeral directors website?
You can take the survey below anonymously.
IF YOU’RE COMFORTABLE, SHARE THE SURVEY WITH YOUR FRIENDS (and your not-so-much-friends who need a little reminder of their own mortality)! The more people who take the survey, the better the survey will be!
And, if you’d like, let me know WHY you choose your particular disposition in the comments below.
Next Monday, I’ll post the results and I give what I see as the key to having a good funeral!
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