A Sometimes Difficult Subject
Cremation of Ones Remains is
Not an Appealing Topic, But it’s an Important One, Both
Financially And From a Family Standpoint. A Little Knowledge
Will go a Long Way to Help You And Your Family Members to
Understand What Everyone’s Preferences Are.
Today, about a quarter of all
deaths in the United States are followed by cremation. A new
national survey indicates forty six percent of Americans plan
to choose cremation, up fifteen percent from 1990. In some
states, the choice of cremation is rising very rapidly.
About thirty percent of those
choosing cremation state that they do it to save money;
fourteen percent because it is simpler, less emotional, and
more convenient; about the same percentage state that they
want to save land. One benefit is that one’s remains may be
scattered in a place or places that have special meaning, the
ocean, mountains, or a memorial garden, among others.
A little over half of the
respondents choosing cremation in the survey stated that they
would most likely purchase a cremation urn.
· About forty percent would
chose scattering of the remains.
· About twenty five percent would place the remains in a
cemetery (sixteen percent to bury), (eight percent to a
columbarium), (and one percent to a church columbarium).
· Ten percent stated that they would take the inurned remains
· Fourteen percent were undecided.
With cremation, an expensive
casket is not necessary. A simple wood or even cardboard will
serve quite well it will be quickly reduced to ashes anyway.
Some states allow for no cremation casket at all.
Almost ninety percent of all
who choose cremation say they would like some kind of a
ceremony. A casket can often be rented if a funeral service is
desired prior to cremation, and the remains stored in a
Cremation Urn (our business here at Signature Cremation Urns),
or a service may be held with the Cremation Urn containing the
A 2004 poll for the National
Funeral Directors Association found 62 percent of U.S. adults
want personalization at their funerals. The most popular forms
cited in the survey included friends relating stories (50
percent), playing favorite music (47 percent) and displaying
photos and personal items (42 percent).
Common misperceptions: one
cannot have a funeral and then be cremated; their religion
does not allow cremation (for example the Catholic Church has
allowed cremation since 1965). Some Fundamentalist Christian,
Orthodox, and Islamic faiths do not allow cremation.
In other parts of the world,
space and ecological considerations have made changes to our
normally accepted practices for burial and cremation of
A cemetery in Victoria state in
Australia has begun an innovative way to bury the dead in an
environmental friendly and inexpensive way; an alternative to
cremation. This is “standing room only” for those who
choose to be buried in this unique cemetery.
The deceased are placed in
biodegradable body bags instead of the normal caskets, and
buried vertically on land that is used for animal grazing.
According to the cemetery company the concept is to return to
the earth with a minimum of fess and with nothing that would
affect the environment. Once the land has stabilized, animals,
both domestic and wild would be allowed to graze on it.
In Singapore land is so scarce
burial space is recycled so the remains of the dead may be
cremated and moved to create more room for the living. The
remains of some 18,000 people at the only cemetery open for
burial are being exhumed.
The remains are cremated,
placed in cremation urns, and placed in niches in a vault or
columbarium. In 2006 another 18,000 remains will be exhumed
The law in Singapore limits the
burial period for the deceased to fifteen years; the result of
an environmental program that authorities say will keep the
cemetery open for at least sixty more years.
In Korea Cremation as an
alternative to direct burial has increased to almost fifty
percent. According to the JoongAng Daily an old law in Korea
regarding funerals was changed in 2001, establishing a 60 year
limit for burial, after which the remains are to be exhumed
and cremated. Many remains are now being scattered, and usage
of cremation urns is increasing.
Since that time, due to the
scarcity of land, and the high costs of burial in Korea,
cremation has increased to 47 percent in 2004. Burials average
7000 USD in Korea, while cremation is about a third of that.
With 60 percent of the deaths
in Seoul being cremated, there is a scarcity of crematoriums
to perform cremations. This has literally resulted in
crematoriums turning people away, and it is not unusual to see
lines of family members waiting before daylight for the
crematorium to open.
When a location for a new
crematorium is found in Seoul, the local residents protest,
saying pollution and a drop in property values will result-the
“NIMBY” statement. There are cases now being taken to the
Korean Supreme Court by angered residents.
Cremation In Tibet “Sky
Burial”, the traditional burial in Tibet, has been done for
several thousand years. According to the Tibetan Academy of
Social Sciences, 80 per cent of Tibetans have traditionally
chosen this method of burial but cremation is slowly becoming
Sky burial is one of the three
principal ways through which the Tibetans traditionally return
their dead to the earth. The two others are cremation and
Though the central government
built a modern crematory in Tibet on Oct 17, 2000, very few
Tibetans choose cremation. The first Tibetan cremation was
carried out on Jan 2, 2001.
Cremation is not currently
popular among Tibetans due to thousands of years of tradition.
Wood is so scarce in the mountainous areas of Tibet that in
the past burning a corpse was reserved for people of stature.
Sky Burial involves an ancient
ritual done by special Tibetans, called sky burial operators.
There are about 1100 sky burial sites and about 100 of the
special sky burial operators. Traditionally, the deceased are
specially dissected and left at the sky burial site for
vultures, which are worshiped by the locals as sacred.
Sky burial is closely related
with Buddhism worshipped in the Himalayan region. Buddhists
believe life recycles and advocate kindness and charity. The
spirit of the dead is believed to leave the body the moment he
dies and the dead should be fed to hungry vultures as a last
token of charity.
The largest sky burial site at
Drigung Til Monastery receives about 10 bodies on an average
every day. The rituals carried out at the 900-year-old
monastery are regarded auspicious. The 65-year-old Celha
Qoisang formally chief sky burial operator at Drigung Til
Monastery stated:” I used to get totally exhausted every
day, but I am willing to live like this because sky burial is
an important part in Tibetan life”.
He learned the techniques from
his uncle and was engaged in the profession for about 10
years. He usually dealt with one to 20 bodies a day. "I
could only rest for one day every month, the 19th day each
month in the Tibetan calendar. And I usually spent the day
reading sutras and praying for the dead.”
According to a Tibetan Buddhist
sutra, the divine in heaven get together on the 19th day every
month and the mundane are not allowed to kill or let the
divine smell blood.
The unique rituals are accepted
by the central and regional governments. The regional
government bans uninvited outsiders from participating in the
rituals and photography is forbidden. These measures are for
showing traditional respect to the rituals and the dead.
”Tibetans may choose
cremation, but sky burial is still widespread in Tibet”,
said Cedain Lhunzhub, head of the Xishan Crematory in Tibet. A
young Tibetan in his 20s, stated: "In fact, burials are
not that important after human beings' death, and we Tibetans
prefer sky burial because it contains Tibetans' compassion and
belief. I would certainly choose sky burial after my death,
though I am not a Buddhist believer,"
Although cremation is slowly
making inroads, the Tibetans still carry on ancient rituals
like sky burials, displaying a timeless adherence to the old
ways of life and death, unaffected by the changes that are
rapidly affecting the rest of China. It is unknown how the
Chinese view cremation among the Tibetans.
We may not be ready in Western
culture to do some of the environmentally friendly things
mentioned above as an alternative to burial and cremation, but
some people in Sweden have come up with a high-tech
An Environmentally Friendly
Alternative to Cremation-A New Swedish Cryogenic Technique
Promessa Organic AB, a Swedish
company, located in Jonkoping, a town of 120,000, lies in a
religious area of protestant Sweden.
Promessa has developed a
technique they call “Promession”. Promessa expects their
ecological process will be used to largely replace cremation
in Sweden and many parts of Europe. The technique was
conceived by a Swedish biologist, Susanne Wiigh-Masak.
“Nature's original plan was
that we fall down somewhere in a field and become soil.”
"Since then we have made
it really complicated." Susanne Wiigh-Maesak
Simply, Promession is a
cryogenic technique where the deceased is not embalmed but is
flash frozen to minus 64 Fahrenheit by conventional
refrigeration, and then super cooled to minus 385 Fahrenheit
by dipping in liquid nitrogen. This is very similar to
“freeze drying”, used in many commercial applications.
The frozen, brittle remains are
then lightly vibrated at a closely controlled frequency and
amplitude, transforming them into an odorless, hygienic
organic powder, which is then introduced into a vacuum chamber
where the water; of which seventy percent of the human body is
composed, is evaporated away.
The dry powder is then
processed to remove any metal parts or residue (including
mercury, more below), and it can be sterilized and
The Promessa plan reduces human
remains to about 40-70 pounds of an organic powder. It should
be noted that conventional cremation reduces the remains to a
fine ash, weighting much less.
Promessa’s plan includes
placing the powder in a starch coffin, which is buried in a
very shallow grave. The starch coffin degrades in six to
twelve months allowing the powdered remains to be absorbed by
the soil. A tree, plant or shrub may be planted on the grave,
their roots absorbing the nutrients from the remains.
Promessa claims their
environmental process does not cause any impact on the
environment, and should eliminate restrictions.
This should make it possible to
locate gravesites freely in places where it is not currently
legal or practicable to do so; on ones property, or family
property, or other places with emotional ties to the deceased
and family. It will also make it possible for family and
friends to visit gravesites at their convenience.
Churches in Sweden have backed
the plan, describing the issues as ethically similar to those
addressed when approving cremation about 100 years.
The ashes remaining from
conventional cremation are often scattered by families per the
deceased’s wishes. Scattering of cremation ashes from human
remains are often bound by state and local regulations.
Many European countries
consider mercury as a highly toxic heavy metal that has been
linked to damage to the brain and nervous system, and are
actively legislating to eliminate mercury and other heavy
metal emissions into the atmosphere.
The previously mentioned city
in southern Sweden, Jonkiping, will convert its crematorium
into a “promatorium” next year. The city’s decision to
do this was driven by new strict environmental laws,
restricting or eliminating mercury and other toxic emissions
resulting from the cremation of dental amalgam fillings.
The alternative was to add an
expensive gas scrubbing system and furnace at its fifty year
old cremation facility.
In England, the Department for
Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has advised all
cremation authorities and companies in the UK they have until
the end of 2005 to consider their options for a fifty percent
reduction in the emissions of mercury by 2012.
It is estimated that
crematoriums release up to sixteen percent of the UK's total
mercury emissions. As cremations account for about 70 per cent
of the 650,000 funerals in Britain every year, the negative
environmental effect of mercury emissions from cremations has
become a cause for concern.
Officials in some of the local
community’s (councils) environmental health departments have
stated: "More and more people are dying with their own
teeth, and mercury emissions released in cremations are set to
increase by sixty five per cent by 2020 unless action is
Several Councils are looking to
install special equipment in their local crematoriums to
absorb the mercury emissions resulting from the cremating of
mercury amalgam dental fillings.
One council has established a
task group to investigate the long-term benefits of Promession
with a view to phasing out cremations as early as 2007.
Other countries, including New
Zealand are carefully studying the Promessa’s process as an
alternative to cremation.
NASA Is Considering
Promessa’s suggested cryogenic method to be able to return
the remains of deceased astronauts on board their interstellar
spacecraft. Danish engineers commissioned by NASA for project
“Body Back” have studied various methods for handling
deceased astronauts in space. In their report to NASA they
suggest Promession as the best method available to return
Astronauts remains from extended space travel.
The author, DA Roth builds and
markets unique hand crafted hardwood cremation urns for human
and pet remains. He is interested in sharing knowledge about
cremation and cremation urns with others. Please see: http://www.signatureurns.com