Dealing with the reality of death is one most (all?) of us don’t want to face. And for a long time, most of us had only two real options: Burial, or cremation. Nowadays, thanks to the morbidity of modern science and technology, if you have the stomach (and the cash), you have a veritable mausoleum of options for your after-death residence. Here are twelve.
Currently only one funeral home in the nation offers resomation, or what they call “bio-cremation”—an eco-friendly alternative to the traditionally high rates of energy used in normal cremation. Resomation is a process whereby a mixture of water and potassium hydroxide are used to liquefy the body, leaving only the bones. (These are later ground into fragments, as with regular cremation, and are then given to the family.)
Because gas-powered cremation requires a massive output of energy (approximately 16-1800 degrees Fahrenheit, which creates a massive carbon footprint), and because dissolving the body releases CO2 and potentially harmful reside like mercury from tooth fillings, many people prefer a more environmentally-conscious way to dispose of their remains.
Resomation only requires 350 degrees Fahrenheit to operate, and any problematic implants or medical residue can be extracted from the bones before the now-sterile water is disposed of through the waste system. But don’t look for much of a price break by being liquefied: both kinds of procedures remain at about $3,000 total.
A Georgia-based company creates a manmade reef out of a combination of cement and cremains (that’s ashes). The reef is then submerged in a spot where natural reefs have eroded, which will then attract fish and other organisms to begin rebuilding the underwater neighborhood, so to speak.
It still requires the high-energy output of cremation, but since it’s encouraging the replenishing of the ocean floor, it counts as eco-friendly. The reefs are estimated to support marine life for up to five centuries.
Now, you can have the permanent sparkle you always wanted! Cubic zirconia is made by compressing minerals into a brilliant diamond shape. Life Gems compress your ashes into that shape. Moreover, not only are multiple colors available (birthstone, anyone?), but they can be placed into settings and thus worn as rings or other jewelry. You can have a permanent luster and need never be apart from a loved one (or several, I suppose, if multiple people want matching ones).
The idea of spending eternity floating in space might not appeal to people who enjoy gravity and stability as opposed to black nothingness, but for sci-fi diehards, it’s now possible to be buried in space.
This varies depending on—as always—cost and availability. One common way is for some of your ashes to be taken up in a ship that’s already headed for space. But, the cost of spaceflight is already exorbitant, so current standards dictate only less than .25 ounces can actually be put on the ship. Maybe it’s the thought that counts, even in death?
Other options include a “low-orbit journey” that takes you from Earth and back (nearly $1,000). But for those who simply must leave Earth never to return, some companies allow ashes to be shot onto the moon, or into deep space itself, for ten grand and up.
What was once only available to the likes of King Tut is now available to anyone with a generous life insurance policy (or extravagant personal assets). The modern mummification movement began in the mid-1970s with the Summum organization, founded by Corky Ra after a religious experience he had.
If cryogenics advocates think freezing is the eventual key to reanimation, modern mummifiers, much like their ancient Egyptian counterparts, are convinced that mummification provides the key to assist the person to a happy afterlife (including possible resuscitation).
Interestingly, the service is also offered for pets. Costs for the service run to about $65 grand, which is a major source of income for the donor-supported organization. Ra himself was mummified after his 2008 death, and his gold-covered casket remains to this day in the Summum headquarters in Salt Lake City, Utah.
As with many forms of modern tech, 3D printing is becoming a hit nation- and worldwide. And now, some plucky designer has applied 3D printing to human remains. This process uses human ashes instead of other materials, allowing you (or what is left of you) to become a real physical replica of your iPhone, car, or favorite pet.
Maybe this is the thing to finally get for that person who has everything. After all, they can’t possibly have themselves in the shape of a prize-winning hydrangea, now can they?
Plastination finds its roots in the tinkering of anatomist Gunther von Hagens. He initially designed it to be used by medical professionals, whose research and instruction could benefit from the way it preserved the various tissues of the body in a humanoid form. (It removes fats and other elements, replacing them with durable plastic.)
But von Hagens has since created a series of exhibits, Body World, that display plastinated bodies as if performing various daily activities—and literally thousands more people have requested for their own bodies to be plastinated for educational and display purposes. Some have criticized this as little more than “human taxidermy,” but others find it fascinating and instructive.
Very close in form to conventional burial in a graveyard, natural burial has some major differences: No embalming fluid is used at any time, and the concrete vault that lines most graves is dispensed with. The corpse is wound in a shroud or placed in a biodegradable coffin, to facilitate natural (and fairly quick) decomposition.
The trend began in the late 1990s, with the opening of the first entirely-natural cemetery, Ramsey Creek, in Westminster, South Carolina. Today, more than fifty dot the United States. Because of the lack of foreign chemicals and other potentially harmful effects of modern burial, natural-burial cemeteries are frequently home to nature preserves, and the idea that they are contributing to the flourishing of the natural world is an incentive for many in choosing it.
Also known as the burial option for the pretentious and obscenely rich, cryonics is rooted in the belief that if the body is frozen, later medical science will be able to reanimate the body, with memory and personality unharmed.
This is a rather controversial method of after-death care, and it’s possible it’s actually counter-intuitive, as the chemicals used in the freezing procedure are thought to be toxic. Still, approximately 200 people have signed up to be frozen across the US. Prices vary widely based on the particular company, but averages for whole-body freezing run upwards of $200 grand, while just freezing your head will only set you (or your life insurance) back $80,000.
If LifeGems turn you into jewelry, then Vinyly is a company that might do you one better—turn you into music! Your very own cremains get pressed into a vinyl record, allowing you a vintage touch that will also be an instant conversation piece.
Not to be outdone for versatility, And Vinyly even offers its own in-house band to take requests for the record. You can also record things like a goodbye message, your will, or your favorite song. (I do wonder if the record’s spinning means this option is not for the easily nauseous.)
The brainchild of a Swedish marine biologist, Promession or freeze-drying immerses the body in liquid nitrogen, which makes the body brittle. The body is then vibrated, which causes it to disintegrate, and the remaining liquid is vacuumed away.
A mechanical separator removes any medical implants or fillings and the powdery remains are laid to rest in a shallow grave. As of yet no one has chosen this exit route, but the company does have a licensed branch available in the United Kingdom, and it’s likely interest in it as a green alternative will grow.
Perfect for the budding—or accomplished—writer, designer Nadine Jarvis has created a handsome box set of pencils…made entirely from human ash. On average, a cremated human body produces enough ash to create 240 pencils, and the box is specially designed to release only one at a time.
The sharpener is located on the side of the box, which will contain the excess shavings. When the last pencil is used up, the box becomes a defacto urn, containing the ashes that are left. Morbid? Perhaps.
If burial or cremation aren’t your cup of tea for your big sleep, surely one of these options will fit your budget and doubtlessly quirky personality. And if it doesn’t, just wait. Some renegade techie in Silicon Valley will come up with something soon enough.