Scattering Your Ashes
By Melissa Evans
PRESS RELEASE November 1, 2005—As cremation becomes the preferred post-death wish for most Americans, companies that cater to people's creative requests for scattering remains -- by air, sea and space shuttle -- are cropping up all over the country.
A Houston company, Space Celestis, will launch the ashes of loved ones into space on a shuttle from Vandenberg Air Force Base. The company will stuff up to 7 grams of ash into lipstick-sized containers that orbit for a few years.
It is, however, a bit pricey. The costs range from $1,000 to $12,000, depending on the amount of ash and the type of orbit (earth orbit is cheapest, the lunar is more expensive). The ashes will orbit with a shuttle sent up to monitor satellite communications, and remain in space until the shuttle crashes and burns back into earth's atmosphere.
Many of Santa Barbara's private airplane companies offer flights for families who want to scatter their relatives' ashes over landmarks or parks. California law only requires that the owner's permission be granted before scattering on private property.
The Santa Barbara Sailing Center, among others, offers sea excursions that can be coordinated by funeral directors. The Sailing Center does about half a dozen ash-scattering excursions per month, and the rituals run the gamut, said Sherry Lutz, private events coordinator.
After taking their mom's ashes on various trips around the country, three sisters once chartered a boat to put her in final rest. The captain even put a sailing cap and sunglasses on the urn before the ashes were scattered, Ms. Lutz said.
"For some people, it's a very joyous occasion," she said. "For others, it's very sad and traumatic."
The law requires ashes to be scattered at least 500 yards or more from shore, and this cannot be done from a pier or wharf. Any container or flowers that accompany the ashes must be biodegradable. It also helps to be aware of some logistical issues, such as facing downwind so the ashes don't blow back on the ship.
If families want to keep some or all of the ashes, other companies offer artistic services for preserving memories. Loren Dion and Nick Savage, both 25, run a store called Memory Glass in Carpinteria, where they create pendants and glass sculptures using a small, finely ground amount of the cremated ash and infusing it with color and other designs.
So far, business has been brisk, Mr. Dion said. They've sold about 400 since opening shop two years ago, he said.
An art shop in Mississippi, Eternally Yours Memorial Art, will layer fine ash on top of paintings, which are typically custom-designed to fit the person's interests or lifestyle.
LifeGem Memorials, based in Chicago, will take the remains of a relative and compress the ash into a diamond. Company officials say there is enough carbon in one person to make between 50 and 100 diamonds (although each one costs about $4,000).
Another company, Eternal Reefs, will attach cremains to ocean reefs, anchoring them with concrete, which costs about $850. The company president came up with the idea in honor of his dad, who wanted to be surrounded by life, not death.
One of the positives about cremation is that it lends itself to so much creativity, said the Rev. Steve Jacobsen, pastor of Goleta Presbyterian Church.
"People are completely free to do what they want," he said. "It can be very healing."