The number of people in the U.S. choosing cremation over a casket burial is on the rise. Cremation can be a cheaper and more efficient option for dealing with a body after death. And now there’s a growing market for creative ways to store or send off someone’s ashes — turning them into jewelry or exploding them in a fireworks display.
The first cremation in Barbara Kemmis’ family was 26 years ago when her brother died in a college accident.
“We truly did not own grave space for a 20-year-old person. It was sudden and horrible. And the funeral director was the one who suggested cremation to us,” said Kemmis.
Now, Kemmis leads the Cremation Association of North America. She says the cremation rate is almost 60% and surpasses that of traditional casket burials.
One of the reasons is that “cremation typically costs a little bit less than burial,” explained Kemmis. Sometimes thousands of dollars less. But this shift has caused a kind of reckoning for the funeral industry.
“We have had to adapt,” said Jack Mitchell, president of the National Funeral Directors Association. Mitchell also directs a funeral home in Baltimore.
“It used to take more of our man hours to prepare for a viewing with embalming and dressing and cosmetics, and then to have staff there to oversee when a visitation was going on,” said Mitchell.
Loved ones were paying him to direct church funerals.
“That’s happening less and less now. So that has caused a decrease in income,” said Mitchell.
So funeral directors like him are pivoting. More than a third now have their own crematoriums. And they’re offering new ways to store cremated remains — or “cremains.” And we’re not just talking about urns here. Loved ones want options.
“They don’t want the remains of their loved ones just sitting on a shelf somewhere with the potential to get forgotten or lost or donated or something like that,” said Caitlyn Hauke with the Green Burial Council.
In other words, grandma’s urn accidentally ending up in the pile of things you send to Goodwill. Hauke says funeral entrepreneurs have better ideas these days.
“And so there are things like getting ashes made into jewelry, or into different types of objects,” said Hauke.
Things like glass art, sculptures, diamonds, keychains, hunting bullets. You can even turn your loved one’s ashes into a vinyl album or get them tattooed into your own skin. Of course many people choose to scatter cremains in special places.
“Disney World seems to be a really popular place for people to scatter ashes,” said Hauke.
But she adds, Disney World really doesn’t want you to do that.
There’s a lot happening in the world. Through it all, Marketplace is here for you.
You rely on Marketplace to break down the world’s events and tell you how it affects you in a fact-based, approachable way. We rely on your financial support to keep making that possible.
Your donation today powers the independent journalism that you rely on. For just $5/month, you can help sustain Marketplace so we can keep reporting on the things that matter to you.