7 Creative Cremation Ideas Cooler Than Urns
“Ashes to ashes, dust to dust” does not have to be your only legacy.
Let’s face it: We’re all going to die sooner or later. And at some point, we’re each going to have to decide what we want done with our bodies.
Throughout history, most people have opted to be stuffed in coffins and buried in the ground. But nowadays, burials are becoming less common. Cemeteries often have religious affiliations which can be a turn-off for secularists. And a lot of graveyards are now running out of space, making the fee for burials even higher than they already are. (In New York state, for example, nabbing a spot in a cemetery can cost as much as $9,855.)
As a result, another form of disposing remains has grown popular: cremation.
While it’s thought that cremation probably began around 3000 B.C. in the early Stone Age, modern cremation practices in the West began only about a century ago, after Italian professor Lodovico Brunetti invented the first cremation chamber in 1873. Professor Brunetti showcased his invention at the Vienna Exhibition, displaying about four pounds of cremated remains and a sign that simply read: “Saved from the worms, consumed by the purifying flame.”
At the time, in the U.K. and Europe, there was increasing public concern about health and hygiene in cities, especially in cemeteries which were often overcrowded. By incinerating the bodies, Brunetti’s cremation chambers helped eradicate and stop the spread of disease and other illnesses.
Lauded as a brilliant invention, Brunetti’s cremation chambers were soon championed by Queen Victoria’s surgeon, Sir Henry Thompson, which helped fuel the spread of cremation as a viable alternative to burials.
By 1876, the first crematory in the U.S. was built in Washington, Pennsylvania. Since then, the process of cremation has grown increasingly common, with more than half the number of Americans who died in 2018 opting for it, according to the Cremation Association of North America.
Incinerating a human body tends to produce between 4 to 6 pounds of ashes, and there are a lot of things that can be done with them aside from simply pouring them into an urn.
From fireworks to coral reefs, here are seven creative cremation ideas that offer a more unique and unorthodox way to memorialize either yourself or a loved one.
Whatever you choose, just know that it doesn’t have to be boring.
You can turn ashes into shotgun shells.
Thanks to two former cops in Alabama, you can now have your ashes turned into bullets after you die.
Holy Smoke offers a number of different “tributes” to put them in, such as shotgun shells and pistol and rifle cartridges. They also sell a box of 25 specialty “Patriotic Salute” shells that leave behind trails of red, white, and blue once they’re fired thanks to organic pigments used to dye the ashes and gunpowder. According to Holy Smoke’s website, just one pound of cremated remains is sufficient to produce 250 shotgun shells.
Holy Smoke got its start from a conversation the company’s founder had with a friend about what they planned to do with their bodies after they die. Both preferred cremation, but the friend had an interesting twist to his postmortem plans.
An avid hunter, he said he wanted his cremated ashes put into shotgun shells and used to kill a turkey.
“That way, I will rest in peace knowing that the last thing that one more turkey will see is me, screaming at him at about 1000-feet per second,” his friend said at the time.
For outdoors and hunting enthusiasts alike, Holy Smoke promises an unforgettable tribute with a small environmental footprint and budget-friendly price tag.
As the founder put it: “How perfect to have my family and friends honor me by using shotgun shells with a little bit of my ash in each one. Whether my shells get shot at sporting clays, live birds, or just put on the shelf, even in death I could be ecologically sound and useful.”
You can turn ashes into tattoos.
Nothing says “I love you” and “Please don’t forget me” like having your ashes tattooed into a loved one’s skin.
The Nevada-based company Engrave Ink specializes in this, having pioneered a process to create tattoo ink from cremated ashes in 2016 — which was not an easy task.
Simply mixing cremated remains into tattoo ink poses a number of risks. For starters, a tattoo artist’s autoclave (which uses steam to sterilize tattoo needles) isn’t hot enough to sterilize cremated remains, which can pose health and safety risks for both the artist and customer. Corpses are cremated at temperatures between 1,400- to 1,800-degrees Fahrenheit, which is hot enough to break down the bodies into ashes, but still leaves behind hazardous metal particles that could cause harm if inked into the skin.
It’s also not easy for tattoo artists to work with ashes as the consistency of the ink can become thicker, making it difficult to execute perfect, spotless designs.
Fortunately, Engrave Ink found a way around these problems by perfecting a unique filtering process that reduces cremated ashes to microscopic particles. Once you’ve shipped the ashes to the company, they’re heated to just over 4,800-degrees Fahrenheit and then mixed with a carbon pigment through a process known as mechanical agitation.
The result is a bottle of your loved one’s ashes in premium quality white or black ink that can be used to make a tattoo of your choice. The process of creating the ink takes around six to eight weeks, and when it’s ready, it is mailed back to you so that you can then bring the pre-mixed bottle into a tattoo salon to get it inked into your skin.
Pet’s ashes can also be turned into tattoo ink, which is one of the more popular ways the company’s custom cremains ink is being used.
One Instagram user had their pitbull tattooed on their back using ink made from their dog’s cremated remains. In their caption, they noted that without the addition of their pet’s ashes, “this new tattoo would just not be the same.”
You can stuff ashes into fireworks.
Talk about going out with a bang.
Sometimes there really is no better way to remember a loved one than with an epic fireworks show consisting of explosives and ashes. For this unique end-of-life tribute, cremated ashes are loaded into fireworks tubes and are released when they explode.
There are a few companies out there offering this creative cremation service, the most notable being the U.K. company Heavenly Stars Fireworks. Founded in 2007, the company offers packages ranging from gargantuan, thousand-dollar professional shows that the company puts on for you, to more modest spectacles, that you can light yourself.
One of their most popular self-light tributes is the Remembrance Package, which incorporates 400-grams of cremated ashes into four rockets that can be shot as high as 200-feet into the sky. The display lasts close to two and a half minutes, and includes a variety of different firework types, such as peonies, crackling dragon eggs, and colored chrysanthemum bouquets.
Heavenly Stars Fireworks also offers fully-customizable memorial displays that are fired off by professionals. Although these packages are substantially more expensive (their cheapest one starts at $1,235), they allow customers to fully customize everything about their tribute — from the length of the fireworks display, to the type and color of the fireworks used, to the musical choreography accompanying it.
In the U.S., because of stringent state and local regulations, only a handful of companies offer cremation fireworks nationwide. The Missouri-based Greenlawn Funeral Home sells what are classified as commercial-grade fireworks, meaning they can only be launched by licensed pyrotechnicians, which are provided by Greenlawn’s partners, AM Pyrotechnics. Unfortunately, because U.S. laws restrict where ashes can be scattered, permissions usually need to be obtained before setting these bad boys off.
You can turn ashes into a vinyl record.
Everything sounds better on vinyl — including dead people.
The U.K. company Andvinyly has been making headlines ever since it was founded in 2010 by Jason Leach. The company toes the line between novelty and touching sentimental tribute by promising the ability to make your loved one “live on from beyond the groove.”
A number of people have latched onto this idea. In 2017, a punk band called IDLES released 100 copies of a new album that was pressed with some of the frontman’s mother’s ashes. The album was written following her death, and the frontman felt there was no better way to preserve her memory than to have her ashes pressed into his band’s records.
Andvinyly’s custom records only require a small amount of ashes per record, and there are plenty of options to choose from. You can pick between a 12- or 7-inch vinyl, and choose whether you want a clear or black record. You also get to choose what kind of recordings will be on it — and that can include anything from personal voice recordings to favorite songs, or both.
In a short documentary about the company, customer John Hobson chose to have recordings of his late mother telling stories from her life pressed into a touching vinyl tribute.
“I know my mum. She would’ve thought it was a hoot,” he said.
Just be forewarned that mixing in ashes will compromise the record’s sound, which for many, just adds to the appeal.
“It’s exactly what you don’t want [happening] at a pressing plant normally,” Andvinyly founder Leach said, “but those pops and crackles are them.”
You can turn ashes into coral reefs.
If you’re on the rocks about what to do with yourself, here’s a solution you can feel good about. Florida-based Eternal Reefs will turn your cremated remains into a coral reef.
The creative cremation company combines your ashes with an environmentally-friendly cast concrete that has a near-neutral pH content, which is important to give microorganisms the right environment needed to grow.
To make the reefs, the company first creates what they call a “pearl,” which is the combination of cremated remains and concrete. Once that hardens, another layer of concrete is added on top and moulded into a “reef ball” — a hollow, circular structure pockmarked with large holes that allow organisms to navigate through it. The end result is an artificial coral reef that can move freely across the ocean floor.
Eternal Reefs can only be placed in designated areas that have been approved for reef development by the U.S. government, but that hasn’t staunched the company’s growth. To date, they have more than 1,800 Eternal Reefs placed along the East coast and beaches of Florida and Texas.
Not only is this a fantastic way to be remembered, but you can also feel good about your tribute. They offer habitats for marine life and even help rehabilitate and rebuild dying reefs. It might not exactly undo all the damage you’ll inevitably have done in your lifetime, but it’s something.
You can turn ashes into a tree.
Although human ashes aren’t great for helping plants and trees grow (thanks to their alkaline pH and high levels of salt and other nutrients), two companies have found ways to turn them into fertilizer.
The Living Urn and Bios Urn have both designed unique,100-percent biodegradable plant capsules that hold human ashes and slowly release them into the surrounding soil over time. The cremated remains are placed into biodegradable capsules, then topped with soil into which a sapling of your choice is planted. Some of the tree species they offer include weeping willows and sweetbay magnolias, as well as hydrangeas.
By planting the saplings this way, it allows the cremated ashes to mix in with the rest of the soil as the sapling takes root, ensuring that the tree can grow without any problems.
While most cremation trees are meant to be planted outdoors, you can also buy indoor versions, like Bios’s “Incube,” which automatically waters the plant and even monitors its air temperature and humidity levels.
Although neither company explicitly states how long these trees are expected to survive, if planted correctly, it’s likely the sapling will live as long as an average tree — which can be anywhere from 50 to a few thousand years, give or take.
You can send your ashes into space.
Want something truly out of this world done with your ashes? Then shoot them into space.
Since 1994 the Texas company Celestis has offered memorial space flights for the dead. Ashes are loaded into one of Celestis’ five rockets or into one of their two satellites and then shot into space. Customers can choose to have their remains temporarily launched into space and returned to Earth or they can have them sent into orbit around the Earth, which can last for months or even years depending on the length of the research mission. You can also have your cremated remains sent to the moon.
The most expensive option — the “Voyager Service,” which isn’t available until 2020 and costs $12,500 — promises to shoot your cremains deep into space and take them on a one-way trip they’ll never return from.
No one lives the same life, so why should we die the same death?