More Than Meets the Eye, True Stories about Death, Dying, and Afterlife covers many aspects of the dying and grieving process and sheds light on euthanasia, suicide, near-death experience, and spirit visits after the passing of a loved one. ___________________________________________

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Death and Burial in America: Going Out in Style

By Janice Doyle

Dying in the United States is an $11 billion industry - with even Walmart and Costco offering caskets today. More and more creative entrepreneurs are looking into the great beyond and turning the afterlife into a booming aftermarket.

But it's been hard coming. The industry has been very change resistant. In past decades when a family member died, funeral plans basically followed in the way parents had done funerals before.

In 1963, Jessica Mitford wrote The American Way of Death which attacked the funeral industry's unscrupulous business practices to take advantage of grieving families. The book became a major bestseller and led to Congressional hearings on the funeral industry. And things began to change.

What has happened in the funeral industry since then?

The number one change, everyone agrees, has been cremation as an alternative to the now $7,500 average cost of a traditional burial. For example, nearly 50 percent of all deceased in Florida are cremated (in Lee County 65%). In Japan and the Scandinavian countries percentages reach as high as 95%.

Cremation has brought its own industry. Undertakers have now developed every sort of way to upgrade and upsell cremation. From fancy caskets and fancy funerals of traditional burials, people may turn to cremation and a memorial service - and maybe more.

Whichever way a person chooses, today's consumer wants things done his own way, with special touches for the occasion of a loved one's dying, according to the National Funeral Director's Association's website.

Want to go "green" and bequeath yourself literally to the dirt with a "natural burial"? Eternal Rest Memories Park in Dunedin, Florida, offers that option.

Or go green in a Kinkaraco Green Burial Shroud with pockets for mementos and a stiff backboard and handles for lowering the body. (Would that be "mort couture"?)

Ashes, Ashes, What to do?

Cremation used to be simple. Have Grandma cremated and put her ashes in a box on the shelf. Now the sky (or the sea, or the forest) is the limit as to where your cremains may be placed.

Cremation uses heat, vaporization and flame to reduce the body to its basic elements. In Florida, this process costs from $1,000 to $5,000 depending on the level of luxury afforded by the funeral home itself.

Then, someone gets the ashes. Now what?

They can be scattered, kept in a box, made into a diamond ($3,500 - $20,000 at or launched into space ($600 for an up and back trip or $12,500 to be dropped on the moon). Ashes can be added to planting soil or made into pencil lead.

Jason Rew offers the Great Burial Reef option, an opportunity to actually help create life. His Bradenton, Florida, company offers a multi-tier-shaped urn made of concrete mixed with six special natural ingredients to create a coralized texture.

Once the 60-pound urn is put on the ocean floor, little fish and marine animals find the nooks and crannies and hide there, creating a new living space under water.

Families from all over have brought or sent loved one's cremains to one of the company's four ports of call (Sarasota, Chesapeake Bay, Miami and Boston). The cremains are sealed in the urn, put aboard a boat and taken three miles offshore where the urn is lowered into the water.

The company will ship the $1000 basic sealable Living Urn anywhere in the world and families can find a spot in any ocean for placement.

Well, what about all those shoeboxes and envelopes with ashes in them?

The National Funeral Directors Association estimates there are 7 to 11 million urns and boxes sitting in houses because no one knows what to do with the cremains. Rew says, "Get Grandma off the shelf and let your ancestor create life in one of our urns."

Folks are looking for alternatives and entrepreneurs - like Great Burial Reef - are giving them what they want, which is a good thing for the industry.

And no matter how hard a funeral director might put his foot down and think that a Star Trek casket or urn is tacky, the fact is, if someone wants to go out as a Trekkie, the Internet now lets you make it happen.

"The funeral industry has been very staid and traditional," says Rew. It's an industry that others say was the last industry to be dragged kicking and screaming into the 21st century.

But it's being reinvented, sometimes one death at a time.
The author is a free lance writer and editor in Florida specializing in senior issues, relationships, healthy lifestyle and travel.
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For more information, you might enjoy reading my book, More Than Meets the Eye True Stories about Death, Dying, and Afterlife. Purchase paperback on It's also on Amazon as an e-book for those who have Kindle or Sony Readers. The audio book is now available!
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