Alternative funerals: How to go when you go

After I wrote yesterday's post on alternative choices for burial vessels, it occurred to me that I wasn't really considering all the other options that are out there. For most people, funeral planning comes down to a choice between cremation and burial; burial is the more traditional choice, while cremation is generally perceived as a cheaper, more convenient alternative.

The downsides of traditional burial are obvious: it costs a great deal of money, introduces formaldehyde (and a whole lot of other nasty chemicals) into the earth, and can be a traumatic experience. On the other hand, it offers a feeling of permanence, allowing a place for relatives and survivors to visit and giving the deceased a memorial to his or her life. Scattered ashes, on the other hand, quickly disappear into the earth, which can leave family members feeling bereft. However, a few companies now offer memorial options that will allow survivors to remember their cremated loved ones for a very long time, often at a fraction of the cost of a traditional burial.

Ocean Burials

Nature's Passage specializes in traditional burials at sea. They minimize embalming and expensive containers, putting the remains in biodegradable containers and burial shrouds. They then deposit the deceased in water that is at least 600 feet deep, placing a GPS transmitter to mark the spot so that survivors can return to visit. This is a particularly inexpensive service, starting at $150 for ashes and $3500 for full-body burial.

Another aquatic burial option is becoming part of a living reef. Essentially, Eternal Reefs combines the cremated remains of a loved one with cement to create a concrete reef ball. They then lower the reef ball into the ocean, where it becomes a structure on which aquatic animals can build their homes. A GPS transmitter marks the spot and a bronze plaque tells the name and relevant information of the person buried in the reef. Their prices for this service start at $2,495.

Great Burial Reef offers a similar service. However, instead of combining cremated remains with concrete, they place a urn inside a concrete reef ball, where the deceased slowly reintegrates back into the environment. Their prices start at $7500.

Shot into Space

For the explorer in your family, what could be better than being shot into space? Celestis offers exactly that. For a fee, they will place a portion of your cremated remains into a rocket with the cremated remains of a lot of other people. They then shoot the rocket into space. At this point, there are two options: you can either land on the moon, or you can go into orbit around the Earth. The moon is the more permanent choice; while the Earth orbit may last anywhere from two to 50,000 years, it will eventually deteriorate, and your cremains will evaporate as you re-enter Earth's atmosphere.

Jewelry

If your family wants to keep you really close, you can also be made into jewelry. Lifegem can take some of your cremated remains and, through a proprietary process, transform you into a diamond.

Really, I'm not making this up.

The diamonds range in size from .2 to 1.5 carats and cost between $2,699 and $24,999. They are available in a variety of colors, including blue, yellow, green, red and colorless. Lifegem also offers a discount if you buy two or more diamonds.

And remember, in the words of Ian Fleming, Diamonds are Forever!

Bruce Watson is a freelance writer, blogger, and co-author of Military Lessons of the Gulf War and A Chronology of the Cold War at Sea.

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