cremation Death + Popular Culture Death + Technology Monuments + Memorials

If Cremated Human Remains Can’t Go In It Then You Don’t Need It

Company Presses Your Ashes Into Vinyl When You Die
Olivia Solon, Wired (August 27, 2010)

Many many people saw this Wired article on human cremains being mixed into vinyl records when it first popped up two weeks ago. I know that many people saw this article because everyone kept sending it to me and/or asking me about it. Then a Death Reference Desk Facebook “liker” put it on the Wall of Death, which meant that I had to do something other than just report this story. Our readers keep us on our toes.

After mulling over various story angles I realized that the most interesting thing to point out was this: Mixing cremated human remains into ANYTHING to produce an object of some kind which is then kept as a memorial isn’t new. In fact, Meg, Kim and I have been discussing the myriad ways human cremains get used since day one of Death Ref. You can read those posts here.

I was even in New York this summer giving a lecture on people who have cremated remains put into their Memorial Tattoos. The Comments Section for one of our Memorial Tattoo postings has morphed into a Q and A area for people who want to use created remains in a tattoo. I’m mentioning the tattoos and cremated remains because I know that people are fascinated by the concept.

So what And Vinyl is offering to do with cremated remains isn’t all that new but it is cool. The only problem that I have with the concept is this: I have no idea what record album I would choose and/or combination of songs. I’ve been thinking and thinking but I can’t come up with the perfect mix.

Anyway, the human-ash-pressed-into-vinyl story got me thinking about some of the other ways cremated remains are used to produce objects. These are just the ones I know about and could find. I even looked for companies putting cremated remains into glass bongs but I couldn’t find any. That said, I bet the entire cost of a Life Gem (please see below) that someone, somewhere is turning grandma’s ashes into a sweeeeeeeet smoker.

So, in no particular order we have:

Life Gem rings.

Customized Pencils

Ashes into Glass bowls, paperweights, and other designs.

Urns which look like YOUR HEAD.

Ashes which go into Space

Eternal Reefs and cremated remains in the ocean.

Fireworks which give ashes that rockets red glare feel.

Ashes into Art, which is similar to the Memorial Tattoos.

Huggable Urns in the shape of Teddy Bears. Wowza.

Hourglasses because like the sands….oh nevermind.

And remember: Most of these options also work for Pets. So that means you can have your pets’ created remains turned into a semi-precious stone, a memorial reef, and blasted into space.

I don’t know about the Head Urn but maybe.

Death + Art / Architecture Death + Technology Death + the Web Grief + Mourning

Inventing the Future of Death

Recent design school graduate Jake Shapiro of New York shared his thesis project with us: “The Future of Death” examines how our internet and social media oriented lives have and will continue to change the way we think about and deal with death and grief.

The project, for which Jake designed and constructed working prototypes, includes an external drive that downloads and preserves a loved one’s online data. The LED screen allows users to view content on the handheld device, which can also be docked with the Digiurn — an urn with a screen “where a loved one’s physical and digital existence can be preserved and viewed forever.”

Here’s a demo of the software:

Deathware from Jake Shapiro on Vimeo.

Managing digital assets and identities after death is certainly a timely topic. Some sites cater to password management and transmission upon death (such as Legacy Locker and Deathswitch), while Facebook has death memorial mode for personal profiles. This may, however, be the first effort to draw together a person’s social media output and combine it with the physical reality of the urn and what remains of the deceased within it.

(There is an irony here — online communities can be vastly dispersed with “friends” having never met in person. While grief with such deaths can be indisputably intense, these people will probably not attend the funeral or ever see the urn or grave. In other words, The Future of Death compiles content once shared with a potentially vast network and archives and relays it to only a select few — the family and perhaps close friends. It could easily have an online portal as well, of course — or people could simply go to the original blog, twitter account, and so forth, though the long-term availability of content at its native origin is uncertain.)

While the social media aspect of this is new, there is precedent with digital urns delivering photos, video and audio. Interestingly, search results for such urns mostly turn up cremain containers for pets, suggesting that consumers may consider the product a gimmick or otherwise inappropriate for human remains — fine for your dog, but your dad? No. (They do exist, however: One $900 urn inexplicably states that “This urn can be sealed airtight as well, for those who choose to bury their loved ones.” Why buy an urn with a digital display then hide it in the earth? Eek.)

Jake’s concept diverges not only with including social media content, but in the design itself. Check out these other digital photo urns:

They resemble tiny television sets, complete with remote controls, while the Digiurn is both a throwback and a distinctly modern piece, using the classical urn shape while set up like an iPod docking station.

How comfortable with LED screens and external drives are Grandma and Gramps? Hrm, well, it’s their children to whom such products would be marketed. But in a similar complication, compiling, storing and providing access to the deceased’s social media content assumes he or she participated in it. This is a very current concept for a market that largely won’t need it for another 30 to 70 years.

Of course, this is the future of death we’re talking about. Considering how the internet has evolved over the past 10 or even 3-5 years, who knows what the future will hold for technology, not to mention how it will transform grief. At the same time, as computer scientist Alan Kay so eloquently put it, the best way to predict the future is to invent it — and we can be sure designers like Jake Shapiro will do just that.

cremation Death + the Economy Monuments + Memorials

Man Dying of Cancer Sells Ad Space on Urn

Springfield Man Selling Ad Space on His Urn
Laura Rillos, KVAL News

I have read many, many ridiculous death and dying stories over the years but this one is really amazing. The backstory itself isn’t ridiculous– it’s actually really sad and tragic.

On the one hand we’ve got an inspirational story about a guy with terminal cancer trying to make sure that his wife isn’t stuck with an expensive funeral bill. On the other hand, and this is the part of the story that you have to dig a little bit to find, Aaron Jamison is also using the money to cover his medical bills. The medical bills that he can’t afford to pay because his health insurance doesn’t cover the costs.

Think about this for a minute. A person with cancer needs to sell ad space on his urn to pay off his medical bills. This is what I meant by ridiculous. The whole situation is also slightly infuriating.

What Jamison is doing reminds me of a conceptual art piece by The Art Guys, entitled SUITS: The Clothes Make the Man, in which they wore identical suits covered in corporate logos for a year (1998-1999). The Art Guys’ point was how commodified everything, including fashion, had become and it was funny.

Selling ad space on your future urn is clever but it isn’t particularly funny. And now that it’s clear a portion of the money will cover medical costs, I think that the whole situation is terrible.

Aaron Jamison has a website which he uses to update his ad space plan. I suggest checking it out.

Finally, here is a short video piece by KVAL News about Jamison and his urn:

Death + Humor Death + the Economy Funeral Industry

Wal-Mart: Save Money. Live Better. Die Cheap(ly).

Wal-Mart Offering Low-Cost Caskets, Urns On Its Website
Emily Fredrix, Associated Press (October 28, 2009)

It’s all over the death-dar: following Costco’s lead, Wal-Mart now offers caskets and urns for sale online, with priority Fed-Ex freight shipment anywhere in the continental U.S.

With prices that undercut funeral home options combined with its juggernaut consumer base — not to mention “and in this economy” as all are wont to say — Wal-Mart can expect to make a, well, killing in the death biz, potentially causing the funeral industry to rethink its pricing strategies and oftentimes gouging of customers. In the meantime, the rest of us can enjoy / be numbed by the terrible puns of talking heads:

[This was one a video, but it’s been removed. It was terrible.]

This poor man actually apologizes for the crappy copy halfway through, sunk beneath his breath, “I didn’t write this.” Oh, the humanity! The indignity!

When death meets consumerism meets mass media, watch out. When nothing is sacred — is trivialized, cheap — we don’t have to think about what anything means. Like death, and ripping off the bereaved, and making unethical purchases because it’s all you can afford.

cremation Death + Technology

Japan Goes… Library Tech? with Urn Storage and Retrieval

Japan’s New Hi-Tech ‘Graveyards’
Jason Rhodes, Reuters (October 13, 2009)

via Treehugger, “Japan’s High Tech Graveyard Solution as Burial Space Grows Scarce” (Jaymi Heimbuch, October 15, 2009)

Due to scarcity and high cost — sometimes more than $100,000 — for urn burial plots in Japan, storing cremation urns in space-saving warehouses is growing in popularity. Such buildings contain special mourning areas where loved ones can swipe a card with the deceased’s location; a robotic arm will retrieve the urn from the vault and deliver it the mourning area, complete with somber music, flowers and video screens showing photos of the deceased.

The video above is in Japanese; whether or not you understand it, you still get the gist. I can’t get over how much this is like high-tech library deep storage, such as UBC’s Automated Storage and Retrieval System. Yes, it’s seen as cost-effective, and even has the ever-popular green slant and humorous old man approval: from the BBC article,

“One of the things to consider is the price, it’s reasonable,” said Toshio Ishii, who at 82 years old was looking for his own grave. “And I think it will be nice to be stored with other people. It’s more fun, there’ll be company.”

Death + Humor Death + Technology Monuments + Memorials

Death: The Final Frontier

A Geek Funeral
kdawson, (September 29, 2009)

While the obsessively geekerrific can always go for the deluxe Star Trek casket or urn, I rather enjoy this gutted SPARCstation-turned-urn engraved with classic Trekkie nerdery, submitted to Slashdot by reader Sam_In_The Hills for his late brother:

SPARCstation urn

At the memorial service, friends and family scrawled kind thoughts and remembrances on Post-it notes and slid them into the floppy drive of this circa 1990 machine. BRA-VO.

I also couldn’t help but notice that Slashdot uses the tag “geekurn.” I am sad to report it’s the only item tagged as such — but the precedence has now been set. Don’t let us down, Slashdot.

cremation Death + Art / Architecture Death + Technology

Urn Design Comes to a Head

Death masks are so eighteenth century. Cremation Solutions – purveyor of creative cremains transformations—offer urns that look like the noggin of the dearly departed, or whoever’s head it is you want to be stored in.

Personal Urn from Cremation Solutions

I am suspicious of company names that boast “solutions,” as that implies the industry in question has all sorts of unnamed problems. But I suppose cremation does have problems, if your problem is wanting to be buried in a replica of your favorite celebrity’s head. Dilemma solved!

Working from ordinary photographs, modeling software and 3D printing can reconstruct objects—in this case, creepy heads with hollowed centers to hold ashes. From the photos on the site, it looks like the skullcap slides right off—convenient, sure, but this is an urn, not a cookie jar, and the overall product could stand looking less lobotomized. Hair is also a hindrance; it can be added digitally upon request or you can throw on a wig yourself for extra realism and remembrance.

The full-sized option at $2600 will store all the ashes of a person while the $600 keepsake urn holds only a portion of ashes. It is unclear whether the keepsake size results in a smaller compartment for cremains or in an entirely shrunken head. Either way, it is a more affordable option for those who wish to purchase multiple heads for multiple mantles for maximum soulless gazes following everyone in the room simultaneously no matter how hard one tries to hide.

I suppose in this weird world, there is a market for this product. But from the vague photos and the lack of explanation—the process more thoroughly explained, along with a description of the materials—the personal urns don’t seem particularly high quality, especially for the price. One could likely recognize an urn head as being a certain person, but it’s not terribly realistic. The question is, would you want it more realistic.

If you’d want this thing at all, probably yes. So I wouldn’t amend that preneed just yet. There’s bound to be something better soon as 3D rendering technology improves.