Cremation is on the rise, really on the rise. In 1999 cremation rates were only at 25% in America. With more people claiming no religious affiliation and cremation sanctioned by the Catholic Church, rates of cremation are currently sitting around 40% in the United States. This is a large increase in only 16 years and in the next 20 years these numbers are expected to rise to above 60% in the United States. Why are North Americans so “keen” on cremation? Is it the lower cost? Environmental ethics? Pyromania? What really happens to a body during the process of cremation?
If we asked you to describe a traditional burial, we’d be willing to bet that you could provide a pretty detailed list. The body is typically embalmed and a funeral is held where the body may be displayed. A hole is then dug and the person is lowered into the hole -in a casket of course – and then covered with dirt. Some may even be aware that the casket is often placed in a cement vault. But could you give us a play by play of the cremation process? A body is put into an oven, the flames consume the body and it is turned into ashes, which are put into an urn and given to the family, right? Not exactly.
Ashes to Ashes, a short film by TIME Magazine highlights the changing attitudes towards body disposal and the often not so pretty way it is done. During a typical cremation, the body is placed in a retort (industry word for oven), and burned at 1600 degrees until all that is left are the bones. These bones are then collected with a rake and crushed into ashes. With water cremation (bio-cremation or alkaline hydrolysis), the body is placed in a warm lye solution until all organic matter dissolves, once again only leaving the bones. These are then crushed into powder and sent home with the family. Water cremations are becoming popular because traditional cremations, with embalming fluid and smoke, are not as environmentally friendly as you would think.
It is no secret that the funeral profession is set in its (not so ancient) traditions. However, the rise in eco-friendly burial options and alternative cremation is challenging many conceptions people have. Featured in the short film, Bradshaw Funeral Home in Minnesota is on the forefront of the funeral profession trying to reinvent itself by offering an increasingly popular alternative: cremation by water instead of fire. One of the few American funeral homes to offer water cremation (because it is only legal in 3 States!!), the Bradshaw’s are betting that bio-cremation will become the preferred method for disposal in the future. This short film highlights many of the issues and difficult decisions one must make when a loved on dies. It also highlights how much consumers have challenged the profession to change the same services that have been offered since the early 20th century. On a side note, it is important to educate yourself on these different methods of disposal so that you can tell your family what you would want!