Death, a serious and sometimes spiritual event, leads us to a rather ordinary problem – what to do with our physical remains. While burial and cremation are the usual routes, some folks have thought outside the box, seeking eco-friendly, affordable, and personal alternatives.
However, it’s not always a piece of cake. Regardless of the method you pick, there’s often a little bit left to handle. Nevertheless, if you fancy a unique departure or wish your remains to serve a purpose, here are some creative options.
1. Launch Into the Great Beyond
Always fancied being an astronaut? Consider spending forever as a tiny speck in the cosmos. For a cool $2,500, you can ship your cremated remains into space. In return, you get a tailor-made “ash capsule” for your ashes, which is then popped into a satellite and sent on a cosmic journey.
Plus, there’s a chance to etch your name on the satellite as a tribute. Once its service ends, the satellite will combust on re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere, and you’ll twinkle in the sky like a “shooting star”.
For now, space is a bit cramped, only able to accommodate a small portion of your ashes. But with tech advancements, we hope to one day scatter ashes on the moon or shoot them deeper into space.
If you fancy a quick space tour, one company offers a service to release your ash capsule with a parachute from space’s edge, giving you one last thrill. However, once your remains touch down, your loved ones are back to the drawing board, figuring out the next steps.
2. Transform Into a Diamond
The Victorians loved making keepsakes from their dearly departed, often crafting jewelry from a loved one’s hair. Thankfully, modern science has given us less scratchy, more attractive alternatives. You could become a diamond.
Our bodies are mostly water, but 18 percent is carbon, the key ingredient in diamonds. These diamonds are eco-friendly and ethical, as they don’t require mining or child labor like some diamond mines. Plus, they make for a far prettier necklace than a hair brooch.
Carbon is pulled from your remains and treated with intense heat and pressure, much like the natural process within the Earth. This part only takes a few weeks, and then your diamond can be cut and polished.
These diamonds, just like their mined cousins, often turn out blue due to small amounts of boron, though other colors can pop up too. And like us, every diamond is unique.
3. Take a Deep Sea Nap
Resomation, a type of water cremation, involves dissolving human remains in a water-based alkaline solution. The body is put into a pressure vessel with potassium hydroxide and heated up to 152 degrees Celsius (306 °F). In just about three hours, the body is reduced to bone dust. This process is more eco-friendly than traditional cremation, using less energy and producing fewer emissions.
It’s like a fast-forward version of natural decay if the body was buried. But the super-hot, super-alkaline water speeds it all up so it’s over in about 90 minutes. At the end, the family gets a powder made from ground-up skeleton and must figure out what to do with it.
A sea burial might be a good choice.
4. Become a Frosty Cube
If you’re not a fan of the wet stuff, you could always opt for promession, or freeze-drying your remains. The process involves using liquid nitrogen to freeze your body, removing the water that makes up 60 percent of us.
Your body would be frozen to minus 200 degrees Celsius (–328 °F), making it super brittle. Then, sound waves would be used to shatter you into dust, excluding any fillings or surgical implants. This dust is then given back to your family.
The dust could go into a biodegradable coffin and be buried, transforming into compost within a year. But then, what to do with the compost? This problem seems never-ending. Sadly, the company proposing promession went under before anyone could be turned into a frosty cube.
5. Fly High In The Sky
Maybe we’re over-complicating things. You could go for a low-tech option like a Tibetan sky burial. Villagers would lug your body up a mountain to the sky burial site, while your family stays home to pray. After some rituals, Tibetan monks and nuns light incense and sprinkle tsampa (a kind of roasted flour mixed with butter or milk, a staple in Tibet) to lure vultures to carry you into the heavens.
Your body might be given to the vultures as is, or, to make it easier for the birds, a “body breaker” could chop you up into manageable bits. The vultures will circle overhead, and then the monks step aside, letting dozens of birds swoop down to feast.
The goal is to have your bones picked clean, leaving only the skeleton behind. If the vultures devour everything but the bones, it’s seen as a good omen. On the other hand, if the vultures snub your remains, it’s thought that you must have done wicked deeds in life, altering your flavor.
Sky burials are still practiced in Tibet, but those who passed away from infectious diseases are more likely cremated to avoid potentially spreading the illness to the birds. Tibetan Buddhists believe that the body is just a vacant vessel after the spirit has moved on to a new life. Offering the body to vultures is seen as a generous act, giving back to the Earth.
After the vultures have had their fill, the skeleton is typically ground into powder and mixed with tsampa, then offered to other birds.
6. Transform Into a Tree
Instead of trying to dispose of your remains, why not morph them into something handy? You could be placed in a biodegradable “egg” instead of a traditional coffin, providing sustenance for a tree. After the egg decomposes post-burial, it offers all the nutrients a young tree needs.
The creators of these capsules dream of tree-filled cemeteries rather than gravestones. However, red tape in many countries has stalled progress, with most pods currently only able to accommodate cremated remains. While these still provide some nourishment for the soil, it’s likely not enough for a tree.
7. Become a Model
Maybe you’d like your remains put to good use. While donating your body to medical science is always an option, if you’re looking for something more striking, you could opt to become one of Gunther von Hagens’s plastinated anatomical figures.
Von Hagens pioneered a method to replace all bodily fluids and soluble fats in tissue with plastic via vacuum-forced injections, causing the tissue to harden. This allowed the specimens to be handled and examined in the open, rather than through a jar.
Not stopping there, von Hagens founded his own organization to create exhibits. His models, often posed in various positions like mannequins, have been displayed worldwide, though not without controversy.
Von Hagens himself wishes to be plastinated after death and placed at the entrance to his exhibits as a macabre greeter. He’s not alone in this wish; about 17,000 people, including his wife and family, have signed up to have their remains turned into anatomical exhibits.
8. Light Up The Sky
Funerals can be a real downer, so why not lift spirits with a fireworks show? And if you could be part of the fireworks, even better!
Johnny Depp ignited this trend when he launched his friend, the unconventional author Hunter S. Thompson’s ashes into the night sky from a massive cannon during a grand memorial fireworks display finale.
While Thompson’s funeral was rumored to cost millions, you can now have your ashes shot into the sky for a more affordable price. Many funeral service providers are offering to blast a portion of your remains into the sky via rockets or spinning them in a Catherine wheel. Funeral fireworks are growing in popularity, with many choosing to make a dramatic exit from their own memorial service with a bang.
But unless you’re as wealthy as a superstar, you probably won’t get all of your remains into your fireworks. An average rocket can hold about a teaspoon of ash. Even if you launch a rocket for each year of your life, you’d likely have quite a bit left over.
You might consider putting the rest in a sand bucket for people to extinguish their sparklers.
9. Become a Tune
How about leaving a legacy in the form of a vinyl record? Imagine your loved ones, after you’re no longer around, playing a record with your voice or maybe your favorite tune. (Do keep in mind, copyright issues might be a hiccup.) You could even hire musicians to create a personalized song for you.
Your ashes are mixed in during the final stages of the record production, visible to the naked eye. Yet again, only a teaspoon of ashes goes into each record. These records could serve as mementos for your friends and family.
However, given that your ashes could weigh anywhere from 1.8 to 4.5 kilograms (4-10 lbs), you’d need quite a big circle of friends to distribute all your remains this way.
10. Become Food for Thought
“Cannibalism” has always been associated with dark implications, the motives often chalked up to either stark hunger or twisted desires. However, in some cultures, “peaceful” cannibalism has been an accepted practice, and some argue that in the face of overpopulation and dwindling food resources, it could see a resurgence.
Back in the 1980s, anthropologist Aparecida Vilaca studied the practice of cannibalism among the Wari’ people in the Brazilian rainforest. They practiced two distinct forms: “exocannibalism,” the consumption of outsiders (either captured enemies or accidental intruders), and “endocannibalism,” the consumption of friends and family members.
Exocannibalism was more of a celebratory event. The meat would be roasted, and the people would “revel in the feast.” Endocannibalism, however, was a different affair. Post the demise, the entire community would gather for the meal. The cooked meat would be minced into tiny pieces by a non-family member and consumed with miniature utensils by solemn diners.
Endocannibalism has been documented in Australia, South America, and Africa. It’s been a key component of funeral rituals across the world at various times. It’s even been suggested that some tribes in Borneo used the “fluids” from a body as an ingredient in their rice wine, which was then shared among the mourners at the funeral in honor of the departed, though this claim remains unverified.