Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Cremation Rates In South Carolina Country Rising

More of the nation's deceased are being cremated than ever before, particularly in areas with high concentrations of retirees, such as Beaufort County.

The slumping economy and the number of transplants not firmly rooted in a community could explain the trend, some say.

In 2010, the cremation rate surpassed 40 percent for the first time in the U.S., according to unofficial statistics in a recent report by the Cremation Association of North America.

In South Carolina, that number is nearly 9 percent lower, but the rate here has risen more than 12 points since 2005, to 31 percent.

In Beaufort County, the rate is considerably higher than the state average, according to several local funeral homes.

Sheri Stahl, director of The Island Funeral Home & Crematory on Hilton Head Island, said her facility cremates about 80 percent of the bodies it handles.

Copeland Funeral Services vice president Tom Wright said the Beaufort funeral home has performed more cremations than burials since he started working there in April.

"I guess that's just (the families') wishes," Wright said.

But Stahl has another explanation.

"A lot of the people who live around here don't really have roots in the community," Stahl said. "They move here from elsewhere in the country, and so their families are less likely to have them buried here."

The climbing cremation rates also indicate changing family dynamics, according to Martin Sauls, who estimated that his funeral home in Bluffton cremates about one-third of the bodies it handles.

"In the old days, people were born and raised here," Sauls said. "You'd live around your parents and your brothers and sisters your whole life. But that's different now, and everybody can't just drop what they're doing for a funeral."

Funeral homes in communities with a more stable, entrenched population report conducting far more traditional burials than cremations.

Sauls operates another funeral home in Ridgeland and reports that conventional burials there are much more popular than cremations.

In Hardeeville, Rodney Stiney of Stiney's Funeral Home has scarcely cremated anyone in the four years he's worked there.

"About 99 percent of families here choose a traditional burial," he said. Stiney also said predominantly black communities such as his typically opt for conventional burials as a matter of tradition.

Elsewhere, the slow economy is a contributing factor to the rising cremation rate. Several local funeral home directors reported that traditional burials, on average, cost two to three times more than cremations.

It's one of many reasons for the trend, according to Barbara Kemmis, the national cremation association's executive director.

"Cremation is becoming a new tradition for families all over the country," Kemmis said. "It's a more affordable option; families are becoming increasingly spread out, and religious influences are weakening."

Kemmis said her association has trained about 1,000 people in cremation practices each year for the past four years, and the rate could reach 50 percent within five years.

"It's an exciting time," she said, "to work in the cremation industry."


Tuesday, November 29, 2011

More South Floridians Choosing Cremation Over Burial

A majority of Broward families chose for the first time in 2010 to cremate their dearly departed rather than pay for the traditional — and more expensive — burial services.

The state's Bureau of Vital Statistics also showed that Palm Beach County was not far behind at 49.5 percent.

South Florida first began cremating in larger numbers in the 1980s. Although the rest of the nation still embalms and buries about 60 percent of the deceased, more than 58 percent of Florida's dead are cremated.

"The biggest reason is the economics of cremation: You can get a simple direct cremation for $700," said Jack Hagin, president of Brooks Cremation and Funeral Services in Fort Lauderdale. Burial will cost at least $4,300, he said.

"Money is so tight,'' he said. "Families just don't have that kind of money."

And most of the elderly who bought burial plots ahead of time have died, Hagin said.

Florida is second in the nation for the number of cremations — behind only California, according to statistics from the Cremation Association of North America.

The exception in the statewide trend: Blacks prefer to follow tradition and bury their deceased — nearly 63 percent — although the economy is forcing more to choose cremation, said Ronnie Berry, who started Global Funeral Choices in Fort Lauderdale and teaches at Miami Dade College.

Blacks who come from the Caribbean opt, if they can, to ship their deceased family members to their native islands for burial, she said.

Daniel Tobin's family chose to have his brother Douglas cremated after Douglas died Oct. 27.

"These days, cost is a concern for a lot of people. It [cremation] is a lot more cost-effective. It's easier to plan and less things are involved,'' said Tobin. His brother, 44, was a Coral Springs electrical contractor.

Many South Floridians like himself, Tobin added, have changed their minds over the best way to honor their departed family members. Tobin considers himself spiritual and does not consider cremation in conflict with his non-denominational Christian faith.

"The casket and grave and that whole thing — it just seemed like it is outdated," Tobin said.

His brother would not have wanted a viewing of his body. A memorial service was held Nov. 5, when people celebrated Douglas Tobin's life, Tobin added.

Since the 1980s, many South Florida families have gradually switched from traditional funeral and burial servides to cremation. Many of the elderly now tell their families that they want to be cremated, funeral director Hagin said.

Most out-of-town family members no longer opt to ship the bodies of their deceased loved ones to hometown burial spots. Last year, the remains of about 10 percent of the people who died in Florida were shipped out-of-state. In Palm Beach County, almost 20 percent were shipped, as were 13 percent in Broward.

The two daughters of the late Kathleen Hermann, 70, who lived in Broward, are having her cremated remains shipped north, where there will be a memorial service, said daughter Karen Hofmann of Delaware.

"It seemed like the most sensible thing to do,'' she said. Traditional funeral and burial services "would have been so emotionally draining to the family."

Hofmann's brother and daughter died months apart this past year, and both were cremated, she said. Her daughter's remains are in a velvet satchel, and she'll receive half of her mother's ashes.

Some South Florida funeral home workers are also choosing cremation over traditional services.

Les Byczkiewicz of Global Funeral Choices in Fort Lauderdale said he and his wife decided on cremation about a year before she passed away.

The savings from not having traditional services allowed the couple to help provide for the daughter in college, he said.

Many frugal-minded people are choosing cremation because it saves money and land, said Berry.

"It's really something how our society is changing."


Monday, November 28, 2011

Patrice O'Neal Dead at 41

Comedian and Actor, Patrice O'Neal, was pronounced dead from complications of a stroke he suffered back in September. O'Neal had appeared on shows like "The Office" and "Chappelle Show" as well as being a regular guest on the "Opie and Anthony" radio show. He was 41.


New, Greener Cremation Now Offered In St. Pete

It turns out you can reduce your carbon footprint in life and in death.

A new, greener form of cremation is now being offered at Anderson-McQueen funeral home in St. Petersburg.

It's called Bio-Cremation.

Simply put, the remains are placed inside the Bio-Cremation machine which submerges the body in a mix of water and potassium hydroxide. The pressure is turned up and so is the temperature. Three hours later, bones remain. The liquid contains no human DNA and is then released into the city's sewer system, according to the funeral home.

It basically speeds up the decomposition process that happens in nature by breaking down the body into the basic amino acids.

The technique has raised questions with some USF chemists who told 10 News reporter Chase Cain earlier this year, they can't say what the impact will be on the environment or our drinking water. Their concern is the pH level. In order to make a formal opinion on the process, they told Cain they have to see more research.

John McQueen with the funeral home says he spent two years getting permits to ensure there is no problem with the process.

"I believe it's completely safe for the community and I believe it's safe for the environment," he said.

There is definitely a gross out factor, but McQueen says what they're putting into the sewer system is not liquified human remains, but the basic amino acids.

He says you're not going to one day be drinking grandma.

He added, "I don't view it as flushing dad down the toilet and I'm sure there may be those out there that have that feeling. Really what they do is accelerate the decomposition process."

McQueen says twenty families have already been through the process and more are scheduled for Bio-Cremation. The costs are the same as flame cremation, at about $2,900. The funeral home refers to the process as flameless cremation.


Sunday, November 27, 2011

Ken Russell Dead at 84

English Director, Ken Russell, died at the age of 84. He was most known for his films, "Women in Love", "The Who's Tommy" and "Altered States".


College Students Partner For Advanced Mortuary Training

Mortuary science students from Ivy Tech Community College Northwest and Malcolm X College (one of the City Colleges of Chicago) met on Ivy Tech's De La Garza campus in East Chicago recently to receive crematory operator training delivered by the Cremation Association of North America, a worldwide organization.

Nhemya Ward, program chair of the Ivy Tech program, said this was a perfect opportunity for the two colleges to bring their students together.

According to the association, many states have now instituted training requirements for crematory operators. CANA is recognized and has been selected by several states as the official provider of operator training.

CANA requires a minimum of 40 students in order to provide the training. Together, the two programs met the minimum requirement.

Karen Scott, Malcolm X's program chair, brought 22 students across the state line for the certification.

"We are looking forward to doing more things together in the future," Scott said. "The students seem to have responded really well with the program ... really high marks on evaluations."

CANA has conducted certification programs throughout the country for more than 15 years and has certified thousands of operators in the United States, Canada and other countries.

During the training, students learned technical terminology, scientific principles of cremation, guidelines and instruction for operating a crematory retort as well as legal ramifications when operating in a crematory. At the conclusion of the training, all students sat for their crematory operator certificate. Those who pass the exam will receive a nationally recognized certification.

Many students said they appreciated how this certification will allow them to be more marketable in such a competitive industry, Ward said, and Ivy Tech is looking toward having this certification training become a part of the curriculum.


Saturday, November 26, 2011

Let's Value Our Tradition, Cremation Not the Answer

Harare City Council faces a daunting task in convincing people to depart from the traditional way of burying the dead to cremating bodies in the wake of the rising number of deaths and the growing demand for more land.

Harare Mayor Muchadeyi Masunda says council is exploring prospects of encouraging cremation instead of the traditional underground burial.

"There is a certain timeline where cemeteries will be full and we still need land for development purposes - so cremation is the only possible solution," he says.

While big cities offer people many advantages over rural life, there are some drawbacks and societies and customs often have to change. There is already a problem in housing, while most people would like to have detached houses on decent sized plots, this is impossible for Harare unless the city is destined to expand its boundaries to Darwendale, Mazowe and Marondera.

Flats, terraces and cluster houses are the unavoidable solutions if people are to live within anything resembling a sensible distance from work. The cemetery problem is similar. Even if more land is made available, it will in time be filled with graves and even more farms will have to be bought and filled with the dead. It is impossible for the process to continue forever and sooner rather than later we are going to have to decide whether it would be better for available land to be used to grow food for the living or provide graves for the dead.

One part of the problem is the idea of a permanent grave containing a single body for everyone. In all cultures, on all continents this is a relatively new concept. In the past kings and emperors and the like might have had their own permanent graves, but the ordinary people were never granted this right.

A grave might last a century or two at most and then be forgotten and lost. In time the remains would have been broken down. Zimbabwe is not an exception - but how many graves are more than a century old, which can be identified?

However, modern custom has brought in the permanent grave or memorial for all. City managers, just like Harare, throughout the world now have the problem of finding land to bury the dead.

In some countries cremation has become the accepted way. This solves the problem of finding ever-more costly land, while still giving families the opportunity to erect permanent memories for their deceased relatives. Most Zimbabweans dislike intensely the idea of cremation. The desire for a proper burial is real and legitimate. However, the cost of burial is bound to rise dramatically as land zoned for cemeteries becomes short.

Four of the city's seven cemeteries are all full and the other three are also almost full. The people who can now be buried in those cemeteries are those who have reserved plots, paying the appropriate charges.

We already see families plunge into debt for years to make sure their loved ones are properly buried; it would be wrong to see burdens increase. While cremation is the most obvious answer, the matter needs to be handled sensitively and with great care. Churches and traditional leaders need to think very seriously and carefully about how to help their followers accept the concept.

We are happy to hear Mayor Masunda saying that the council tabled the issue at its recent meeting and that consultations were underway with different stakeholders.

In neither Christianity nor traditional religion is there any theological barrier to cremation: the body is simply reduced to dust quicker in a furnace than in the ground.

Nor should cremation be considered impersonal: the funeral service is the same and little land would be needed to mark the last resting place of the ashes. In other African societies, a symbolic thing, be a stick or a log, has been buried in place of a corpse. Africans are great believers of symbolism. This also shows how far Africans can go even burying the soil, which is taken from the spot they believe their dead relative's body perished. So, it is not only the bones of the dead, which have been buried.

Now that there is a need for cremation, local cultures should adapt accordingly. Of course many burials will be transferred to rural homes for those who can afford the expense and sometimes for the sake of preservation of the so-called unchangeable practices.

In the long run, the escalating cost of transport will force many to have their dead cremated. A number may take the ashes home for decent burial and traditional rites.

It will take time for most people to willingly accept cremation, but we all owe a duty to our descendants and we cannot deprive them of farm and development land and deprive them of so much wealth simply because we want a permanent grave. We therefore challenge the custodians of our culture to find ways of how best we can minimize the inevitable damage to our culture.


Friday, November 25, 2011

Dissolve When You Die, Help The Garden

Uncomfortable with the thought of being buried or cremated when you die? You could always be dissolved.

At least one local crematorium is considering "alkaline hydrolysis" - or resomation - which dissolves bodies in heated alkaline water, as an alternative to cremation and burial.

Clifton Thomson, general manager of Purewa Cemetery, said he has spoken to its trust board on the possibility of offering it.

Glasgow-based firm Resomation which invented the process, installed its first resomator unit this year at a funeral home in St Petersburg. The process is legal in the American city.

In the system, bodies are submerged in a mixture of water and potassium hydroxide, which is pressurised and heated to 180C for about three hours.

It dissolves the body tissue and the resulting liquid is then poured into the water system, the company said.

And using the same machine as in the cremation process, bones are then removed from the unit and crushed into fragments.

"Just like cremation, the remains consist of bone ash," the Resomation website says.

"These are placed in an urn and returned to the loved ones."

Mr Thomson said: "There has been somewhat of an 'eek' from many studies due to the process of breaking down via [in] layman's terms 'boiling', and eventually leaving the bone shadows which are broken down and returned to families."

The process has environmental benefits. The units are said to use one seventh of the energy of cremation.

"One good opportunity for the water residue left over is to be used as a spray-on liquid fertiliser," said Mr Thomson.

"Otherwise it will just be flushed into the sewage system."


Thursday, November 24, 2011

Missing Girl Surfaces A Day After Her ‘Cremation’

A father cremated the decomposed remains of his “daughter” and performed the last rites in Nagaon this morning, around the time she surfaced at a police station in Tezpur 60km away, boyfriend in tow, to reveal a grand elopement tale.

Indrani, a 19-year-old diploma engineering student at Akash Institute, went missing from her hostel in Guwahati on October 17.

When her family in Nagaon failed to contact her over phone till the next day, they filed a complaint at Bhangagarh police station in Guwahati on October 19, alleging she had been abducted.

On October 25, the body of a girl was recovered at Bilasipara in Dhubri district.

The following day, Indrani’s family reached Bilasipara, identified the body as hers, took it home and cremated it yesterday. “We have heard that she surrendered before the police at Tezpur. But we cannot accept her as our daughter. This girl (whose body was cremated) is our daughter and we will complete all the rituals. We do not want her back now. For us, she is dead,” Naba Kamal Bora, retired ASEB employee from Haibargoan Kawaimari in Nagaon, told The Telegraph.

Indrani is his only child. He said they had identified the body from the clothes she was wearing because the body was decomposed.

Indrani stood with boyfriend Mukut Ali at Kacharigaon police outpost today wearing a pink salwar kameez and gold-coloured bangles. “We did not know about death of the girl or her cremation at our village. At that time we were in Siliguri and we were not in touch with our families. I do not know what my parents will do, but my boyfriend’s family has accepted me and this is good enough for me,” she told reporters.

She had been in touch with Ali over telephone and had willingly gone away with him first to Dhubri and from there to Siliguri. “Now we have surrendered before the police,” she said, adding that they returned from Siliguri only this morning.

According to a police official in Tezpur, 25-year-old Ali had been arrested earlier in a criminal case involving fake currency notes and court stamp papers and was released on bail two months ago by Tezpur court.

The couple have been sent to Bhangagarh police station.

Now that the real Indrani has surfaced, it remains a mystery whose body the girl’s family has cremated.

“We have sent blood samples of the girl for DNA testing and if anybody comes to claim the body, then blood samples of the parents would be sent for DNA test. If they match, the body will be identified,” said Bilasipara sub-divisional police officer, Gunindra Deka.


Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Bio-Cremation Coming to the Twin Cities

In a basement room at the University of Minnesota College of Veterinary Medicine sits a giant squat machine. It is what scientists there call a "tissue digester." To the general public, it is a device for bio-cremation, an alternative to disposing of remains by the standard burning cremation.

Bio-cremation has become a headline in some areas of the United States because it is slowly becoming available for human cremations. One funeral home in Stillwater has been issued a permit for the process by the Metropolitan Council. The State Department of Health's Mortuary Science section must issue a license once a bio-chemical machine is installed.

The process involves a fluid mixture of water and an alkaline chemical. It is heated to about 300 degrees for a number of hours until the soft tissue is dissolved.

"The liquid effluent goes to the sanitary sewer. What is left after that part of the process is the mineral portion of the bone," explained Ron Joki, U of M Senior Scientist and Necropsy Lab Manager. "You can imagine skeletal remains, what look like intact bones, but really, they've lost all their strength. You could take that bone and basically crush it or break it with your hands."

In human bio-cremation, the process involves one body at a time. In the U of M's much larger animal machine, up to 7,000 pounds of remains can be processed at once.

The pulverized bone is the ash from either type of cremation that is returned to the deceased family. In the case of the U of M Tissue Digester, the ash is used for fertilizer and landfill, since it is then considered bone meal, according to Joki.

In a bio-cremation, the effluent is cooled and the Ph level is controlled before it can release into the sanitary sewer. The process is considered far less expensive and environmentally polluting than the burning type of cremation. However, hosting municipalities, like the Metropolitan Council, must certify with a permit, that the sewer system can handle the effluent.

State Health Department officials believe that a bio-chemical device is en route to the funeral home in Stillwater and could be offering the service to the Twin Cities early in 2012.

The process has been legal in Minnesota since 2003. The U of M's animal facility was installed in 2005, as was a human bio-cremation machine at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester. The Mayo device has been used to dispose of 750 remains of individuals who had donated their bodies for scientific research, according to Clinic officials.

Cremation has become increasing popular in the new Millenium in Minnesota. In 2010, for the first time, cremations exceeded the number of burials. There were 18,905 burials and 19,331 cremations in the state, according to the State Department of Health.


Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Vanishing Playgrounds Leave City's Children Shortchanged

It is an eerie place with hundreds of tombstones, a cremation pyre in the corner and a dead body that awaits burial. For Vicki and his seven friends, aged between 11 and 18, it serves as a playground. No wonder that Krishnampet cremation ground in Triplicane has turned into a playground with the Marina beach out of bounds. They assemble in the graveyard almost every evening to play cricket.

A cycle track in the rear of the graveyard is possibly the most levelled surface they can get and it becomes their pitch. At times, people defecate across the ‘pitch,' but the children cannot shift the playing spot. Search for a space to play is not easy for Karthik and his friends too. They get up at 5.30 a.m. on Sundays in order to reach the Lady Willingdon College playground fronting the Marina beach by 6 a.m. “If you are not here by 6.30, you would not get a spot to play,” says Karthik, who works for Neel Metal Fanalca, a private conservancy firm employed by the Chennai Corporation.

“I have a morning shift, so I cannot go to reserve the place, but my friends do and I join them later,” he adds. By the time the sun is up, every square inch of the playground is occupied.

The UN Convention on the rights of Child says children have the right to rest and leisure, and to engage in play and recreational activities appropriate to their age.

However, Chennai's civic authorities seem to have overlooked the needs of children and fail to meet international norms.

The World Health Organisation prescribes a minimum of 9 sq.m. of green open space per city dweller. Chennai has only about 0.46 sq.m. per city dweller. The second master plan proposes to increase the city's open space area from 366 hectares (2006) to about 1,000 hectares by 2026. Even this would only amount to 0.83 sq.m. per city dweller – far from acceptable standards.

Old timers like S. Radhakrishnan (66) say that things were much better till the 1970s. “I have seen many playgrounds vanish right before my eyes.” As the built-up area increased, playgrounds along with other open public spaces have vanished.

Mr. Radhakrishnan, who in his capacity as secretary of the Tamil Nadu Cycling Association trying to promote a sporting culture, says: “When I was growing up, I used to practise in the Island Grounds along with my friends. Today, open spaces are either non-existent or out of bounds. Without infrastructure, there will be no interest in sport. Children cannot be blamed for staying indoors to play video games.”

A direct consequence has been the marked drop in fitness levels and a rise in obesity rates among the city's children, which has been highlighted by several studies.

Chennai has only 228 playgrounds, of which around 20 are categorised as major playgrounds by the Corporation. A well-planned city like Chandigarh also has around 200 public play areas, though it is just 25 per cent the size of Chennai. There are a number of Chennai Corporation wards where there is not even one playground.

To add to the woes, even the existing open spaces within the city are being used for development projects.

For instance, recently at least two large playgrounds, one near the May Day Park and another in Saidapet, were taken over by the Chennai Metro Rail, leaving the children, particularly the poor, to scout for places including graveyards to play.


Monday, November 21, 2011

Anne McCaffrey Dead at 84

Notable author of such Science Fiction book series as "Dragonriders of Pern" , Anne McCaffrey, died from complications due to a stroke. She was 84.


Resomation - a Process of Chemical Cremation

The process of chemical cremation combines water and potassium hydroxide to quickly turn human remains to liquid.

Anderson McQueen Funeral Home in St Petersburg, Florida has now performed more than 20 chemical cremations, and we're getting a first look at the machine and the process.

Lynn Moshier recently committed to resomation for her 96-year-old mother Katie Fisher.

"After she heard about it she said, 'that sounds good, and besides I didn't feel like going by fire anyhow.' And that's the way I feel. I feel like fire [through traditional cremation] is violent."

Watch the Video

Cremation experts, like Paul Rahilll, agree the chemical cremation process can be considered more peaceful. Rahill also says it's a more "green" process with little impact on the environment.

"Will it be the predominant choice? Not in my career. Maybe in the next one. We'll see, but it depends on how quickly the public embraces this type of a process."

The liquid remains from the cremation process go "down the drain" like any other waste water.

St. Petersburg officials allow the liquid because it has a pH level of 11.5 or less. Many common household products like oven cleaner, bathroom cleaner, and bleach have pH levels even higher than the liquid remains of resomation.

If Lynn and her mother are any indication, the new technology could grow quickly.

"I'm not adverse to change. If it's something that's going to better the environment and our lives? I'm for it! And what a wonderful way for my mother to leave this earth...starting something new to help everybody else."


Sunday, November 20, 2011

Body Donated To Science Rejected

Wife Mourns Loss Of Husband, Worries About Burial Expenses

Kissimmee, Florida -- A local woman was grieving the loss of her husband Thursday and wondering how she'll cover his burial expenses.

According to Judy Frowein, her husband's extremely low weight was the reason that his body was not accepted for scientific research.

But paperwork from MedCure of Portland, Ore., didn't match up with the explanation.

"I was totally destroyed," Frowein said.

Frowein was emotionally destroyed twice. Her husband, John, a man featured in a WESH 2 News 2010 report when he was having trouble obtaining a valid Social Security card died Sept. 9.

A company called MedCure had signed papers to accept John Frowein's body donation for scientific research in exchange for paying his cremation expenses.

But the day John Frowein died, MedCure rejected his donation and terminated the deal.

"I blanked out. I was just totally, mentally destroyed," Judy Frowein said. "My husband was dead in the house. I had no place to send him to."

Judy Frowein said an employee at Vitas Hospice provided her the information on MedCure, even though after the man died, other workers said MedCure had rejected other body donations from this place.

She shared the brochure she received, and it did indicate severely under or overweight people may be rejected, but the donor consent form she filled out only ruled out severely obese people.

John Frowein weighed 95 pounds when he died.

"They said, Sorry, he has to be over 140 pounds,' and they would not take him," Judy Frowein said. "I was upset and angry over the way I was treated."

A MedCure spokeswoman said the consent form is not a promise to accept a body and pay the expenses for cremation.

"We cannot accept a donor until after they pass. When death occurs, that is when we decide ... There is no guarantee of acceptance at the time a donor states his or her intentions," MedCure representative Valere Beck said in a statement.

Judy Frowein was suddenly left with a $1,700 bill for her husband's cremation and had bitter words of advice to others considering whole body donation.

"Beware," Judy Frowein said. "Don't do it."

There was a mix of online reviews for MedCura. One person described the company as the "least respected" in the industry. Another said an experience with MedCure was "wonderful."

A spokeswoman for Vitas Hospice Care said it is not company policy to provide information about body donation.


Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Ashes to Beads: South Koreans Try New Way to Mourn

The intense grief that Kim II-nam has felt every day since his father died 27 years ago led to a startling decision: He dug up his father's grave, cremated his bones and paid $870 to have the ashes transformed into gem-like beads.

Cremation Jewelry / Cremation Beads
Kim is not alone in his desire to keep a loved one close -- even in death. Changes in traditional South Korean beliefs about cherishing ancestors and a huge increase in cremation have led to a handful of niche businesses that cater to those who see honoring an urn filled with ashes as an imperfect way of mourning.

"Whenever I look at these beads, I consider them to be my father and I remember the good old days with him," a gray-haired Kim, 69, told The Associated Press in a recent interview.

"As a little boy, I often fell asleep while being hugged by my father," he says, sobbing and gazing at the blue-green beads, which sit on a silk cloth in a ceramic pot on a table.

A decade ago, six out of every 10 South Koreans who died were buried, a practice in line with traditional Confucian instructions to respect dead ancestors and visit their graves regularly. Since then there has been a big shift in South Koreans' thinking about the handling of the deceased, in part, officials say, because of Western influence and a strong government push for citizens of this small, densely populated country to consider cremation as a way to save space.

The government cremation campaign included press statements, pamphlets and radio broadcasts. A law passed in 2000 requires anyone burying their dead after 2000 to remove the grave 60 years after burial.

The results have been dramatic: The cremation rate last year was so high that only 3 in 10 were buried.

About 500 people have turned their loved ones' ashes into Buddhist-style beads at Bonhyang, a company based in Icheon, just south of Seoul. It and several other ashes-to-beads companies say they have seen steady growth in their business in recent years.

Bonhyang founder and CEO Bae Jae-yul says the beads allow people to keep their relatives close to them, wherever they go. He also says stored ashes can rot, a claim denied by crematoriums. "Our beads are clean; they don't become moldy and don't go off and smell bad," he says.

Bae uses ultrahigh temperature to melt cremated ashes until they are crystalized and can be turned into beads in a 90-minute process. The colors are mostly blue-green but sometimes pink, purple and black.

The ashes of one person can produce four to five cups of beads, Bae says, although the ashes of young people have a higher bone density that can yield up to eight cups of beads.

Bae isn't the first to use the technology in South Korea.

A meditation organization obtained similar bead-making technology in the late 1990s, but it was imperfect and wasn't long in the public eye, Bae says. He says he saw the potential, bought the technology and spent several years refining the process.

Bae believes his company has an important edge over rivals. His beads are made purely from human remains with no added minerals, which he says other companies blend in.

Bonhyang's chief rival, Mikwang, says added minerals help produce more rounded, gemlike beads in a faster time and at lower temperatures.

Mikwang officials say they have more business than Bonhyang but refuse to disclose their profits. Bae also refused to disclose business details. No special government license is necessary to start an ashes-to-beads business, according to the Health Ministry, which says individuals have the right to determine how to dispose of loved ones' remains.

The fledgling industry has drawn some criticism.

"They are only interested in making business profits," Do Young-hoon, a researcher on South Korea's funeral culture, says. "The highest level of respect for the dearly departed is to let them go back to nature."

Businesses turning the dead into beads were launched in the United States, Europe and Japan in the past, but were mostly unsuccessful because few people regarded it as a normal way to dispose of dead bodies, says Park Tae-ho, chief researcher at the Korea National Council for Cremation Promotion, a Seoul-based civic group.

Bae's customer Kim, a retired high school principal, says it took some time to persuade his family to accept his plan to honor his father "because they thought a ghost could come to our home along with these beads."

Every morning, Kim, a Catholic, prays to his father's beads, which he keeps on a bookshelf. He takes some beads with him in his car and has also given some to his five daughters.

Despite loyal clients like Kim, Bae says he is still years away from seeing a profit, partly because of the emergence of copycats. But he still feels confident about his business when he sees his customers' delighted reaction to the product.

"People are moved," Bae says, "and I feel it's something worthwhile. I'm confident this business will flourish considerably someday."

Bae says seven Buddhist temples and one Catholic church lease his bead-making machines. He is also negotiating deals over his technology with dozens of other religious organizations in South Korea, and with businesses in China, Thailand, Japan and the Philippines.

Ashes-to-beads businesses could also get a boost when South Koreans take advantage of next year's quadrennial leap month in the lunar calendar to conduct cremations. There's a traditional belief that the ghosts that supervise humans go on vacation during a leap month, so many people in South Korea don't feel sinful for relocating graves or digging up their relatives for cremation.

Kim plans to exhume his mother and make beads from her remains next year.

"I've also told my daughters I want my ashes turned into beads," he says.


Thursday, November 10, 2011

Legal Battle Over Alkaline Hydrolysis

Jeff Edwards, owner of Edwards Funeral Service in Columbus, Ohio, wants to make one thing clear: He isn’t flushing your grandmother down the toilet.

That, he says, is the biggest misconception about alkaline hydrolysis, a green alternative to cremation that involves liquefying human remains with potassium hydroxide and 300-degree heat. The environmental benefits of hydrolysis are hard to argue with: The process results in only a fraction of the carbon emissions of a traditional cremation.

But when Edwards began offering the service last January — he says he’s the first funeral home in the U.S. to do so — the media “distorted the facts,” alleging that the liquid created by hydrolysis (only the bone residue is saved for an urn) gets flushed. “I mean, for all intents and purposes, the liquid remains are released back into the water treatment facility,” Edwards concedes. “So yeah, that does mean they go down the drain. But it doesn’t mean somebody is standing behind a machine with a great big … commode, and you’re flushing grandma down the drain.”

After Edwards used hydrolysis on just 19 bodies, the Health Dept. of Ohio intervened, announcing in March that it would no longer accept death certificates from or issue burial transit permits to any funeral home using hydrolysis, essentially making the procedure illegal in Ohio. Edwards sued the state, and he’ll have his day in court in February, which he’s confident he’ll win. Alkaline hydrolysis is already legal in seven states, he says, and the numbers are expected to rise. “The funeral business is changing,” he says. “Green is the future. It’s better for the world, and families are demanding it.”

Cemeteries and funeral homes across the country have been offering eco-friendly death care, from biodegradable caskets to formaldehyde-free body preparation, for much of the past decade. But in recent years the green burial business has gotten bigger — there are close to 300 funeral homes in 40 states offering green services in 2011, as opposed to roughly a dozen in 2008 — and noticeably more eccentric.

Just a few years ago a green funeral might have meant a pine or wicker coffin made without toxic materials. Today it could mean burying the dearly departed in an acorn-shaped urn made of recycled paper, erecting a tombstone with a solar-powered Serenity Panel that plays the deceased’s favorite songs and videos, or casting out to sea a “reef ball” made of cement mixed with cremated ashes — your loved one’s and others’.
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“The funeral industry hasn’t had a new idea since the 1870s,” says Joe Sehee, the executive director of the New Mexico-based Green Burial Council. “We’re still burying people like they buried Abraham Lincoln.” While he admits that green burials are a small part of the $12 billion funeral industry — exact numbers have yet to be documented — he believes they’re poised to become a dominant force. “This is not a fringe market,” he says. “There is an end-of-life revolution at hand.”

For it to succeed, the eco-friendly funeral movement has to convince not only the public that green burials are best, but also the funeral industry.

Thus far, the public has been more receptive. In a 2008 survey conducted by funeral industry publishers Kates-Boylston Publications, 43 percent of respondents said they would consider a green burial. That’s a big increase from a similar survey done in 2007 by AARP, in which 21 percent of those polled were curious about green burials. One explanation for this rise in interest could be the price tag.

According to the National Funeral Directors Assn., the average cost of a funeral is around $6,560 — and that doesn’t include a cemetery plot, tombstone, and miscellaneous items such as flowers and hearses. “Going green can be half to two-thirds the price [of a conventional burial],” says Sehee. And there are numerous ways to cut corners and save money. At the Honey Creek Woodland Cemetery, a green grave site in Conyers, Ga., future customers can save $500 if they’re willing to dig their own graves (or if the bereaved are willing to do it for them).

But the savings isn’t always the selling point. “When I ask [clients] why they’ve come to us, the answer always comes back: They don’t like cemeteries,” says Jack Lowe, president and founder of EcoEternity, an East Coast green memorial service offering forests instead of graveyards and existing trees instead of tombstones. “Cemeteries remind them of death. These forests are beautiful, and they remind [the families] of life. It’s only when we’re writing up all the contracts that they go, ‘Hey, these costs are really great!’ ”

Also, green funerals are just more fun. Nature’s Caskets in Longmont, Colo., offers a do-it-yourself, biodegradable pine coffin kit for the industrious preplanner. And for an extra $100, your coffin can come with shelves, so you can use it as a bookcase while you wait for the end. “It’s a fun idea,” says Luc Nadeau, who launched Nature’s Caskets in 2009. “It’s like facing your mortality every day. And it looks quite nice.”

For those looking for something more outrageous — say, a casket decorated like a casino slot machine or a bottle of Smirnoff vodka — there’s Creative Coffins, operating from the British island of Guernsey. According to the company’s website, “each coffin is constructed from 60 percent recycled paper plus wood pulp sourced from sustainable forests.” June Ozanne, the director of sales at Creative Coffins, says the business has been steadily increasing since the company sold its first coffin in 2008, despite being in a industry that “won’t be receiving repeat business from our customers.” Although some designs are of questionable taste — the casket adorned with the Grand Theft Auto video game logo, for instance — Ozanne believes Creative Coffins’ products bring a fresh perspective to a grim rite of passage.

The old guard of the funeral industry remains the biggest hurdle for green burials. Some undertakers are wary of eco-friendly funerals for aesthetic reasons — “People don’t die pretty,” says Timothy Collison, of Dodge Co., a manufacturer of embalming products in Grand Rapids, Mich. — but more often, detractors cite health concerns.

In 2008 a proposed green burial site in eastern Macon, Ga., called Summerland Natural Cemetery was blocked when the county board of commissioners voted on a new ordinance that banned green cemeteries. It read, in part, “All human remains shall be buried in a leak-proof casket or vault to protect against contamination of groundwater, wells and aquifers.” Most experts agree that these fears are unfounded.

Jeff Edwards says his legal battle over alkaline hydrolysis isn’t really with the Ohio government. “The Department of Health buckled to the intimidation or threats of some of my local competitors in the funeral business,” he says. “This isn’t about the value of hydrolysis. This is about the fact that I was the only one doing it, and some of my competitors had an issue with that. Because if their families start wanting this, then they’ll lose that business to me.” (Representatives of the Ohio Health Dept. declined to comment as the case is still in litigation.)

The Green Burial Council’s Sehee believes dying baby boomers, with their interest in environmentalism and individualism, will push eco-friendly burials into the mainstream. He predicts the generation will spur nothing less than a “paradigm shift” in the industry. “We’re just glad to have a head start,” he says. “It gives us the chance to work out wrinkles.”


Top 10 Ways to Cut the High Cost of Dying

You've heard it before: Death and taxes are inevitable.

In other words now is as good a time as any to plan your funeral costs and control the burden of that expense; the national funeral directors association said the average cost of a funeral in 2009 was $6,560.

"You need to plan ahead," said Jerry Nackashi, an owner of the Corey-Kerlin Funeral Home.

So here are his top 10 ways to cut the high cost of dying.

Number 10:

Know your rights. If you know what you're entitled to, it can save you a lot of hassle and thousands of dollars. The place to begin is with the Florida Division of Funeral, Cemetery and Consumer Services.

Number Nine:

Preplan. Talk to your family about your death. It won't be the most pleasant conversation, but it will ensure your family knows your wishes. You can detail those wishes in a note and give a copy to your family and your lawyer, if you have one.

Number Eight:

If there was no preplanning and you have to make that decision for a loved one, do not go to the funeral home alone. Take an advocate, someone who is not emotionally attached, like a friend or your pastor. That person should be able to look at the arrangements objectively and make sure you don't overpay.

Number Seven:

Shop around. Many funeral providers put their "general price list" online. The casket is likely to be your biggest expense or next to it; compare prices to avoid a big market. There are many independent retailers like Costco and Walmart; under the law, the funeral home has to accept "outside" caskets.

Number Six:

Use your veterans benefits. The VA offers many burial benefits for honorably discharged veterans. The benefits include a gravesite in one of the national cemeteries, a headstone and perpetual care. Spouses and dependents also are eligible for burial in a national cemetery

Number Five:

Donate your body to science. Universities will often pay to transport a willed body to their medical schools. They also reserve the right to reject a body; if that happens you will have to pay the transportation costs.

Number Four:

Cremate. The biggest money-saver is direct cremation, according to the funeral industry. There's no cemetery plot, headstone, grave opening or closing costs.

Number Three:

One growing trend in funeral services is casket rentals. It saves money, but be sure to always weigh the cost of renting versus buying, especially if you're going to be cremated.

Number Two:

Embalming is not necessary. The family can have a private viewing, but for any public service, the casket would remain closed.

Number One:

To cut the high cost of dying, join a non profit funeral association. They usually contract with funeral homes to provide services at a fixed price.


Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Should You Pass on Buying Burial Insurance?

Death is one of the few certainties, but how you pay for your funeral isn't. To address this afterlife financial issue, the insurance industry offers what it euphemistically calls "final expense plans." The public may know this type of coverage as burial policy or burial insurance. Consumer groups see them as a bad investment.

Whatever their name and reputation, these policies are a type of whole life insurance that are intended to pay for certain expenses related to death, including a funeral, cremation and burial.

Life Insurance Sales Down
Butch Britton CEO of ING's U.S. Life Insurance division on why now is the time to insure yourself.

No Medical Exam

Burial policies are not the same thing as prepaid funeral policies, which are a method for paying a funeral director in advance for your final arrangements, says Joe Skarda, director of education and training for Sapient Financial Group.

Usually completed with simplified underwriting, burial policy applicants will have to answer a few basic questions about their health but will not be subject to a medical exam, Skarda says.

Waiving the medical exam means almost anyone can qualify and therefore drives up the cost of burial insurance as much as 20 times more than a fully underwritten term life policy, says Byron Udell, CEO and founder of

Burial policies "tend to attract the unhealthy people, so they tend to be expensive," Udell says. "Healthy people can get the better deal (through) fully underwritten products."

For example, a 50-year-old might pay $3 for each $1,000 worth of coverage for a 20-year term life policy or $150 a year for $50,000 worth of coverage, Udell says.

The same 50-year-old could pay $20 or $30 per $1,000 for a burial policy or $100 to $150 a year for $5,000 in coverage, Udell says.

"If you think you're going to be dead in six years, it might work out. Otherwise you might be better off putting it under the mattress," Udell says. "Typically, we sell burial insurance as a last resort. People can't qualify for term life and want to buy something. Or we'll sell them an accidental death policy and some final expense."

At the same time, simplified underwriting doesn't mean a burial policy is a sure thing.

Applicants can be rejected if they disclose they already have cancer, use drugs or have been hospitalized for more than 20 days in the past year, Udell says.

Better Options Available

Once they're approved, policyholders usually are subject to two-year contestability and suicide clauses during which time the insurer may fight a claim, says Skarda.

"If a person is aware of something that's wrong with them, buys a policy and six months later passes away, the insurance company will investigate the claim during the period," Skarda says.

Although burial policies may appeal to people of limited means without other insurance options, they don't seem like a good value to Bob Hunter, director of insurance for the Consumer Federation of America.

"I think it's a predatory type of insurance," Hunter says. "The people who buy it tend to be less educated and low-income and tend to be minority."

Instead of buying burial insurance, Hunter recommends trying to purchase an underwritten term life policy. He recently worked with a woman, who, for the same premium as a $5,000 burial policy, was able to acquire a 20-year term life policy with $75,000 in coverage.

Saving the money yourself also may yield a better return on your investment.

"If you're thinking about a burial policy, you should consider putting money aside and having a savings account," Hunter says. "It's a better use of your money."


Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Heavy D Dead at 44

Popular rapper Heavy D (real name: Dwight Arrington Myers) was rushed to an LA hospital after collapsing at his Beverly Hills home. Though Heavy was conscious when first responders arrived at the scene, he died shortly thereafter.


Bil Keane Dead at 89

Creator of the long running newspaper comic "Family Circus", Bil Keane passed at the age of 89.


Monday, November 7, 2011

Joe Frazier Dead at 67

Former Heavyweight Champion, Smokin' Joe Frazier, succumbed to liver cancer at the age of 67. Winner of 27 out of 32 fights, Friazier only lost 4 times in his career, twice to George Foreman and twice to Muhammad Ali.


Andrea True Dead at 68

One time p**n actress turned disco singer, Andrea True, died at the age of 68.


Dying to Be Green

This year, almost a million Americans will be cremated after they pass away. In three hours, a human body is converted to ashes by 1,700-degree natural flames. The environmental implications of cremation are probably the last thing grieving families think of, but it’s an energy-intense process, and releases a lot of carbon dioxide. The Anderson-McQueen funeral home in Florida, for example, handles about 1,700 cremations annually, using enough natural gas to power about 200 homes for a year. “Our monthly gas bill, just to give you an idea, is about $6,000 a month,” said funeral director John McQueen.

So to reduce energy use and emissions, Anderson-McQueen invested in the first biocremation machine in the entire world. It’s a new method of cremation with no flame and reduced emissions. “We still get the body to ash, but we reduce it chemically, using a process called alkaline hydrolysis,” said Sandy Sullivan of biocremation machine manufacturer Resomation Ltd. In biocremation, the body is immersed in a solution of 95 percent water and 5 percent potassium hydroxide, and then heated to 350 degrees, speeding up the natural chemical reactions in decomposition.

The entire process uses just 15 percent of the energy and generates just 25 percent of the emissions of a flame cremation, according to Resomation. By their calculations, traditional cremation emits 400 pounds more CO2 than biocremation, so if one million people choose biocremation it would be like taking 36,000 cars off the road for a year.

Biocremation may reduce the environmental impact of cremation itself, but what about the ashes left over? One company is answering that question by mixing remains into artificial reefs, creating new habitat for marine life. Cremated remains are stirred by loved ones into a concrete mix, placed into a reef ball, and dropped into the ocean. “We’ll get growth on these within six weeks, measurable growth within two months, and meaningful shellfish population out here within a year,” said George Frankel, CEO of Eternal Reefs. More than 700,000 reef balls carrying cremated remains are now off the coast of almost 70 countries.

But the greenest funeral of all may involve nothing more than the ground. That’s the premise at the Prairie Creek Conservation Cemetery, spread over 78 acres in central Florida. At Prairie Creek, and other green cemeteries, the rules are simple — no embalmed bodies and no caskets. The goal is for people to give back to the environment by returning their nutrients to nature, literally ashes to ashes and dust to dust. “We’re not robbing the Earth of the natural cycle of life,” said Freddie Johnson, executive director at Prairie Creek. “Mother Nature does a perfect job of taking care of the recycling of life.”


Sunday, November 6, 2011

More Opting for Cremation in Tough Times

The recession has forced consumers to cut back on spending in almost every area of life. Now death, it seems, is no exception, as the funeral industry is changing to accommodate budget-conscious families.

The Cremation Association has Oregon ranked as the third-highest state in the nation for the percentage of people cremated, a trend that has been growing as the economy is slowing.

The saying goes: Nothing is certain in life but death and taxes.

But the slump in the economy has even the funeral industry feeling the impact, and more people are choosing a cheaper alternative.

Nearly 70 percent of Oregonians are choosing cremation over a traditional burial.

"There being so few jobs available and so few other alternatives, cremation has become an issue that more traditional families, where they have not considered it in the past, they are considering it now," said Jerome Daniel, owner of Deschutes Memorial Chapel Gardens and Crematorium in Bend.

According to Daniel, the estimated cost of an adult funeral and burial is about $6,000 -- plus the cost of a casket. A typical cremation service costs only one-fourth that amount.

"To actually cremate, as final disposition, is in my opinion a great alternative," Daniel said. "It seems a lot of people look at us as a great resource, but I'm not sure that they're feeling like they really want us involved in the process as much as they used to."

About 1,000 people die each year in Deschutes County. Daniel says of that number, he's cremated 600 to 700 people, and only buried about 200.

And some religions that once banned cremation say that now, it's becoming the norm.

"People can be buried from the Catholic Church who are cremated, provided they are not getting cremated as an insult to god," said Father Joseph Reining, vicar general of the Bend-based Diocese of Baker.

"We even have modified the funeral liturgy to take care of what we call the 'cremated remains,' rather than the body," he added.

Though it's still an $11 billion-a-year industry, the economic crunch is forcing the funeral industry to change with the times.

The rising popularity of cremation has prompted many funeral homes to embrace the service, with colorfully designed urns and other features. It's even become part of their marketing effort.

Brad Baird, the owner of Baird Funeral Homes, said, "We do offer a full line of pendant jewelry, bracelets, bookmarks to 'thumbees,' which are transferring the thumb print onto the jewelry. So cremation does have a lot of options."

"The Baby Boomers are a big factor in this -- cremation really appeals to them," Baird said. "In terms of cost and tradition, the thinking is really changing."

The cremation process takes about three hours, and in the state of Oregon, there are no laws restricting where you are allowed to spread someone's ashes.

By the year 2025, it's estimated more than half of all who die will be cremated.


Saturday, November 5, 2011

Andy Rooney Dead at 92

Emmy Award winning 60 Minutes commentator Andy Rooney, most famous for his A Few Minutes with Andy Rooney segment, died of complications due to a recent surgery. His final taping was on November 2, 2011 and he died on November 5, 2011.


Friday, November 4, 2011

Funeral Planning Scams

Planning a funeral is an emotionally difficult process, but pre-planning helps you avoid making rushed decisions and allows you to shop around without time constraints.

However, unfamiliarity with the funeral industry can leave consumers vulnerable to fraudulent schemes that range from overpaying for goods and services to the embezzlement of prepaid funds.

The national average cost of a funeral is $6,600, but some cost thousands more than that. On average, consumers spend $2,295 for the casket alone. Other costs include vaults, embalming, cremation, funeral staff and facilities, transportation for deceased and family. You can even purchase programs and note cards, tribute videos and online memorials from some funeral homes.

A nationwide poll conducted by Angie's List, the nation's premier provider of local consumer reviews including funeral homes, found:

    51 percent of Angie's List members in a recent poll have never planned a funeral.

    Of those who have, 19 percent say the experience was a poor one.

    53 percent consider family tradition and reputation the most important factors in choosing a funeral provider.

In 1984, the Federal Trade Commission established the Funeral Rule, which is designed to protect consumers by requiring funeral providers to give adequate information about their services:

1. Give an itemized price list over the phone or in person.

2. Let you choose only the goods and services you want (with some exceptions).

3. Disclose on the price list if state or local law requires you to buy any item.

4. Handle without charge a casket or urn you bought elsewhere.

5. Obtain your permission for embalming services and disclose in writing that they're not required by law (except in special cases).

Angie's List tips for pre-planning a funeral:
Talk to your family about your wishes and write down a plan: Do you want a traditional burial or cremation? Do you want a simple or elaborate funeral? Share your ideas with family and put all your wishes in writing.

Know your rights - shop around: According the FTC's "Funeral Rule" you have the right to stop in any funeral home and request a General Price List (GPL). Visit several funeral homes and use the lists to compare prices. If a funeral home says you have to buy a certain kind of casket, urn, etc. ask why and find out the law or regulation that requires it.

Pre-paying for a funeral: Be very cautious if you decide to pre-pay for services with a funeral home - ask what happens to your money if you want to transfer the funds to a different funeral home or if the funeral home you've selected goes out of business. Only nine states have funds that step in to protect consumers when funds are stolen or if the funeral service goes out of business. (FL, IN, Iowa, MO, NC, OR Texas, VT and WV) If you choose to pre-pay now, a better option is to put that money in a checking or savings account and add a POD - payable on death designation. Your bank or credit union will have you fill out a form and have it paid to the person who will be taking care of the arrangements. Talk to a certified financial planner about the best plan for you.

Licensing is mandatory for funeral directors nationwide: You can confirm a funeral director's license by checking with the licensing board in your state. Requirements vary from state to state, but most call for individuals to be at least 21 years old, have two years of education that include mortuary science, serve a one-year apprenticeship and pass an exam.

Schedule a meeting with the funeral director: Take this time to ask the director your questions (including services/costs) to help gauge if they would be a good company for you to use.

Unhappy with a funeral home? If you have a problem, it's best to try to resolve it first with the funeral director. If you are still having issues, file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).


Widow Says Husband's Gold Teeth Lost During San Antonio Cremation

SAN ANTONIO -- A local widow's husband died and was cremated nearly a month ago. Now the woman says she wants to know what happened to her late husband's three gold teeth.

The widow says at first she wanted to sell the gold teeth, but now she just wants closure.

Doris and Joe Gerber shared 35 years together. Doris said they were the best years of her life.

Just two years ago things seriously changed for the couple.

"We came here on a visit. We always come (to Texas) in November or December," said the widow.

But, their visit became permanent after Gerber suffered from a stroke.

"They have really wonderful hospitals here in Texas... and rest homes, so I put him in a home here," she continued.

Then, last September Gerber died from a second stroke. The family chose to make his final arrangements at Schaetter's Funeral Home.

A few days after Gerber's cremation, Doris called the funeral home to ask about his death certificate and his three gold teeth.

"And they said, 'Well, gold teeth is of no value,' and I know they are," she says.

Previously Doris had sold two of her late husband's teeth for nearly $175.

"He had always saved his gold teeth in a little cup, in a little thing. And he said, 'Doris, when I die you get my teeth and you, you know, you sell them,'" she recalled.

Doris said the funeral home told her the teeth were cremated along with her husband and that the teeth dissipate in the process.

" I don't believe that, either," said the widow.

We spoke to the funeral president by phone. He did not want to go on camera but gave us this statement:

"Mr. Gerber was cremated as the family wished. We do not know anything about any gold teeth."

According to officials at the Texas Funeral Service Commission, something gold should not dissipate during the cremation process. However they plan to investigate the matter.


Thursday, November 3, 2011

Wiccan Church Honors Dead in Eco-Friendly Cemetery

Members of the Wisconsin-based Wiccan church Circle Sanctuary celebrated the last day of a pagan festival on Monday that rings in the new year and honors the dead.

Church members, several of whom come from the Chicago area, gather annually at the 200-acre Barneveld, Wis., site to mark Samhain (pronounced SOW-un), which culminates with members placing plates of food and chalices of beverages on an altar in the cemetery while reflecting on loved ones who have passed on.

For nearly 30 years, part of the celebration has taken place in a stone circle and on a nearby 1-acre ridge top, which in 1995 became an eco-friendly cemetery that holds cremated remains, or cremains, of humans and beloved pets.

But this year, the festivities will also take place in a new section of the cemetery that has been expanded to include environmentally friendly full-body human burials.

Although some cemeteries in the Midwest have designated areas for natural burials, the nearly 20-acre Circle Cemetery is believed to be one of the few in the region that handles only green burials, according to the Green Burial Council, based in New Mexico.

In April, the cemetery had its first and, so far, only interment.

The Rev. Ana Blechschmidt, a resident of Sycamore, Ill., and an ordained minister at Circle Sanctuary, said natural burials are important in paganism and other nature-based religions because it's difficult to fully honor a loved one who has passed on when that person is not buried in a way that preserves the land.

"The thought of getting filled up with formaldehyde and being placed in a sealed, laminated casket and put into a cement box in the ground is not in keeping with preserving Mother Earth," said Blechschmidt, a volunteer chaplain at Northern Illinois University.

"We believe the soul is eternal and immortal. So we want to leave as small a physical footprint as possible. If you honor the Earth you live on, how can you desecrate her and still honor the person you're burying?"

In natural burials, the body is not embalmed but refrigerated until the final services, and the casket or covering used is biodegradable. (Think bamboo caskets lined with unbleached cotton or natural-fiber shrouds.) Also, graves don't have liners or vaults, most of which are made of concrete or fiberglass to stabilize the ground.

And rather than being buried 6 feet under, bodies are interred no more than 5 feet — deep enough so that they're not disturbed by animals, yet shallow enough so that the microbes near the top of the soil can make decomposition happen more readily.

The Rev. Selena Fox, senior minister and founder of Circle Sanctuary, said the idea is for the body to decompose and return to the ground in the most efficient and thorough way possible.

"This is about the greening of the end-of-life process," Fox said. "If one is really choosing as part of their way of life to eat whole foods and reduce or eliminate additives and to really live a sustainable life, then when you die, it makes sense to be able to have your body naturally return to the earth without chemical preservatives.

"You want to continue the sustainable living even in death."

She said that a century and a half ago, natural burial was standard operating procedure.

"It was the Civil War that brought about the popularity and practice of embalming because of such mass kill-offs," Fox said. "Families wanted the bodies of their loved ones back, and the most practical way was to embalm."

She said that although cremation has long been considered an eco-friendly option, there has been some concern about its use of fossil fuels to turn the body into ashes.

Blechschmidt, who was part of the church's cemetery expansion team, said there were other concerns about cremation. While members were comfortable with it, some worried that their families wouldn't approve.

"My own father is very weirded out by cremation," said Blechschmidt, whose father is a Southern Baptist. "If something would happen to me before him, he would like a cemetery plot to visit. In some faiths, if you don't have a body, you can't be resurrected. For some of our members whose families are of those kinds of faiths, it's important for them not to be cremated."

Fox said a person needn't be a member of a pagan faith to be interred at Circle Cemetery. The church also doesn't require the use of a funeral home, although it is highly recommended.

"There have been such bad practices at some cemeteries over the last decade," Fox said. "That makes us extra careful. We have 20 acres and we're not looking at having huge numbers of people buried here."

She said the church offers recumbent grave markers made of granite, and gravesites can be positioned near existing trees. While the average funeral runs about $8,000 to $10,000, a green one can cost less than half of that.

"We know from history and our study of archaeology that natural burial has been done from the earliest of times," Fox said. "Having natural burial is not new. What is new is combining nature preservation with natural burial. This works well with our commitment to environmental preservation."

On Friday, the opening day of Samhain, Circle Sanctuary members walked in a procession through a restored prairie to the ridge top where their cat companions have been buried. The area is adjacent to the new natural burial site.

Church members laid to rest the 19-year-old Artemis, whom Fox said was the last of the cats who grew up on the Circle Sanctuary land.

Blechschmidt said all living things are of precious value and to be honored in life and death.

"When we bury Artemis, when we honor our dead, we celebrate our liberty," she said. "Their bodies were tired and old and not functioning properly anymore, and now their souls are liberated. We celebrate life by celebrating the passing of life into the next life. And, we always are aware of the great gift we have of living on this Earth."


Service Corp. International Reports Operating Results (10-Q)

Service Corp. International (SCI) filed Quarterly Report for the period ended 2011-09-30.

Service Corp. International has a market cap of $2.44 billion; its shares were traded at around $10.31 with a P/E ratio of 16.4 and P/S ratio of 1.1. The dividend yield of Service Corp. International stocks is 2%. Service Corp. International had an annual average earning growth of 7% over the past 10 years.

Highlight of Business Operations:
Proceeds from long-term debt (net of debt issuance costs) were $65.0 million in the first nine months ended September 30, 2011 due to a drawdown under our bank credit facility. Proceeds from long-term debt (net of debt issuance costs) were $238.8 million in the first nine months ended September 30, 2010 due to a $150.0 million issuance of the 8.00% Senior Notes due November 2021 and a $95.0 million drawdown under our bank credit facility.

Cash flows from investing activities used $167.2 million in the first nine months ended September 30, 2011 compared to using $239.9 million in the same period of 2010. This decrease was primarily attributable to a decrease of $184.3 million in cash spent on acquisitions (primarily the Keystone acquisition in 2010), partially offset by a $67.6 million decrease in cash receipts from divestitures and asset sales, a $25.5 million decrease in withdrawals of restricted funds, and an $18.5 million increase in capital expenditures.

Our consolidated funeral services performed increased 3.6% during the first nine months ended September 30, 2011 compared to the same period in 2010 primarily as the result of acquisitions in 2011 and 2010, offset by a 1.3% decrease in comparable funeral services performed. We believe the comparable decrease was somewhat impacted by extreme weather throughout North America, and we believe is consistent with trends experienced by other funeral service providers and industry vendors. Our consolidated cremation rate of 46.5% in the first nine months ended September 30, 2011 increased from 41.7% in 2010, while our comparable cremation rate of 44.3% in the first nine months ended September 30, 2011 increased from 41.7% in 2010. We continue to expand our cremation memorialization products and services, which have resulted in higher average sales for cremation services.

Our consolidated funeral services performed increased 4.2% during the third quarter of 2011 compared to the same period in 2010 primarily as the result of acquisitions in 2011 and 2010, offset by a 2.4% decrease in comparable funeral services performed. We believe the comparable decrease is consistent with trends experienced by other funeral service providers and industry vendors. Our consolidated cremation rate of 50.3% in the third quarter of 2011 increased from 41.9% in 2010, while our comparable cremation rate of 44.6% in the third quarter of 2011 increased from 41.9% in 2010. We continue to expand our cremation memorialization products and services, which have resulted in higher average sales for cremation services.

Financing activities used $166.2 million in the first nine months ended September 30, 2011 compared to using $73.3 million in the same period of 2010. This increase was primarily driven by a $173.8 million decrease in proceeds from the issuance of long-term debt (net of debt issuance costs) and a $59.7 million increase in the repurchases of Company common stock, partially offset by a $129.2 million decrease in debt payments, a $9.2 million increase in bank overdrafts and other, and a $6.2 million increase from proceeds from exercise of stock options.


Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Cremation Mistake Results in Lawsuit

VANDALIA, OHIO - An attorney for the widow of Frank Granato filed a lawsuit against the Montgomery County Coroner's Office on Wednesday.

Suzy Granato blames the coroner's office for a mistake that led to her husband being cremated.

"We do not believe in cremation," she said.

Frank Granato and Arthur Potter were killed in a plane crash in Union County in 2010.

The Union County Coroner told 2 NEWS that the body bags were mislabeled at the scene.

Despite dental records, the Montgomery County Coroner's Office failed to correct the mistake.

"I blame them," Granato's widow said. "They had the dental records."

Granato was cremated and Potter was placed in a mausoleum.

The Montgomery County Prosecutor's Office is representing the coroner's office.

Neither would comment about the lawsuit.


Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Dorothy Emma Howell Rodham Dead at 92

Mother of Secretary-of-State and former Senator and First Lady, Hillary Rodham Clinton, Dorothy Rodham died of illness. She was 92.


Cremation Becoming More Common in Mitchell; Graceland Cemetery Adding Columbarium

Making arrangements for people who choose to be cremated is increasingly part of operating a cemetery, according to the man in charge of Mitchell’s city graveyard.

Golf and Cemetery Department Director Kevin Thurman said more people are choosing to be cremated, and he has to make arrangements to handle their cremains.

“Whether we like it or not, it’s coming,” Thurman said. “Change with it, or you’re going to be lost in the shuffle.”

The city is building a columbarium at Graceland Cemetery and more will follow, he said. A columbarium is an above-ground structure that contains niches for placing urns and other cremains. Thurman said he wants to have about 200 niches in the columbarium.

“With the trend toward cremation … the industry’s changing and I think this will extend the life of so many cemeteries, the useful life,” Thurman said.

Thurman said younger people are more likely to want to be cremated.

“I would have to say yes,” he said. “Our younger generation, they’re not going to be tethered to tradition like the older generation.”

There have been about 15,000 burials in the 60-acre cemetery, which he said is a little over half full.

He said there are about 50 sets of cremains in Mitchell awaiting a proper place to store them. The columbarium will get those cremains out of closets, off mantles and in the cemetery, Thurman said.

There is already one columbarium in Mitchell. It opened in the spring.

It’s located in the Servicemen’s Memorial Cemetery, a private cemetery located next to the Graceland Cemetery. Lyle Sunderland, of the Mitchell American Legion Post’s executive committee, said it’s the first columbarium in the area.

“It’s a huge convenience for those who choose to be cremated,” Sunderland said. “It’s a nice, attractive way of accomplishing it.”

He said there are 44 single and 44 double niches in the reddish granite structure, which is 6 feet tall, 5 to 6 feet wide and about 20 feet long.

Thurman said the city columbarium will have the same basic color as the veterans’ columbarium. The trim will be different in an effort to save money.

Two Minnesota monument companies submitted bids to build the new columbarium, but Thurman felt the bids were too high for the project. Thurman was given permission by the City Council to negotiate with the Cold Spring Granite Company, of Cold Spring, Minn., to make a deal to build the city-owned columbarium.

The structure will be made of South Dakota mahogany, which is a form of granite.

“I would say it would be ready by spring,” Thurman said. “We’re working on the foundation for it now and the sidewalks.”

There are about 150 burials each year at Graceland, Thurman said. A growing number are of cremains, which he said surprised him.

“Yeah, I am surprised,” said Thurman, who has held the job for 29 years. “When I started, you were looking at two, three maybe a year at the most. The most we have had was 38 in a year.”

There is a considerable savings to being cremated as opposed to a traditional burial.

Mitchell charges $500 for a grave plot and also charges a $450.50 interment fee. Burial in the cremation section costs $250 for the space and $212 for the inurnment. The columbarium fee has yet to be established, Thurman said.

The cemetery allows more than one burial per plot. Two coffins or a coffin and one or more urn can be placed in the same plot, Thurman said.

“That’s an option just available to families because of the tightness of the cemetery,” he said. “Some people want to be buried with grandpa, mom or dad or relatives.”

The cemetery installs concrete grave boxes or vaults, which allow the placement of more than one coffin or urn, Thurman said.

The columbarium will also offer an opportunity to spend eternity with a loved one.

It will be octagon-shaped, while the veterans’ columbarium is a rectangle.

Thurman said the city has budgeted $45,000 for the project, including sidewalks, seeding and drainage.

The granite that will be used is a reddish-colored stone that appears to be various colors, including gold or brown, at different times of the day as the sun strikes it. While it’s a different form of burial, Thurman said, the goal is still to provide the maximum comfort to people who are grieving.

Cremations are increasingly common with veterans, Sunderland said. The space used to bury people is also getting short.

“It’s becoming quite a problem,” Sunderland said. “They’re running out of available space in the Legion section of the Graceland Cemetery.”

Thurman said more veterans’ columbariums will be built.

“I’m sure they will,” he said. “They’re planning ahead for four or five of them.”

Veterans and a spouse are offered one free burial space in the cemetery, Sunderland said, but must pay $200 per person for perpetual care.

Inurnment at the veterans’ columbarium costs $750 plus tax for a person, or $1,500 for a couple, plus tax. A person must have been, at any time, a Davison County resident who served honorably in the armed forces, or the spouse of such a person, to qualify for that rate.

Current members of a Mitchell veterans’ organization who have never been a Davison County resident can be inured in the columbarium for the same cost plus an additional fee. Local veterans associations can be contacted for more information.