Saturday, March 31, 2012

Police: Man Removed Cremated Remains, Sold Urns

Police arrested a Harrison man accused of stealing items – including human remains – from a mortuary chapel where he worked.

Officers said 26-year-old Alan Smith stole downspouts, an air conditioner, copper wiring and about 20 bronze urns Thursday from Hillside Chapel in Clifton.

"What's the sickest you've ever been, and your stomach is rolling the next morning? You get my drift? My stomach's been rolling ever since I found this," said Hillside Chapel owner Don Catchen.

Investigators said about half the urns contained cremated human remains, which officers said were removed before the urns were sold to a local scrap yard.

Those ashes have been found and identified. Catchen said they were still in their original individual plastic bags, but had been hidden on a shelf.

Seventeen of the urns were new, valued at more than $20,000 total.

"In 49 years of being a funeral director, this is one of the most devastating things that's ever occurred to me," he said.

The three abandoned bags of remains were still marked with their identities, Catchen said. They had been cremated in the 1960s and 1970s.

Catchen said police told him that a scrapyard refused to take the stolen urns the first time Smith tried to sell them. Police said Smith then stole a letterhead, forged permission and dented the urns to make them appear like trash.

Police said Smith cut up the urns before selling them, and officers said the scrap yard did nothing wrong when purchasing the items.

"As far as we can tell, the person who made the purchase had no knowledge bought the metal that it was an urn," said Kristen Shircliff, of Cincinnati police.

Smith was charged Tuesday with one count each of theft, vandalism and desecration.

The investigation is ongoing, and police anticipate additional charges.

Catchen said he will contact the families of the removed remains once he accounts for all of those missing.

"We will be coming up here and opening every one of these to be sure if there's any missing out of them," Catchen said.

A judge Wednesday set Smith's bond at $20,000. His attorney didn't immediately return a call. Smith's case will go before a grand jury to determine what charges, if any, he would be tried on.

Catchen said he had fired Smith in late January over attendance problems and other issues. Later, he found the three bags of ashes and then noticed that urns were missing from the crematory.

He said he would consult records to replace the urns with the specific style they were originally in. They came from an older room – the people had died several decades ago – where the urns with remains are kept in "niches," or cubes that have locked doors.

Police said they are still investigating, but they charged Smith after an interview in which he was asked about the missing urns. Police didn't immediately say how much he allegedly sold the urns for or where.

Catchen said he's never had such a problem at the crematory, which dates to the 19th century and houses remains of more than 11,000 people. He said a complete inventory will be done to make sure no other remains have been disturbed.

"My stomach's been churning and rolling ever since (he found the bags of ashes)," he said. He said he has been trying to track down the next of kin of the three people to let them know what happened.

The case was mentioned by Cincinnati council members Wednesday before they voted 5-4 for new rules requiring licenses, criminal background checks and a two-day wait to get paid for scrap metal sellers.

"How low can you go, to actually take the urns of someone's loved ones?" said councilman Cecil Thomas. "It just goes to show we're on the right track to make it difficult for individuals to unload those kinds of items."


Thursday, March 29, 2012

New Life for The City of The Dead

The Springvale Cemetery hopes its history and gardens will attract more than the bereaved.
The Garden of No Distant Place at Springvale Botanical Cemetery

THE first legal cremation in Victoria was a rudimentary affair. It was held at Springvale Botanical Cemetery in 1905 when the body of Edward Davies, a retired customs officer, was laid on a pile of wood, doused with kerosene and then set alight. The service was presided over by a Church of England priest.

A rock in the cemetery (called the Necropolis, meaning ''the city of the dead'', until 2006) marks the site of his cremation, which was made possible in 1903 after the state government of the day passed the Cremation Act.

Davies' remains were interred near the grave of seven-month-old Clarence Reardon, who died of whooping cough and whose burial was the first at Springvale on March 20, 1902, a year after the cemetery was laid out in the shape of the Union Jack in a show of patriotism for Federation and the death that year of Queen Victoria.
The rock and Clarence's grave will be highlighted on a tour of the cemetery on Friday to be led by Celestina Sagazio, historian and manager of cultural heritage at the Southern Metropolitan Cemeteries Trust.

Other significant sites include the war cemetery laid out like Australian burial sites in France and the American military cemetery, once the resting place of about 38 servicemen who died in the region during World War II (and whose remains were exhumed in 1945 and sent back to America for reburial).

One was the infamous Edward Leonski, who strangled three Melbourne women and was hanged on November 9, 1942. All that's left of this cemetery is a flagpole with an eagle on top, an American flag at half mast and two rudimentary crosses, a helmet hanging off one, in the middle of an expanse of lawn.

Like cemeteries the world over, including Pere Lachaise in Paris, which counts among its famous dead Jim Morrison, lead singer of the Doors, Springvale has people of renown. Among them are Laddislaus Kossak, a mounted policeman at the Eureka Stockade, Liberal Party leader Sir Billy Snedden, Country Party leader Sir John ''Black Jack'' McEwen, Phar Lap's strapper, Tommy Woodcock, jockey Scobie Breasley, actor Charles ''Bud'' Tingwell, society florist Kevin O'Neill, governor-general Sir Zelman Cowen, Collingwood premiership player Darren ''Pants'' Millane, Richmond player Jack Dyer and Australian cricket captain in the Bodyline era, William Woodfull.

Springvale was the only Victorian cemetery to have a dedicated railway line and station that was used to transport coffins, passengers and staff from Melbourne to the cemetery. Mortuary and visitors' trains were a regular sight from 1904 but the line was closed in 1951. A rock with a commemorative plaque marks the site.

The name was changed from the Necropolis in 2006 to reflect the growing botanical significance of the cemetery, which features original plantings of two bunya bunya pines, oaks, palms and gums. A red river gum, believed to be about 400 years old, may have lost most of its limbs but the huge trunk remains with a healthy covering of leaf growth. It's an awe-inspiring sight.

A large variety of native and ornamental trees, shrubs and 30,000 roses, plus the Garden of No Distant Place, can be found in the 169-hectare site and many will be pointed out on the tour.

Dr Sagazio, who takes night tours on Halloween through Melbourne General Cemetery (she was terrified at first) believes cemeteries are public assets and should be used in the same way as parks and gardens.

''Few realise how significant and beautiful Springvale Cemetery is. The stories of the people who are in here are very important. The fear of death and the fear of walking through a cemetery shouldn't stop people from having the experience of enjoying the bird life, the wildlife, the thousands of roses, trees and shrubs. We want to encourage people to see cemeteries as wonderful places which are full of history and beautiful gardens.''


Who’s Dying to be Green?

In a town where people buy electricity from renewable resources, ride bikes or drive hybrid cars, and are agitating for a ban on plastic grocery bags, surprisingly few are opting for environmentally friendly burials.

“We’re getting very few requests,” said Ryan Phelps, the owner of Hood Mortuary in Durango. “People aren’t as concerned about greenness as following their family’s wishes.”

The definition of a green burial is one that has as little impact on the environment as possible. Generally, the body is wrapped in a shroud or placed in a cardboard or other quickly biodegradable container. Embalming is discouraged. Simple wooden crosses and chiseled rocks, as opposed to granite tombstones, are used to mark the grave site. And in the greenest cemeteries or preserves, no watering, weeding or mowing takes place.

“We should talk in shades of green,” Phelps said. “The only truly green burial is to leave the body where the person dies and cover it in rocks. Almost any other type of burial has at least some kind of carbon footprint.”

Transporting a body to the burial location requires use of gasoline, and unless the family digs a grave by hand, a backhoe also requires fuel, he said.

The Centre for Natural Burial, a nonprofit that promotes the concept, says cremation uses fewer resources than burial with a decomposition-proof casket and liner. But it does require maintaining a heat of 1,400 to 2,100 degrees for about two hours and releases some particulates into the air. Hood’s crematory uses natural gas, one of the more abundant natural resources.

Cremation has become the most popular way to handle a loved one’s remains locally, Phelps said, with about 70 percent of the families he serves choosing cremation over the more traditional casket.

That’s the exact opposite of national trends, where 71 percent are choosing burial with caskets, and only 29 percent are requesting cremation, according to information on the National Funeral Directors Association’s website.

And even though Colorado ranks No. 9 in the top 10 states where cremation is a choice, that 70 percent is higher than Colorado’s average of 61 percent.

“Everyone thought green burials would be the next cremation,” Phelps said. “The funeral industry pre-emptively advertised and publicized a lot of information about it five or 10 years ago. But I’m only seeing two to three a year, if that.”

A return to the Old West

Phelps said what he calls “frontier” burials are particularly popular with families who have small private cemeteries on their own land.

“There’s nothing new about them,” he said. “Families today are choosing the simpler burial, not just in regard to greenness, but because they want to do everything themselves.”

The only restrictions under Colorado law are that a death certificate must be filed before burial can occur, and if it takes more than 24 hours, the body must be refrigerated or embalmed. Burial is not allowed on private property within the Durango city limits, but may take place anywhere on one’s own property in the county where it’s not prohibited by municipalities or homeowners associations. The GPS coordinates of the location of a private grave must be registered with the county clerk within 30 days, a new requirement passed by the Colorado Legislature in 2010.

“We’re seeing a lot of families who want to bury the same day,” Phelps said. “We had one family that was having a hard time getting the death certificate signed. We ran around and got the signatures in about 30 minutes.”

Noble Whitley, the owner of Trail’s End Pine Box Coffins based in Bayfield, is finding people are really responding to his simple pine boxes, with about half choosing ones with no finish or a simple stain. Most people select wooden or horseshoe handles rather than the more biodegradable rope handles.

“I also work in fire mitigation,” he said. “And when I see a dead tree that’s been standing there awhile, I know that will be some beautiful wood.”

Many of the trees are dead because of the pine bark beetle infestation.

“I just can’t see cutting down good living trees when there are plenty of dead ones,” Whitley said. “Our motto is ‘Live green and die green.’”

What does the future hold?

When the world’s population passed the 7 billion mark at the end of 2011, most concerns were about how to feed those billions and protect the environment at the same time. What no one seems to have examined yet is what will happen in the next 70 years or so, when those 7 billion are going to die, and the world will have to make some tough decisions about what to do with billions of bodies.

How much arable land can be dedicated to cemeteries? How much natural gas and wood will be needed for cremation? What about the resulting air pollution?

“Probably the most environmentally sensitive method is Resomation,” Phelps said. “It uses a hot lye solution and high pressure to dissolve the soft body tissue and break down the body into its chemical components, so what’s left is a few bone fragments. Colorado has already passed legislation allowing it and regulating it.”

Resomation, a trademarked process also known as alkaline hydrolysis, sterilizes the body fluids so they may be washed down the drain. The alkalinity actually helps balance highly acidic sewage. As of 2007, only about 1,000 bodies in the U.S. had gone through Resomation.

“I know people don’t like the idea of washing their loved ones down the drain, but 30 years ago, most people didn’t like the thought of their loved ones blowing away with the wind when ashes were scattered,” Phelps said. “I prefer to think of this as sending them to swim with the trout in the river.”


Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Meeting Clients’ Needs is Top Mission for Local Crematorium

Cremation isn’t for everybody, but some experts predict that as many as half of all deaths will result in cremation by 2025. Clarence Boston, founder and owner of Triad Cremation Society, says the Triad already has a higher cremation rate than average and he expects it to grow. For example, his research of state and local data indicates Guilford County’s cremation rate is about 35 percent, compared with 30 percent statewide. His firm alone performed more than 1,000 cremations in 2011

What is Triad Cremation Society? A full-service crematorium. Since it’s licensed as a funeral home, it is able to ...


Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Meeting Those Final Bills

LIKE many western nations, Australia has an ageing population. This has fuelled the growth of products and services pitched at senior Australians - like funeral plans and funeral insurance, which are openly marketed these days, something that was unthinkable not all that long ago.
Paul Clitheroe

No one likes to think or talk about their own death but, if you feel inclined to do so, it can make sense to discuss your final wishes with family members. Letting them know the type of funeral you'd like or your preference for burial versus cremation for instance, means your family don't have to make more difficult decisions at a time of extreme grief.

It is also important to think about how these final bills will be met because funerals don't come cheap.

On average, a funeral costs somewhere between $4,000 and $7,000, and footing the bill can be a challenge. Life insurance payouts may take a few weeks to be finalised, and probate (when the court validates a person's will) can take even longer. It means your family could be left funding the expense and the reality is that for many people this can be very challenging.

In some circumstances, family members may be eligible for a financial helping hand from government organisations like Centrelink and the Department of Veterans Affairs (DVA). However this assistance is generally only available if the deceased was a recipient of Centrelink or DVA support payments.

This being the case it's not surprising that a range of different funding options are being marketed to cover funeral expenses. It may seem a morbid topic but as with any financial product, it pays to be aware of the upsides as well as the pitfalls before committing your cash.

One option is prepaid funerals. These let you choose the type of funeral you would like, and either pay for it in full in advance, or pay it off over a period of time. Some states require prepaid funerals to be registered with the department of consumer affairs or fair trading. So check with the relevant department in your state or territory to ensure you're dealing with a legitimate organisation.

An alternative is funeral bonds. These offer a tax free investment that can only be accessed after your death. It can be an appealing option for retirees as money invested in prepaid funeral plans or funeral bonds is usually excluded from the age pension assets test.

Another option is funeral insurance. The idea is that you sign up to a policy, making monthly payments to cover funeral costs up to an agreed value. The younger you are, the lower the premiums, however it is important to check that after years of paying premiums you don't end up paying more than a funeral could cost.

With some insurers, a male aged 46 can expect to pay premiums of $11 each month to purchase funeral cover worth $5,000. For a 66-year old man, the premiums can be around $40 per month.

No matter what sort of financial product you use, be sure to tell someone you trust, such as your executor, that you have made plans. There's not much point in paying for funeral insurance if no one knows you have a policy in place.


Monday, March 26, 2012

My Big Fat Green Funeral

At the end of your life, what will be your final act? How do you want to be remembered?

So help me, God, do not bury me in a casket from Costco. I don’t even want a casket. I wish to be buried at sea. Splish, splash, I’ll be taking an eternal bath.

In Cuba, they practice another technique, whereby graveyard space is reduced, reused, and recycled. The unembalmed body is placed inside an aboveground vault that is tightly sealed -- but not too tightly, because eventually it will be reopened.

When a new body moves into the vault, the old, decomposed remains are stored in a box in the corner. That way, the entire family’s remains are kept together.

That system sounds pretty eco-friendly to me. But the funeral industry in this country would not appreciate it, because its profits would dramatically decrease.

Natural burials tend to cost much less than modern, materials-intensive burials. A typical, modern funeral will run a family about $10,000. By comparison, at the Prairie Creek Conservation Cemetery in Gainesville, the rate for burial is $2000.

A green or natural funeral should be the right of every individual. After all, every other living thing that dies away from human contact has a natural burial. Dead whales sink, dead trees fall, and living decomposers recycle them. That’s the circle of life. The decomposers get us, too, but we tend to slow down the process with formaldehyde.

You don’t have to be embalmed. You don’t have to purchase a casket. You don’t have to use a funeral home.

Religion dictates how a deceased human body must be handled, and these traditions must be respected. Interestingly, they tend to be much greener than industrialized methods. Traditionally, Jews and Muslims practice quick burials, thereby avoiding the need for unnatural preservation. They also tend to dispense with caskets. It’s just a body, wrapped in a shroud, put into a hole in the ground. Simple and pure.

Viewers of the HBO series Six Feet Under will recall the natural burial of Nate. Despite running a funeral home, Nate preferred to go low-tech. His final resting place was underneath a tree.

But how natural is natural? The Green Burial Council website ( defines it as “a way of caring for the dead with minimal environmental impact that furthers legitimate ecological aims such as the conservation of natural resources, reduction of carbon emissions, protection of worker health, and the restoration and/or preservation of habitat.”

The council offers a free online burial planner. This document complements a living will, which itself is a good idea.

Cremation, which conserves space, falls into the questionable category. The process is energy-intensive and produces large amounts of greenhouse gas emissions. Perhaps levels of pollution will be reduced in the future with better practices.

A new form of low-energy, liquid cremation pioneered in Europe was brought to the U.S. this past year by the Anderson-McQueen Family Tribute Center in St. Petersburg. Called resomation, the process uses a large boiler and additives to separate liquids from solids. The fact that it uses large amounts of water, however, could be considered wasteful.

For people choosing cremation, you can go low-tech and scatter the ashes by hand, or you can go high-tech and travel to almost any place on earth (and in the future, surely outer space). For those who prefer inner space, or the ocean, one of the most spectacular choices exists right here in Miami. Located just outside state waters, roughly three miles off Key Biscayne, is the Neptune Society’s Memorial Reef.

Memorial Reef is the world’s largest artificial reef, and an underwater cemetery. It has giant lions and pearly gates and benches for fish. Cremated remains are mixed in concrete and attached to the existing structure. Eventually it will cover 16 acres and house the remains of more than 100,000 people. This diving site is open to the public.

A company with a similar concept is Eternal Reefs, based in Georgia. The company’s main business is manufacturing reef structures, so concrete reef balls with cremated remains are placed in various artificial reef locations.

Even if you opt for a modern burial, try to minimize your impact on the earth. Request green options, and pick a cemetery that has been certified or that offers green practices. Choose an urn or casket that is relatively biodegradable, or make your own. To offset the impact of a burial, purchase some trees and make a donation to a conservation organization.

A natural funeral is an American tradition. Before the Civil War, when Americans were not embalmed, home viewings of the dead and do-it-yourself burials were common.

Don’t wait to make this choice. Write down today what you want to happen at your funeral, because, if you don’t, tomorrow you might be forced into a casket from Costco.


Sunday, March 25, 2012

Cemeteries May Soon Allow Both Human, Pet Burials

You can bury your husband. You can bury your dog.

You just can’t bury them together.

But that soon might change.

Standing Rock Cemetery in Kent, Ohio, is planning to allow pet burials on the property beginning in the spring.

The decision to co-mingle pets and humans in the same cemetery has attracted plenty of attention since it became public on Tuesday. Most cemeteries nationwide provide plots for one or the other.

Kingwood Memorial Park cemetery in Lewis Center had planned to create a separate area for pets a few years ago.

“The bond between pets and people is greater than ever,” said Randy Schoedinger, chief executive officer of Schoedinger Funeral and Cremation Service in central Ohio, which used to operate Kingwood.

Jack Lee Harris, general manager of Kingwood, said the company currently managing the cemetery has no plans to add a pet section.

The idea has been discussed at Green Lawn Cemetery in Columbus as well, but general manager Linda Burkey said at least one trustee always opposes it.

Some cemeteries are becoming more flexible.

Jefferson Memorial Cemetery in Pittsburgh allows people to be buried near or in the same plot as their pets in their Garden of Faithful Friends.

“We are in the burying business, and if people wish to bury their pet, shouldn’t we provide that service?” said Harry Neel, president of Jefferson Memorial.

The cost to bury people there is $925 for the plot and $1,195 for the service. Burying a pet in its own plot costs $350 to $1,410, depending on the animal’s size.

Both pets and humans must be buried in caskets or alternative containers.

The state of New York this spring is expected to issue rules that would allow people’s cremated remains to be buried in pet cemeteries.

“Society has changed and its attitude toward pets has changed,” said Vicki Hunsaker, a pet bereavement specialist for CSW Farms Crematorium & Memorial in western Franklin County. “A lot of pet owners consider the pet a family member.”

Retired Columbus Police Sgt. Earl W. Smith and his late wife, Wanda, felt that way about their golden retriever, Samantha.

The couple, who had no children, promised each other after Samantha died that they would bury her ashes with whoever died first.

Four years later, Mrs. Smith died, and her husband honored their promise, placing the dog’s ashes in his wife’s coffin.

“I take some comfort in the thought that they’re together,” he said.

Traditional funeral companies have realized that pets make good business.

Randy Schoedinger started Pet Services by Schoedinger in 1995 to handle pet cremations, burials and memorial services.

Woodyard Pet Services, an offshoot of O.R. Woodyard Funeral Home, offers individual cremation of pets as well as a Pet Memory Kit with a fur clipping, an engraved wooden urn, and an online tribute of the pet’s life.

That level of devotion to pets doesn’t surprise Tom Nicastro, whose Pet Heaven Cemetery on Rt. 40 in Reynoldsburg is the only pet cemetery in the Columbus area.

“I’ve had many people say they want to be buried with their pet — more than you’d think,” he said.

One man has bought a plot next to his dog’s plot where he’s asked that his own ashes be buried some day.

“We said that’s fine, but as far as full-body burial, I tell people I don’t want to compete with people cemeteries,” said Nicastro, who also operates a pet cemetery in Mansfield.

Nicastro has buried a horse, a monkey, white rats, birds and ferrets as well.

“It’s not just shoveling and a piece of dirt,” he said. “This was a member of a person’s family, and that’s the way we treat them.”


Saturday, March 24, 2012

'Dead Woman' Comes Alive

A woman, whom her family members and relatives thought had died, surprised them when she came 'alive'. In fact, her family had also made preparations to cremate her, and her relatives had even reached the cremation ground.

Mamu Devi, 60, of Hartan village of Yamunanagar district was brought to PGI in Chandigarh on Thursday in a critical condition as her kidney had failed.

On Saturday, the doctors told her kin including her husband, Mahender Kumar, son and some other relatives to take her home, as they could not do much to cure her now.

However, her relatives misunderstood what the doctors said and thought that they meant that Mamu had died, though the doctors had only said that there was no chance of her recovery.

As Mamu was unconscious, her family members presumed that she was dead, and rang up home, asking their relatives to arrange for a funeral. Following this the villagers made all the arrangements for the cremation, including arranging for the wood.

However, when Mamu was being taken to her village from Chandigarh, her kin saw some movement in her body, on reaching near Ambala. Elated with the development, they again rang up home informing that Mamu had come 'alive' and it was a "divine miracle." Receiving this information hundreds of relatives and villagers assembled to see the 'miracle' for themselves.

Mahender Kumar, Mamu's husband clarified, "Perhaps, we did not listen to the doctors carefully. Moreover, as she was unconscious and did not move for hours, we thought she as no more."

Later, Mamu was admitted to a private hospital in Yamunanagar.


Friday, March 23, 2012

Pet Haven Cemetery A Place for Animals to Rest in Peace

Small headstones inscribed with heartfelt tributes peek out from the damp, freshly mown lawn at Pet Haven pet cemetery.

Plastic bouquets of flowers, potted poinsettias, a small, artificial Christmas tree and tiny American flags are among the trinkets and tributes placed near the tiny grave sites.

Many are so old that time and blowing sand have nearly worn smooth the names like Little Joe, Smokey, Tiger, Mr. Pumpernickel, Jake and Walter.

A shaded patch of green in the desert north of Palm Springs, the cemetery run by the Stewart family since 1964 is the resting place for more than 1,000 animals. They are mostly dogs and cats, but there are a few birds, rabbits and monkeys, and one pot-bellied pig.

It's also a place of celebrities, where the pets that belonged to President Gerald Ford and his family, Liberace and Michael Landon are buried.

But even in a place known for its boundless, even obsessive love of animals, the pet cemetery business isn't what it once was. The recession has turned pet burials into an unjustifiable luxury for some. Cremation and inurnment, rare a decade ago, is now common.

“We did 100 a year at the peak — seven to 10 years ago,” said Charles Stewart Jr., 61, who took over running the cemetery about five years ago after his father moved to Indiana and his brother passed away. “Now, we only do one a month.”

The cost to bury an animal is $895, which includes the burial site, a handmade pine casket, a headstone and perpetual care.

Pet Haven's monthly water bill runs about $400, and after paying gardeners and covering other costs, the Stewarts are losing money on the cemetery.

But no matter. The family made a commitment.

“My father and I love animals,” Stewart said. “It's not a money-making proposition, and it was never intended to be.”

Charles Stewart Sr., 88, who started the cemetery, comes out during the winter to check on the operation.

“It was running down a little bit, but we're trying to get it back in shape,” the elder Stewart said.

'Truly golden lady'

The entrance off Dillon Road is framed by an old whitewashed wooden sign, “Pet Cemetery” hand-painted in black letters, partly obscured by the withered fronds of an old palm tree.

A long sidewalk leads to a statue of Saint Francis of Assisi, where the patron saint of animals, a bouquet of faux pink tulips at his feet, stands watch.

At the center of the cemetery is a tall monument made of rough-edged bricks laid long ago, bearing statues of praying angels.

Buried along the monument's border are the cremated remains of pets, including two thoroughbred horses named Boy Doctor and Doctor Brut.

Markers range from simple stones bearing only the animal's name, to larger, more elaborate ones with photos, long inscriptions and sometimes the owner's name.

Nee-Na is a Good Girl
Edie Huff

Tom Boots, Esq.
Our Brave Boy

Five of Liberace's dogs are buried side-by-side, but the markers are so worn that most are unreadable. But still legible on each is the owner's farewell: “Love, Lee.”

President Ford's much-photographed presidential pet — a golden retriever named Liberty — is buried under a sprawling carob tree, next to one of her offspring, Misty.

The faded inscription on the headstone reads: “Liberty — Truly golden lady for our family — The Ford's”

The 8-month-old puppy was given to the president by his daughter Susan and new White House photographer David Hume Kennerly in the fall of 1974.

Halle Fetty of La Quinta has buried two dogs at the cemetery.

Her parents' black lab, Duffy, was hit by a car in 1989. Duffy's companion, a Yorkshire terrier named Baby, died in 1998.

Fetty is an infrequent visitor to the cemetery, but at home she has the cremated remains of three of her own dogs.

She's now thinking of having them interred with the remains of Duffy and Baby.

“I don't think I was ready to let go,” she said of her holding onto the ashes of her pets for so long.

She still recalls the special treatment Baby received when she was buried.

“When Baby passed away, she had a beat-up fabric Frisbee we brought to the cemetery,” Fetty said.

Fetty thought she would lay the toy on top of the little casket.

“But the man at the cemetery said, ‘Do you want me to put it in the box with her?' and he opened the lid of the box, lifted her head up and put it under her head and shoulders,” Fetty said.

The emotion of the experience has remained through the years.

“That's why I want the ashes of my other dogs buried there,” she said.

$150 for cremation

The remains of animals who died in the care of veterinarians were typically cremated and discarded unless owners made arrangements to have them buried.

Only over the past 20 years has the practice of keeping a pet's ashes become commonplace.

“It really started catching on 10 to 12 years ago,” said Michael Nicodemus, vice president of cremation operations at Hollomon-Brown Funeral Home/Lynnhaven Crematory in Virginia Beach, Va.

Nicodemus is president of the Cremation Association of North America.

“It was available earlier, but just like cremation is to humans, people were reluctant because they didn't know enough about the cremation process,” he said. “Just like they used to bury grandma, that's how they buried their pets. Now people are more educated.”

Wiefels Cremation & Funeral Service in Palm Springs began performing pet cremations in 2009 with a separate business, Pet Cremation Center by Wiefels.

“When we started out, they kind of dribbled in,” said Wiefels president Mark Matthews. “We got to be excited when it was one a day. Now it's 10 times what it was.”

Matthews said the company performs 2,000 to 3,000 pet cremations a year.

The basic cost is $150 and includes cremation, a plastic urn, a paw print, a lock of fur and a copy of “Rainbow Bridge,” a poem about the loss of a pet.

'Why don't you start a pet cemetery?'

Charles Stewart Sr. and his family moved to Palm Springs in 1958. They ran a boarding kennel and grooming business on Dillon Road, just west of Palm Drive.

“Then people started asking me, ‘Why don't you start a pet cemetery,'?” Stewart said.

There was no place in the desert to bury pets, yet he knew bereaved owners wanted a more dignified way to remember them.

“The people were burying them in the dump or in their yards,” he said.

It took more than a year, 1,000 signatures, the approval of the Riverside County planning department and the board of supervisors, but by 1964, the cemetery had been established.

He said it took about $10,000 to buy the land and start the cemetery. He leveled the land, poured the concrete sidewalks, built the brick monument and worked dirt and grass seed into the sand.

Desert Memorial Park in Cathedral City even donated the squares of sod that had been dug out for burials.

“The first pet we buried for $65,” the elder Stewart said. “The first 15 years we supported it, then it started paying for itself, breaking even.”

Buried in pine casket

Stewart Jr. said when the the pets are placed in the ground, they're situated so they're facing west, “Toward the setting sun.”

“All of our animals, just like President Abe Lincoln, are buried in a handmade pine casket. If it's good enough for President Lincoln, it's good enough for our babies,” said Stewart, who makes the caskets.

The animals, tucked in a blanket, are often accompanied to the grave with a favorite item, placed by their owners.

Although it's an ongoing financial struggle, the Stewarts are stalwart in their dedication and commitment to the cemetery and to the people they serve.

“This is a debt of honor,” Stewart Jr. said. “We're constantly doing work, maintaining the property. We've carried on the tradition of love.”


Thursday, March 22, 2012

BBB Advises Consumers To Shop Around, Ask Questions Before Buying Funeral Services

The Better Business Bureau (BBB) is advising consumers to ask lots of questions and consider several providers before buying or planning funeral services.
Americans spend billions on funerals every year, but the funeral or burial services don’t have to be costly. A funeral can be a simple internment or an elaborate affair with music, speakers, customized caskets and refreshments for mourners. Family, religious or personal preferences are important, but cost and convenience should be considered as well.

“Many families are forced to make decisions about funerals under stress,” said Michelle L. Corey, BBB President and CEO. “By educating themselves about the process and taking time to ask questions and compare costs, families can avoid overspending. They’re more likely to get the kind of service they want, too.”
The Federal Trade Commission’s Funeral Rule gives consumers a number of rights, including the right to receive written price lists, explanations of cemetery or legal requirements and the choice of using a container other than a casket for cremation. Some cemeteries have their own requirements, which must be explained fully before you make a purchase.

The BBB offers the following tips for avoiding funeral scams:
  • Be an informed consumer. Call and shop around before making a purchase. Funeral homes are required to provide detailed price lists over the phone or in writing. Ask if lower priced items are included on the price list.
  • Contact the BBB for a Business Review of any funeral home, cremation service, cemetery or other provider you may be considering. Check whether the funeral services director or embalmer is licensed. Reviews are available at or by calling 314-645-3300.
  • Be alert for unsupported claims. Sellers who claim to have a product or service that will preserve human remains over the long term are misleading you. Funeral providers cannot determine how long a casket will preserve a body, so keep that in mind when deciding whether to purchase the more expensive “sealed” or “protective” casket. A casket is not legally required for a direct cremation.
  • Cemetery plots or niches in a mausoleum are sold more like a perpetual lease than a real estate deed. The rights of use should be spelled out in the contract. Ask if there are additional fees for vaults, opening the grave or perpetual care. Ask whether the cemetery has an endowment to provide for upkeep over time.
  • Research funeral home service fees. The Federal Trade Commission’s Web site at has information on charges that are prohibited under the Funeral Rule.
  • Embalming is not required if you choose direct cremation or immediate burial.
  • Resist high-priced sales pitches from funeral industry vendors. They should treat you with compassion; not pressure you.
  • Consult a friend or family member. Take along a friend or relative when you visit the funeral home. Someone who is not as emotionally invested as you are can assist with difficult decisions.
  • Require all proposed plans and purchases to be put in writing. Compare the posted prices and any oral promises with those listed in the contract. The contract should itemize all prices and specify any future costs. Check the contract for any restrictions.
  • Carefully read contracts and purchase agreements before signing. Ask if the agreements you sign can be voided, taken back or transferred to other funeral homes.
  • Prepaying for a funeral has advantages as well as risks. If you choose to prepay, carefully research your options and know your rights. You can always make plans in advance, without prepaying, and you may be better off putting money for a funeral in a savings account. Be sure to share your specific wishes with those close to you. 


Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Embalming: Preserving Life in The Time of Death

The death of a loved one can be a difficult time for many, and a funeral can be especially difficult for some people to deal with.
Stephanie Dubois/ Rep Staff Serenity Funeral Service Funeral Director
and Embalmer Quinn Furey

Although it can be hard, dealing with death is part of a normal day for local embalmers and funeral directors.

Considered to be a morbid profession by some, embalmers are a necessary part of society and play a major role in the preservation of a body after death, said one Leduc embalmer.

“I think the healthiest point of view you can have is this is a role that needs filling and this is a role in society that has to happen,” said Quinn Furey, an embalmer and funeral director with Serenity Funeral Services in Leduc, who said many people are unaware of what happens to the deceased during the embalming, cremation or burial process.

The embalming procedure, which is not mandatory and depends on the family’s wishes, is one which dates back to the Egyptian dynasty where Egyptians would prepare their dead for the afterlife. Although the process has changed substantially since then, the preservation of the body so family members can view it as part of their grief is still an important part of the method.

According to Furey, the enshrining process can be described as “the preserving of the human body through the use of chemicals and also retards micro-organism growth.” One of the main issues with a deceased person is the risk of bacteria growth, which can release harmful microorganisms into the air, and is why embalmers use chemicals such as formaldehyde to stop the body’s tissue from decomposing.

The three, main steps to embalming

Considered to be a somewhat lengthy process, embalming a dead body has three main priorities: sanitation, preservation and restoration, , Furey said.

The first step requires the mortician to remove all bacteria from the body by using chemicals.

Furey said tuberculosis is one of the biggest concerns when dealing with sanitation, because it is a bacteria that presents itself in the lungs and still manifests after the person is deceased.

Called vascular embalming, Furey said the funeral home relies on the body’s arteries to flush out the blood and circulate the chemicals used in order to maintain the body’s tissues. Using a special machine to pump the liquid, the mortician first creates an incision to a major artery and inserts the liquids through the major artery.

“Basically what we are doing is pushing the blood out. We inject in the artery and then we open up the vein. We use it because it is the closest to the heart and it’s a major distributor. We can inject [the fluids] in any major artery and we will do that if an area gets plugged,” said the local funeral director.

The fluids used not only contain formaldehyde, but also water, dyes to pigment the skin as well as other embalming agents.

“Most of the colour in Caucasian skin is blood showing through the skin. When someone passes, the blood settles to the lowest point and the tissue gets a greyest colour, so we have a few different dyes to help.”

After inserting the enshrining liquid, the embalmer then does what is called ‘aspiration.’

The practice sees the major organs such as the stomach and lungs punctured and filled with a special liquid, which stops bacteria growth.

After the fluids are injected, the body is then prepared for the viewing process. The embalmer first sets the features of the deceased, which includes closing the eyes and wiring the jaw shut. The person’s face is then shaved, they are dressed in the clothing chosen by the family and are placed in the casket.

Once the body is placed, the deceased person then has makeup applied by an embalmer in preparation for the viewing.

“One of hardest parts is lips on men because the lips go grey usually. There is quite a bit of blood vessels so one of the harder things, oddly enough, is to get the lip colour right,” said Furey.

After the viewing, depending on the family’s wishes, some people choose to have their loved ones’ ashes cremated.

Although the Leduc funeral home does not do the cremation at their local office, their affiliate branch does take care of the deceased. Furey said the cremation process generally takes about three to four hours, depending on the size of the person and the box they are cremated in.

Resembling the concept of an oven, the crematorium burns the deceased person and the closed container they are placed in at 1,800 degrees Fahrenheit. The ashes are then collected by using a series of brushes and are placed into a metal bin with spinning blades.

Although it is mostly bone marrow that remains as somewhat larger pieces, Furey said the ashes are put through the machine to become fine ash, with all metal removed prior.

The remains are then placed into a special heavy-duty plastic bag, which is then put into the urn or container of choice of the family members.

The ashes are then given to the family or prepared for the funeral.

The viewing: one of more important parts of grieving process

According to local funeral directors, the viewing portion of the funeral can be difficult for many but can be one of the most important steps in grieving over the loss of a loved one.

“I think death denial is rampant and it is something our culture has embraced fully because most people don’t know what happens in the funeral industry. Just because the viewing is unpleasant doesn’t mean it isn’t important,” said Furey.

One of the more difficult parts of being a funeral director, according to Leduc staff, is having to see the family during the committal portion of the funeral, which is when the casket is placed into the ground. Furey said most people are able to contain their grief during the majority of the funeral proceedings but this portion of the grieving ceremony is when many are unable to hold back.

“That seems to be where the family has held themselves together and that’s where they break. That can be the toughest part,” said Furey, adding seeing parents with a child who passed away is also a difficult moment. “I think the toughest times is when you see somebody who is my parents age and somebody my age is the deceased. There is a similarity between me and the deceased, which is difficult because then it becomes personal.”

Local embalmers agree that no matter how difficult death may be to some, it is an equalizer that everyone will encounter and that by understanding what happens after a person passes can help lessen the fear of death many have.

“I think many people believe talking or thinking about death is bad or morbid but most people I meet want to know more out of curiosity. I think it is a good thing that people are curious. The less it is demystified, the less fear there is.”


Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Most Americans Are Clueless About “What To Do With The Ashes”

One of the most interesting yet unspoken topics involving Cremation is "what to do with the ashes?" There is no etiquette handbook that tells us what's right or inappropriate. We all just make convenient and sincere decisions.

Jill Larson, Senior Vice President, Smart Cremation, said, "After being in this business for many years, I can honestly say there is no right or common answer to what happens to the ashes of a loved one or friend. It is all a matter of circumstances. We know many families store ashes in hideaway places such as attics and closets and others who choose to have ashes displayed in expensive urns on mantels.

"Smart Cremation is often asked for suggestions. We usually explain what others have done but we don't force the issue. It is really a personal decision. Not everyone has the same circumstances or conditions. Some families have young children and don't want anything fragile displayed. Others don't want to look at constant reminders. Then there are others who devote a shrine to the ashes. It is important for these people to have a place of worship and respect."

Larson admits it is very difficult to predict who will do what because it is such a personal decision and often takes time for family members to decide on a final disposition for those ashes. With cremation, there is no rush. Families sometimes sit an urn on the mantel until something personal strikes them as appropriate (such as scattering ashes on a lake where the deceased used to vacation).

A growing number of folks are opting for a more dramatic choice that is getting a lot of attention from survivors." Ashes are now imbedded in necklaces, sculptures, diamond rings and vases at all price ranges. Some are even infusing ashes into their tattoos. It is all about mobility and the personal connection. People love feeling that they are very close to the departed. It eases the loss and pain.

Larson added, "We see more and more people making individual choices. Families and friends divide the ashes so there doesn't have to be a big group decision and now folks who want to be creative can let their imaginations run wild."

Larson said the topic of what to do with the ashes should be discussed more because an increasing number of Americans are choosing cremation over traditional burials. This topic is going to be explored in all kinds of areas. It is very exciting.


Monday, March 19, 2012

Cremation Delays Lead to Added Grief - Town Undertakers

BEREAVED families in Cheltenham are facing agonising delays before laying their loved ones to rest due to the installation of new equipment at the town crematorium.

Undertakers say work to bring two new cremators to the Bouncers Lane site means their clients are being forced to wait for two weeks to get an appointment for a cremation.

Martin Cocks, owner of WS Trenhaile funeral directors in Charlton Kings, said the delay – a week more than the normal waiting time – heightened the grief suffered by families at an already difficult time.

He criticised the borough council for carrying out the work in a month when the death rate was near its peak.

He said: "I realise what they are doing at the crematorium is important but I would question whether they should be doing the work at this time of year, which has a particularly high number of deaths.

"It is far quieter during the summer so it would have made much more sense to do it then.

"Our job is to look after our clients and their families and to make sure things are as smooth as possible for them at what can be a very traumatic time.

"But having to wait 14 days undoubtedly makes it more difficult for them."

Joy Mason, partner at Mason and Stokes funeral directors in Hewlett Road, said she had also noticed the delay.

"There has been a slight delay but we understand the work needs to go on to comply with regulations," she said.

"At this time of year there is always a longer delay in any case. It takes some time to get back to normal after the Christmas period and there are more deaths over the winter than at other times of the year."

The council claimed the average delay between death and cremation was 10 days – irrespective of the time of year.

However, funeral directors said they were normally able to secure a cremation appointment in half that time.

Robert Hainsworth, bereavement services manager at the council, said the authority had been in touch with undertakers across the town to let them know about the situation.

He said: "We are having two new cremators installed to replace the outdated cremators we currently have.

"The new cremators will be more energy efficient to reduce the council's carbon footprint and will be up and running by the end of February.

"It is a particularly difficult job as the building is Grade II listed and the contractors have to install the new cremators without changing the structure of the building.

"The staff are working extremely hard to keep the service running to avoid delays."


Sunday, March 18, 2012

Nearly Half of Californians Choose It

San Francisco Archbishop George Niederauer has given his approval to plans by a Dominican parish to build a columbarium with 320 niches for the cremated remains of parishioners, the archdiocesan newspaper Catholic San Francisco reports.

The newspaper described the plans at St. Dominic’s Catholic Church as “a first for the Archdiocese of San Francisco, and a sign of how things have changed from the past when the Catholic Church banned cremation except for extraordinary circumstances such as an outbreak of the plague.”

“A columbarium is a building or portion of a building where niches are placed to house cremated remains to honor and remember our deceased family and friends,” says the parish website.

“It is estimated that niche prices will vary from $4,200 to $15,200 depending upon location of the niche,” according to St. Dominic’s website. “This price is for up to 2 persons per niche. There will also be opening fees.”

“St. Dominic’s proposed columbarium is an example of how prevalent cremation has become, particularly in California, the state with the highest number of cremations in the country with 107,769 in 2009,” reported the Dec. 9 edition of Catholic San Francisco. “Forty-six percent of Californians chose cremation over whole body burial in 2009, according to the Cremation Association of North America. Nationally, cremations rose from 33 percent in 2004 to 38 percent in 2009, according to the association report.”

Some observers have concluded that the rise in cremation can be attributed in part to the bad economy. In an example provided in a Dec. 9 New York Times article on the subject, the family of a 54-year-old woman who died from cancer spent a total of $1600 when it opted for cremation -- compared to $10,000 to $16,000 for a traditional burial and funeral.

Archbishop Niederauer’s approval for the parish columbarium “was specific to the circumstances at St. Dominic, which is owned by the Dominican Order,” the archdiocesan newspaper reported. “In general, the archdiocese recommends burial or interment at Holy Cross or one of the other Catholic cemeteries in the archdiocese.”

“This is not a precedent,” the archbishop was quoted as saying by Catholic San Francisco. “If there are other parishes that want to proceed with this in the future, we need to approach those requests on a parish by parish basis, judging the situation individually.”

The niches in the columbarium at St. Dominic’s will be available only to registered parishioners. Holy Cross Cemetery -- the archdiocesan cemetery in Colma -- already provides for cremated remains either by traditional burial, above-ground indoor and outdoor marble niches, and glass-front niches in the cemetery’s All Saints Mausoleum.

Other dioceses in California also operate cemeteries designed to handle cremated remains. In the Oakland diocese, the Mausoleum at the Cathedral of Christ the Light includes 1850 niches for cremated remains, which can cost as little as $1500 or as much as $110,000. The mausoleum below the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in Los Angeles includes 4794 niches for urns containing cremated remains.

In the dioceses of San Jose, Orange and Sacramento, Catholic cemeteries provide burial, mausoleums and niches to handle cremated remains.

Permitting cremation is relatively new to the Church, which forbade it -- except in rare circumstances -- until 1963. In 1997, the Vatican Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments further refined the Church’s position, authorizing local bishops to set their own policies on whether cremated remains may be present at funeral Masses. Canon law on the subject has also changed, with the 1983 edition lifting a ban on cremation that had been in the 1917 Code.

“While the Church favors traditional burial, it now allows cremation,” explains a section on the Sacramento diocesan website about cremation. “In the past the Church prohibited cremation because the practice had been associated with a denial of the Christian belief in the resurrection of the dead and the immortality of the soul. The Church removed this prohibition in 1963 and now forbids cremation only if it is done ‘for reasons that are contrary to Christian teaching.’”


I-Team: Pet Cremation Business Accused Of Operating Without License

Recently, pet cremation business Heaven’s Pets said they began getting an influx of business.

Out of sight, in the back of the Lake Lawn Metairie Cemetery, under the sound of an incinerator, Jen Melius was hard at work.

Melius owns Heaven’s Pets and said she has been flooded with phone calls lately.

“Why? I'm not 100 percent sure, but we have had some calls from other vets on the Northshore who in the past have not called us for service,” she said.

The calls came after one Northshore-based pet cremation business, the Pet Stop, shut down.

A flyer obtained by the WDSU I-Team said the business is located in Albany, La., and run by Jean Carpenter. Prices were listed on the flyer for regular and private cremations.

Dr. Susan Strain with the Claiborne Hill Veterinary Clinic said she used the Pet Stop for more than a decade. However, that all changed about two weeks ago.

“She gave us a call and said that part of her cremator wasn't working and she brought back the bodies they collected,” Strain said.

The call Strain received came after the WDSU I-Team called Carpenter. The I-Team discovered that Carpenter’s business wasn’t registered with the state. There wasn’t any record in Livingston Parish of any occupational license to operate, either.

Carpenter told WDSU that she had been out of the business for "a while" when asked about operating without a proper license.

However, numerous clinics from Hammond to Covington said they have used Carpenter and the Pet Stop in recent months.

Carpenter said the Pet Stop has been closed for 10 years, but said she has a man who “picks up the dogs and takes them to the dump, but my cremation business does not go with it.”

Strain said that Carpenter's closed business was news to her.

“It was more of a working relationship and we never questioned it,” Strain said.

Now, the doctor is questioning it. Strain is the wife of Dr. Mike Strain, the commissioner of the state Department of Agriculture and Forestry.

He worked with his wife until his election to state office in 2007.

“I'm sure Mike will speak with secretary (Tom) Schedler about this to see if he has any concerns, and there needs to be,” Strain said.

Schedler is the Secretary of State. All limited liability corporations and businesses have to register with the Secretary of State’s office.

Businesses that handle pet remains are required to have state and parish business licenses to operate, but don’t need a special license to handle dead pets.

Businesses are supposed to be following the official rules laid out by the International Association of Pet Cemeteries and Cremators.


Saturday, March 17, 2012

Dumping Of Remains Shameful

It is such a macabre story that many people might have tried to avoid it, but its scope demands it get a full hearing so that it may never happen again.

While the rest of the country was noting the solemn 70th anniversary of the bombing of Pearl Harbor and the U.S.’s entry into World War II, the truth behind the military’s shameful, unofficial practice of incinerating body parts of fallen warriors and then dumping them in a Virginia landfill was coming to light.

The body fragments were entrusted to the military “to dispose of the remains in a dignified and respectful manner,” according to a report in The Washington Post, which has led reporting on this issue.

Instead, the remains, often body parts recovered after a fallen warrior’s formal memorial and cremation or interment had occurred, were cremated, then incinerated with medical waste and dumped into the King George County Landfill in Virginia.

The Post reports that military records show the partial remains of at least 274 American troops were handled this way. It also reports that although the practice was halted three years ago, there is no effort now to try to determine how many troops may have been involved or to notify families. When senior Pentagon officials reviewed cremation practices at the Dover mortuary in 2008, they were not told of the practice, according to the Post.

We know that terrible things happen when human beings are involved in anything: Corners are cut, supervisors are left out of the loop and unthinkable actions go unreported.

But once the facts begin to come to light, there must be full inquiry; there must be full disclosure; there must be accountability.

Still, in November when the Post reported the problems at the base, Air Force and Pentagon officials said it would be just too much trouble to search through the records of 6,300 dead troops to find out how many and who were disrespected.

“It would require a massive effort and time to recall records and research individually,” wrote the Pentagon’s acting undersecretary for personnel to Rep. Rush Holt, D-N.J., who is pressing for answers on behalf of constituents.

After The Washington Post requested information from the Dover Air Force Base mortuary’s records, these preliminary numbers emerged. From 2004 to 2006, 976 fragmentary remains linked to 274 specific men and women were cremated, incinerated and dumped. Another 1,762 fragments that could not undergo DNA testing were treated the same way.

We have written before about the meticulous care taken with fallen troops about to be returned to families for honored burials. We know that the vast majority of those who handle the early remains are respectful and sober about their duties.

We admire the military practice of scouring battlefields and the sites of explosions and plane crashes to retrieve remains, often at danger to those doing the work.

But we are dismayed and astounded that, faced with this horrific practice of disposing of remains, which some evidence traces back into the 1990s, the military is not moving heaven and earth to discover everything it can about the practice and to notify families involved.

What is done cannot be undone, and some families may rest better not knowing a loved one was involved. But that should be their choice. Families who surrendered their loved ones to the military for respectful treatment should be able to request and to receive full and accurate information about this shameful business. It is the very least we owe those who died and those who suffered their loss to know what happened and to ensure such a thing can never happen again.


Friday, March 16, 2012

Death Goes High Tech

If all goes according to plan for Remco Memorials, cemeteries will soon be new technology hubs.

Dave Quirring scans a QR code on the grave marker

In a first for Saskatchewan, possibly Canada, the Regina company has introduced QR (quick response) codes onto their memorials. That means when family or friends visit a grave, they will be able to scan the code on their smartphones and bring up the dearly departed's online obituary.

Remco president Dave Reeson got the idea from a Seattle-based memorial company and figured he'd give it a try in Regina.

"Memorials are getting more and more personalized with photographs, symbols, all kinds of things," he explained. "They tend to reflect in some way the life of the deceased, such as their hobbies, work, family connections."

That story, he said, can be added to through the use of QR codes — bar codes which, when scanned through a mobile device, will direct the user to a website.

"A lot of funeral homes already have obituaries online," Reeson said. "If you can go directly to an obituary, it tells an even more in-depth story."

The process is simple: For a $75 charge, a unique QR code is printed on a small square of plastic, which is guaranteed for 10 years, then affixed to the headstone.

The idea is that over time, families will be able to add to an obituary, building on the life of the deceased through photographs and stories.

"That already happens in some cases, where families get a password they can use to access an online obituary to make changes, add to it, whatever they want to do."

It may seem macabre, but Reeson says there has already been a positive response to the week-old pilot project.

"We had a 70-year-old gentleman into the showroom who said, to use his words, 'that's really cool,'" he said.

"He knew all about QR codes and was intrigued by the possibility of having one on a gravestone.

"It really changes what a memorial is about, and it's really exciting to be a part of this new technology."

While a grieving family might not be too sure about their loved one's wishes when it comes to a QR code, Reeson says more and more people are pre-planning their memorials.

"That's a big part of this," he said. "And if they would prefer to link to a more personalized site, like a Facebook page, they can do that as well."

In the U.S. the idea of having a bar-coded grave isn't totally out of the ordinary, with companies such as Quiring Monuments in Seattle implementing the system back in May and dubbing it the Living Memorial.

But in Canada, Reeson said he hasn't heard of anyone else doing it.

So who does he think will go for a little black and white QR code on their grave?

"We're targeting everyone, " Reeson said.

"I think older folks are less likely to be up to speed with this newer technology, but then people aged 50 to 70 who're planning their own monuments are more and more Internet savvy, so you never know."


Thursday, March 15, 2012

Honoring the Dead: Inside A Body Farm Memorial Service

When Dr. Bill Bass founded the Body Farm back in the 1980's it was the first of its kind.

Since then, hundreds of people have donated their bodies and law enforcement and researchers from across the globe have traveled to East Tennessee to gather information they can't find anywhere else on earth.

Now after three decades of saving, fundraising and planning, UT's famous anthropology department has a new place to call home. The department's new building, the Bass Forensic Anthropology Building has everything students need including stainless steel autopsies tables, a walk-in cooler, separate work areas, even a laundry facility and locker rooms.

That is pretty impressive when you consider the anthropology department started with a few left over rooms in Neyland Stadium. "And we started with eight rooms in the second floor, and we know have probably 160, 180 rooms - We've gone from a three person department to I think, there's 22 PHD's in the department right now," said Bass.

The multi-dollar project took several years to complete. It is paid for in part by Bass' own money, the profit he made from his Body Farm Novel's written under the pen name, Jefferson Bass.

In the last few weeks, students and staff started moving into the building. Dr. Bass said the first lesson in the building could be the most important lesson the anthropology department will ever teach. A lesson of compassion, of appreciation and of respect for the dead.

As part of the Bass Building's official christening, Dr. Bass planned a service to respectfully pay tribute to the other men and women who made the building possible. However, those people are not the financial donors, but the people who gave something money can't buy.

With a bible worn from years of prayer and praise, a UT chaplain recited holy words so many hold dear. At first it looks like any other memorial service, but in fact it is UT anthropology students sitting in for grieving family members and a red rose and a lace draped cardboard box to replace a traditional coffin.

Inside of the box rests the remains of a single Body Farm donor. One of many who chose to give their last worldly possession all for the greater good of those still living. "It's not the traditional end of life that a lot of people offer, but this is offering so much more to the future of science - and hopefully will help a lot of families with a lot of unknowns," said UT Undergrad student Jake Smith.

"Individuals who have contributed their bodies to this collection, really are serving science," said Dr. Bass.

The single set of remains represent the hundreds of Body Farm donors from over the years and it is their sacrifices that Bass said make the facilities one of a kind, world renowned research possible. "We have one staff member now who's major research is in DNA and we are now getting samples from these individuals when they come in that we can do DNA and look at body types and things like this that is, absolutely cutting edge, it's brand new research that has never been done and it can only be done here. I hate to say it like that, because it's sounds like I'm bragging but I'm not, this is a very, very important collection these individuals needs to be reward for their gift," said Bass.

For that priceless gift, those at the ceremony offered one final word of appreciation in the form of a prayer for the families of the dead.

As well as a simple explanation from the man who's work started it all. "These are people who, dedicated their life to helping other people, and there are a few of them, of us, who have said, well, why should I stop when I die?" said Bass.

The ceremony itself dates back to the Body Farm's early days. "Dr. Bass came to me and said, we have this, these bones and we've had a number of these bones for years, and we've never done a service for them," said George Doebler, UT Medical Center Chaplain.

With the souls on his heart, Dr. Bass set up a ceremony modeled in a way he believes the donors would want. "This being a Christian nation, and most of the people we get would be Christian faith - I didn't pick a Baptist or a Methodist or a Presbyterian - I picked a hospital Chaplin - who tend to be non denominational I reckon you'd say," said Dr. Bass.

This is something he is proud of and plans to continue for years to come within his department. When it is time, he said he will also pass along that final gift like so many Body Farm donors have. "I may in my case, do this as a cremation, we have a cremation collection also," said Bass.

Helping another generation of students, learn, remember and say thanks.


Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Crematorium Filter will Halt Pollution Hazard

A £650,000 filter system is being installed at a crematorium to stop potentially harmful fumes entering the atmosphere.

The government has ordered all crematoria to halve the amount of harmful gases given off by cremations before 2013 — but Overdale Crematorium in Overdale Drive, Heaton, is going one better.

Bosses at the crematorium have asked Bolton Council for permission to install the new system which stops mercury — from dental fillings for example — and acid going into the atmosphere.

Exposure to high levels of mercury can damage the brain, nervous system and harm fertility.

Government figures show 16 per cent of mercury pollution in the UK is caused by crematoria.

The state-of-the-art system aiming to eradicate emissions works by transferring gases from the cremation to a water-cooled tank where a powder is added to turn them into a solid.

The mercury is then filtered out and stored in a sealed drum before it is disposed of under highly controlled conditions.

A Government scheme will pay for the new system in instalments once it is in place.

Bolton Council’s cleaner, greener, safer representative, Cllr Elaine Sherrington, said: “This is a fantastic idea. It is great that the crematorium is going for an eradication as opposed to just the required reduction.

“Anything to make people’s lives healthier in Bolton gets our support.”

Only two other crematoria, in Nottingham and Derby, have this system in place.

In order to make the changes, the crematorium needs the council’s permission to extend its yard area.

A Bolton Council spokesman said: “The new equipment will allow Overdale to meet the Government’s minimum requirements to reduce mercury emissions from national cremations by 50 per cent by January 2013.

“As well as meeting government targets, this will allow the crematorium to become more environmentally friendly.

“The cost of the installation, which commences in January 2012, is £650,000.”

The council is aiming to reach a decision by January 1.


Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Ashes to Ashes, Dust to... Cufflinks and Rings: Bizarre but Lucrative Solution Burial Plot Shortage

It's a bizarre but lucrative solution to the growing problem of where to bury the nation's dead.

Britain's richest local authority is helping bereaved families to turn the ashes of their loved ones into signet rings, cufflinks and even paperweights rather than bury or store their cremated bodies in urns.

The City of London Corporation is encouraging relatives to buy £495 gold signet rings, £395 sets of cufflinks and £195 paperweights containing the ashes of the dead.

Using molten glass heated to 1,100 degrees Celsius and coloured effects, the ash-filled memorials are made at a glassworks in Billericay in Essex and shipped on to relatives.

Using the slogan 'Keep your loved ones close to you always,' the Corporation, which runs the wealthy Square Mile in the City of London, advertises the service at its vast cemetery in Epping Forest on the outskirts of London.

A glossy brochure advertising the service has been produced, with a price list that also includes memorial earrings – £195 in silver or £245 in gold – and neck pendants priced between £295 and £345, with cheques made payable to the Corporation.

The brochure explains: 'Your loved one's cremation ashes are added to crystal glass to create memorial jewellery and paperweights.'

It adds: 'We only use a small amount of ashes for each item so all the members of your family can have a personal memorial.'

The move comes as a survey earlier this year revealed that Britain was fast running out of space to bury its dead.

A survey of 300 local councils showed that on average our cemeteries will be full in 30 years with an average of just 15 years before London's cemeteries are full, forcing the Ministry of Justice to consider granting nationwide permission to re-use old graves.

Julie Dunk, technical services and events manager at the Institute of Cemetery and Crematorium Management, said: 'It is about offering choice to families.

'People these days like to memorialise in individual ways.'

The City of London Crematorium's Superintendent and Registrar, Garry Burks, said 75 per cent of people who died in Britain were now cremated rather than being buried in coffins.

He said a private firm made the jewellery and they took an administration fee from the price towards the upkeep of the 200- acre Epping Forest cemetery.

He added: 'We provide the service and charge an administration fee. 'It's not everyone's cup of tea, but some people like it.'


Monday, March 12, 2012

Saying Farewell to Fido

So there she was — a 57-year-old Benedictine nun-turned-chemist-turned Protestant pastor — sprawled on her belly in a 4-foot-deep closet conversing with Simon.

The 13-year-old Scottish terrier had lived a long life, often relaxing in the shade among the backyard hostas. But now he was having problems, and the Rev. Karen Clarke sensed he was afraid — that he knew the end was near.

His cancer spreading, Simon retreated to the closet corner and huddled beneath a rack of blue jeans and plaid shirts. During thunderstorms, he often hid there. But this time, he wasn’t there because of the rain.

“Simie, I know it’s time for you to go,” Clarke whispered in the dark closet as she scooted past the long dresses, inching closer to the terrier. “Will you come out so I can help you?”

Simon obliged.


When animals like Simon die, they often leave behind human companions trapped in a complex grieving process that Omaha-based psychotherapist Teresa Freeman said is the same as when a human loved one dies.

That’s why Freeman leads a pet loss support group at Omaha’s Humane Society, where a dozen or so grieving animal lovers gather twice a month to share tips on moving past their companions’ deaths. Some bereaved owners plan thousand-dollar burials for their gerbils or cats. Others struggle to move on without their horse or dog, like the woman who had a bench installed next to the graves of her Great Danes.

The sorrow is normal and healthy, Freeman said, but it surprises some pet owners and can lead to serious psychiatric issues such as depression and anxiety disorders if ignored.

“People don’t automatically assume that they are going to feel this kind of grief for an animal,” she said. “Our culture doesn’t really allow us to acknowledge how deep our relationships are with our pets.”

Resources for grieving pet lovers include an online network of support websites that allow bereaved owners to light virtual candles in honor of their dead pets or post suggestions on when it’s appropriate to adopt new companions.

This month, The New York Times published a story about the proliferation of pet ministries, and USA Today wrote about the success of pet-centric charities in a recent fundraising drive.

The attachment between pet and master isn’t a modern phenomenon. Archaeologists in Egypt have found domestic monkeys and dogs mummified and buried alongside their ancient owners. For centuries, a Lakota warrior’s favorite horse was shot and placed near the burial site, helping ease the journey to the spirit world.

And when Oblio the harbor seal died a couple of years ago, the Lincoln Children’s Zoo sent his remains to Whispering Pines Pet Cremation in Martell and had his ashes scattered in the Pacific Ocean.


Meathead has a beautiful office.

There’s ample shade under sprawling pines. The perpetual trickle of customers keeps him occupied, but not swamped. And his bosses are never far away if he wants company.

But, of course, there’s another perk: When the teenage feline dies, he won’t have far to go.

The silver-coated cat spends his days wandering between the headstones at Rolling Acres pet cemetery. Surrounded by bronze corn stalks on three sides and a winding gravel road on the other, the 35-year-old enterprise is tucked off O Street between Lincoln and Eagle near Crooked Creek Golf Course.

Meathead’s favorite spot isn’t far from the graves of Gene and Dorothy Bush — and their 19 deceased pets.

The Bushes fell in love with Rolling Acres back in the cemetery’s early days. Dorothy, an elementary school teacher for 40 years, was a lifelong animal rights activist. She lobbied governors and newspaper reporters to support neutering campaigns, and she started burying her beloved bichons at Rolling Acres in the 1970s on a sprawling family plot.

Today, headstones pay tribute to Misty Doll, Sweetie Pie, Odie, Jack and 15 others. Artificial flowers mark the ground around the ashes of Gene, who died decades ago, and Dorothy, who died of a brain bleed in 2007 while planting pansies.

“Whether I go to heaven or hell,” she said shortly before her death at age 87, “my pets are all going to be there to meet me.

“And I plan on going to heaven.”


Rolling Acres started in the 1970s when Oakie the dachshund died. Founder Pat Strnot didn’t want her pet tossed in the garbage or cremated with other animals, but couldn’t find a resting place she found suitable. So she made her own.

In the decades since the cemetery between the cornfields opened, hundreds of dead cats, horses, dogs, gerbils, rabbits and other critters have signed long-term leases.

Even as Lincoln grows eastward — and the frequent sounds from the golf course public address system confirm that steady sprawl — a special zoning permit means Rolling Acres will remain untouched. That allows Strnot to accommodate people like the Bushes, who can’t imagine separating from their pets — even after death.

The site includes two crematoriums, (although humans buried at Rolling Acres are cremated elsewhere) and a so-called feline resort for cats not yet on their 10th life.

Pat Strnot still works the phone, but she sold the business to her son a few years ago. After a career as a pilot, Tom Strnot said tending to the gravesites and running the crematoriums is a fulfilling job.

But Rolling Acres hasn’t dodged the effects of a lagging economy. Tom Strnot said people who would have buried their pets a few years ago now are opting for cremations.

The Strnots, however, have been known to turn away business. The owner of a boa constrictor once called to inquire about cremation. While mammals are Rolling Acres’ specialty, Pat Strnot was open to the possibility if a vet would certify the snake was actually dead.

Turns out, the reptile coroner found a heartbeat. The snake was in a dormant phase, but still very much alive.

People without their own golden retriever — or boa — sometimes get the wrong idea about Rolling Acres, Tom said.

“They say, ‘It’s just a dog.’”

That’s why if a stranger asks him what he does for a living, he either says he’s a mortician or works in the pet industry.

But he thinks those skeptics don’t appreciate the deep bonds that form between human and animal, and the desire — perhaps even obligation — to honor those pets in death.

The Strnot family pets have a row of their own at the front of Rolling Acres. One day, Meathead will join those other dogs and cats with his personalized headstone.

But most dead pets in Lincoln are disposed of with much less fanfare. Veterinarians often cremate animals in groups and then dispose of the ashes. A private grave at Rolling Acres costs about $210.

“They spent 10-15 years of their life with you,” Tom said. “I think finding a nice place for them to be buried is a lot better than them being put out in a Dumpster.”


Karen Clarke is the pet pastor at Lincoln’s First-Plymouth Congregational Church.

After a dozen years as a nun and then a high school chemistry teacher and researcher, her health began to fail.

At one point, doctors called in her son from Wisconsin to say goodbye. Besides Crohn’s disease and kidney failure, she had a brain bleed and was in a coma.

She wasn’t supposed to make it, but a few days later, she woke up.

Clarke credits her Scottish terriers, McTavish and Fergus, with seeing her through the illness. In the years she spent homebound, at least one always kept vigil at her bed.

“They were my primary companions. They never left my side.”

So when she started visiting First-Plymouth a few years ago while recovering, she wanted to do something to honor animals like her Scotties. The church was starting an animal ministry, and Clarke’s theology degree qualified her to lead it.

Through Faithful Friends, Clarke comforts pets and owners. She blesses puppies and kittens. It’s important work, she said, that often leads her to inconsolable pet owners in animal hospitals and family rooms.

When Simon’s owner called, Clarke told her it was time for him to go.

“I know,” the owner said. “Will you come over?”

Simon had barricaded himself in the closet and wouldn’t budge. Clarke promised both dog and owner to see them through the next few hours.

Then she crawled through the closet to the dog. She whispered to him nose-to-nose and scratched his left ear. The right one was bleeding from cancer.

Simon eventually crawled out of the closet, and Clarke held him tight while his owner drove to the vet.

The trip was only a few miles, and he wanted to look out the window. So Clarke rolled it down and allowed Simon to rest his bloody right ear on her T-shirt.

When the vet gently pushed in the needle, Clarke prayed over Simon’s soul. Simon’s owner drove him back home for a private burial. Clarke went home to change her shirt.

Before wrapping him in a towel and placing him in the ground, they laid Simon on the patio so the family’s three other dogs would know their friend died. One sat vigil outside the box where Simon lay, another peeked once and sat solemnly alone in the backyard with his back turned. The other dog took one glance and went back inside.

Then they dug a hole, and Clarke said a prayer.

And Simon was laid to rest underneath the shade of the hostas.


Sunday, March 11, 2012

A New Way to A Smoking Sendoff

An Alabama company wants to help you go out with a bang -- literally. Holy Smoke, a business launched by two game wardens, is offering to load cremation ashes into shotgun shells or rifle cartridges so that a hunter's last act on Earth can include blasting a hole in their favorite prey.

News of their venture tends to garner one of two reactions: Non-hunters think they're joking, while hunters can't wait to sign up.

"The response we've gotten has been huge," said co-founder Thad Holmes. And that's without any advertising. The company was launched in July, but Holmes and business partner Clem Parnell have been so busy with their day jobs that promotion of the business has been limited to creating a website, That turned out to be more than enough.

"We're getting e-mails from all over the world," Holmes said. "The other day, we got one from Bosnia-Herzegovina."

To the best of his knowledge, they have not heard from anyone in Minnesota, but they expect to. "We know there are a lot of hunters up there," he said.

The notion of an avid hunter having his or her ashes scattered via a gun blast is not out of step with what other enthusiasts do, the company argues. Surfers have had their ashes scattered from the top of waves. Golfers' ashes have been sprinkled into sand traps on their favorite course. Backpackers ask to have their cremains left along a beloved hiking trail.

Beyond the company needing to be licensed by the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, "we couldn't find any laws about this except when it comes to firing the gun," Holmes said. "You have to do that someplace where you have the right to fire it."

The company's website includes a quote from Parnell that when he dies, he wants his ashes loaded into a shell used to kill a wild turkey. "I will rest in peace knowing that the last thing that turkey will see is me screaming at him at about 900 feet per second," he says.

That sentiment, while colorful, isn't entirely accurate, Holmes said. Only a small amount of ashes is loaded in a shell along with the buckshot, and those ashes dissipate in a cloud -- envision a puff of talcum powder -- within inches of the shell leaving the gun barrel.

"The ashes never reach the target," he said. "Every now and then, we'll have someone say, 'Ooh, I don't want to end up eating Grandma.' It doesn't work like that. If you shoot a duck, none of the ashes end up on the duck."

Prices start at $850 for 250 shotgun shells, 100 rifle cartridges or 250 pistol cartridges. An order typically requires about 15 percent of an average-size person's cremation ashes; unused ashes are returned. The process takes two days.

In addition to providing a fitting farewell for a hunter, the company argues that in designing its business, an "important need was for the end result to be ecologically friendly and sound. There is a much smaller ecological footprint caused by our service as opposed to most of the current funeral interment methods," its website says.

Parnell and Holmes toyed with the notion of putting ashes in ammo for four years before they got their company going. Now they're working on variations, including offering symbolic shotgun shells in which there is no buckshot.

"We have a client who wants a 21-gun salute," Holmes said. "We're working on a way to mix the ashes with red, white and blue powder. We figure that would be a pretty neat sendoff."