10 Unique Cremation Keepsakes

Cremains tree urn
Cremation has become increasingly popular in the last two decades. The cremation rate in the U.S. has grown from 14.9% in 1985 to an estimated 44.2% in 2015, according to the Cremation Association of North America (CANA). New Hampshire is seventh in the nation for cremations at 66.7%.

With the cremation rate steadily growing, it’s no surprise that people would look for new and different ways to handle their “cremains” and that an industry would grow up around providing people with just that.

From putting the cremains in a columbarium (a mausoleum for ashes) to having them sent into space, there are a number of surprising things you can do with your – or a loved one’s – ashes:

Make them into jewelry – Whether a pendant, bracelet, locket, or even a diamond, a small amount of ashes can be used to create a keepsake item of jewelry. Life Gem, for instance, will create a high-quality diamond from a lock of hair or cremated ashes.

Use them to grow a memorial tree – Want to go green? Bios Urn is a biodegradable urn that contains ashes, soil and a seed that will grow into a tree. Bios Urn currently offers eight tree species, but you can use any kind of seed.

Help rebuild a coral reef – The cremated remains are incorporated into an environmentally-safe cement mixture used to create artificial reef formations. Eternal Reefs will place the “urn” in a permitted ocean location that you choose.

Cremains made into a glass sculptureIncorporate them into blown-glass sculpturesRising Phoenix Glass in Ohio, will encase a small amount of cremation ashes into blown glass to create unique artwork.

Make bullets out of them – The ashes are placed in live ammunition – caliber and gauge can be specified to best reflect your loved one. Holy Smoke is a business dedicated to the ashes-to-bullets service.

Use them in a tattoo – Carry your loved one with you always – and permanently – by having his or her ashes mixed in with ink for a tattoo.

Send them off in fireworks – Several companies, including Heavens Above Fireworks, will incorporate the ashes into fireworks to send your loved one out in a spectacular burst of pyrotechnics.

Store them in a custom urn that looks like the deceased

Cremains urn in the shape of SupermanCremation Solutions offers the option of creating an urn in the likeness of the deceased. You can choose from a bust or an action-figure-like model in a variety of styles, including Indiana Jones and Superman.

Use them in paperweights – Companies such as Grateful Glass will put a small amount of cremains in layers of glass and create a one-of-a-kind keepsake through glassblowing techniques

Press them into a vinyl recordAnd Vinyly, a UK company will press ashes into a vinyl record with music of your choice. You get 30, 24-minute copies of a record, each one containing a bit of ash, for £3,000 ($4,000 USD). For the more unconventional; the website is not for the faint of heart.

And if you’re considering what to do with the ashes of a pet, most of these services are available for pets as well as their masters.

Crematorium’s ads miss the mark

Crematorium ad

Funeral homes and crematoriums have to maintain a delicate balance when it comes to advertising: People don’t want to feel like their loved one is a commercialized product, yet funeral homes are businesses just like the other business that people patronize. Like other businesses, funeral homes and crematoriums need people to use their services and they need to make people aware they are available.

Advertising their services doesn’t mean funeral directors will treat your loved one with any less respect, care, or thoughtfulness: yet some people get very offended by ads in general interest publications, newspapers or even on Facebook. Marketing funeral services can be problematic and funeral directors try to create tasteful, non-offensive marketing materials.

Try as hard as they might, sometimes they fail.

Just this week one crematorium ignited controversy when it published some ads people found disturbing and offensive. The ads took a meme-like approach and featured children.

According to Ad Week, the model for the ad was the crematorium owner’s daughter.

In the wake of the Nationwide Insurance Super Bowl ad that featured a child who had died in an accident, people got angry. Some people expressed outrage, prompting the crematorium to issue a response, saying the ad campaign “was intended to be a lighthearted and with no underlying message. We missed the mark on getting our intended message to the public.”

Two of the other ads in the campaign:

Crematorium ad

Crematorium ad

People’s ideas of what is lighthearted, appropriate and tasteful vary: some people posted on St. Louis Crematorium’s page that they thought the ads were fine. And, of course, no one ad is going to make everyone happy.

The lesson here is to know your audience – especially when you’re dealing with a subject as difficult as death.

Here are a few other campaigns that may have missed the mark a bit:

Funeral Home adcome-a-little-closerFuneral Home ad


New app may help teens work through grief

Flutter teens grief

The teenage years are difficult. Torn between childhood and adulthood, even in the best of times, teens face incredible challenges and difficult issues. Things can get even more difficult when a teen loses a loved one because while teens understand the concept of death, they have little experience with it and lack the coping skills to deal with it. While a teen may have a deep emotional response to the death of a loved one, he or she may not know how to express those feelings and the teen’s desire to be independent may make them unable to receive support from parents or other adults.

Because of their inability to express themselves, one common behavior in grieving teens is a withdrawal from family, becoming disconnected from the world around them and/or isolating themselves.

Flutter teens griefOne company has created an experimental app that the creators say may help teens work through some of the issues surrounding their grief via music. Flutter “uses music to help those experiencing the loss of a loved one – a period of time often resulting in high levels of isolation and incredibly difficult emotional problems – express themselves in a safe, positive environment, by creating sound artefacts that express how they feel at that moment,” according to the company website.

Flutter allows teens to swipe the touchscreen on their phone to create sounds and musical effects. “The basic idea of Flutter is to use music, which is a highly expressive tool, to help us express something else — in this case, the grief in our lives,” Flutter creator Alex Rothera said in an interview.

Flutter was developed in Italy by Rothera, Ivor Williams, Jacopo Atzori, and Aaron Gillett based on research conducted in collaboration with a psychologist. You can learn more about it here.

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What do you think? Can this type of technology prove useful in the grieving process?

How to offer your condolences

Flowers Sincere Condolences

Talking about death is difficult for many people. In fact, it’s so difficult that one doctor wrote in the Journal of the American Medical Association that ours is a “death-denying society.” Because we want to pretend death doesn’t exist, we don’t know how to talk about it. This can affect us in many ways: we may not know our loved ones’ funeral wishes; estates are left in disarray. But the effect I’d like to talk about today is how the fear of facing up to and talking about death makes us uncomfortable with those who have lost a loved one. This fear is so strong in some people that they won’t even attend the wake or calling hours.

Attendance at the wake is an enormous comfort to the family. When people come to the wake to pay their respects, they are showing that the family’s loved one was cared for and respected. Where some people have difficulty is when it comes time to express their condolences. If you have difficulty with death, you might become quite anxious about saying the right thing. The good news is that it doesn’t have to be difficult – nobody expects you to be eloquent; you just have to be sincere and genuine. How you say it is more important than what you say.

First, if the family doesn’t know you, introduce yourself. Explain how you were acquainted with their loved one.

Then, offer a short, but heartfelt condolence. Some examples:

  • “I’m so sorry for your loss.”
  • “I wish I had the words to comfort you.”
  • “Is there anything I/we can do for you?”
  • “He/she was a wonderful person.”
  • “His/her loss is deeply felt by all of us at (company).”

If you have a short – and appropriate – anecdote about the deceased that the family would like to hear, tell it and then move on to let them receive other guests.

Some things you should avoid saying:

  • “Time heals all wounds.”
  • “I felt the same way when my mother/aunt/dog died.”
  • “You can have more children.”

You don’t have to remain at the wake for a long time – only long enough to pay your respects and let the family know you cared enough to attend. It’s a small gesture for you, but one that will be long remembered by the deceased’s loved ones.

When Your Beloved Pet Passes


Pets are considered to be part of the family, so a pet’s death is often a very difficult time. When your pet passes away at home, you may not know what you should do next or what your options are. It is best ask yourself what you want to do with your pet’s remains while that pet is still alive and healthy, so it gives you an opportunity to evaluate all the factors that may be involved in such a decision. However, if you haven’t already given this consideration, the first thing you need to consider is your own feelings about death and remembrance. Your goal will likely be to preserve the memory of that pet, therefore your decision for their disposition should be based on how you think that memory can be best preserved.

You have many options available to you. Whether you simply wish for the body to be removed from your home, you would like to bury your pet yourself, or you would like to make arrangements for a memorial service, cremation, or to permanently memorialize your pet in some special way, the choice is yours. If your pet is under the care of a veterinarian at the time of their passing, you can call them to help guide you through your options and resources. Some people simply leave the decision of the final disposition of their pet up to the veterinarian. However by doing that, you never know how your pet was finally laid to rest, which may be troubling to you and your family.

There are currently several pet crematories throughout New Hampshire that can usually pick up your pet’s remains from a veterinarian or from your home. Some veterinarians also provide cremation services – with a few even doing so at no extra charge if they have euthanized your pet or if it dies at the vet’s office.

If you would like your pet laid to rest in a cemetery, you have options there as well. There are currently two pet cemeteries in New Hampshire that I am aware of – Proctor Animal Cemetery in Nashua (through the Humane Society of Greater Nashua), and Rolling Meadows Pet Cemetery (through the NH SPCA) in Stratham. Some human cemeteries do allow for pets to be buried alongside their human families, so it may also be worth calling your cemetery to find out.

Hiding from the Holidays?

Those that are coping with the loss of a loved one, whether recent or not, may feel more like hiding during the holidays, rather than joining in the celebrations. The holidays often emphasize pain for someone that is grieving, and sometimes leaves them feeling like they would rather deal with it alone or that they need to change up traditions. As a result, friends and family are unsure of what to say or how to act around a grieving loved one. So what IS the best way to support a grieving loved one throughout the holiday season?

First and foremost, be supportive of their wishes and the way they choose to handle the holidays. Remember, there is no right or wrong way to grieve, just like there is no right or wrong way to celebrate the holidays. Invite them to your holiday gathering, or offer to join them at their church or other gathering that means a lot to them. However, don’t push them into doing anything that they don’t want to do.

Offer your help and be there for them in every way that they will allow you to be. Whether it’s helping them with their shopping, decorating, baking, or craft projects, or to simply stop by and visit with them a couple. Remember the best thing you can do for someone that is grieving is to spend time with them and be willing to listen. Active listening from family and friends is a very important part of grief and healing. Never tell them that they need to “move on” or “get over it”. Give them hope that things will eventually get a bit easier and allow them to consider that one day they may enjoy the holidays again.

The most important thing you can do for someone who is grieving is to let them know you care and that they are not alone – that they are remembered, and so is the loved one that they have lost.

Red candles in a row glowing


With technology and digital media transforming the world, there are now an increasing number of ways to honor someone’s life, therefore changing the face of death care. To be successful today, funeral directors should be digitally savvy. Online guest books and obituaries are now the norm. Video and photo slideshows are replacing photos placed around the casket or urn at the funeral, music playlists are often replacing live pianists or organists, some families want the services to be videotaped or even streamed online, and of course social media sites serve as a place for family and friends to come together and grieve and memorialize the deceased, for the days, weeks and years after their passing.

Even the planning of funeral services has changed, as family members can now more simply collaborate and share information via secure funeral websites, blogs, Facebook, Skype and FaceTime. They can easily share their pictures and videos via social media pages, cell phones and tributes websites.

There are many upsides to digital media when it comes to mourning the loss of someone, but just like with anything, there are also some downsides. Online guest books need to be monitored for unpleasant or derogatory posts, which often your funeral home will do for you, as our firms do.

I expect to see a great deal more evolution in the industry during my lifetime. Although, despite digital media changing much of the way we say our final farewells and grieve, I don’t see these progressions ever taking the place of a funeral. Ultimately, there is no substitute for a funeral service, where one can find closure by properly saying goodbye to a loved one. The emotional experience of a service – whether paying your respects to the deceased in their urn or casket is irreplaceable and a necessity for close friends and family to truly come to terms with someone’s death.

Return to Simplicity–Green Movement on the Rise

During our living years, there are many ways we can contribute to the green movement and give back to the earth that we are constantly taking from. We can recycle, compost, and grow our own vegetables. We can drive fuel-efficient cars, make our homes more energy efficient, and purchase eco-friendly products. However even in death we can still be environmentally responsible. Although cremation has become the most popular choice, as opposed to traditional burial, green burials or green funerals continue to rise in popularity throughout the world as well.

So what is the most environmentally friendly way to dispose of our bodies you ask? Well, it all depends on your preferences. For those that prefer to be buried, they can opt for essential oils to be used instead of standard embalming fluids, made of a combination of formaldehyde and rubbing alcohol. In addition, a biodegradable cedar, cardboard or bamboo casket can be used in the place of a heavy wood and metal casket. Some may choose to forgo the casket completely and opt for a natural burial, involving only a burlap sack and a burial plot in the woods if you have permission to do so. For those that like this option but may not have access to land to bury in, some cities may soon be partaking in the Urban Death Project, (which I have discussed before) where remains are used as compost, and turned over to create fertile soil.

If these options above aren’t necessarily for you, but you are still looking for ways to be mindful of the environment in your or your loved one’s departure from this world, here are some other green ideas:

• Place a candle or framed picture on the casket instead of the traditional floral arrangement. Or perhaps use cut flowers from your garden.
• Use a silk or cotton shroud or clothing to dress your loved one in.
• Print the song sheet and tribute cards on recycled paper.
• Avoid clothing which has non-biodegradable buttons and zips etc.
• Make sure any keepsakes placed in the casket are biodegradable.
• Catered food may be comprised of unprocessed food like fruit platters and vegetable dips.

These are just a few ideas. The list goes on, limited only by your imagination.
If you have questions, you can always ask your local funeral director about what sustainable options are available, or seek a funeral home that offers green practices. Currently, Phaneuf Funeral Homes is currently the only funeral home in NH approved by the Green Burial Council to offer a green burial package. However, most funeral directors are familiar with the green movement and can offer eco-friendly options.

In the end, it is about what you are most comfortable with. Do keep in mind however, that even the most energy-intensive acts of burial don’t compare to the carbon footprint each of us is leaving right now.JWH_4104

Laugh Until You Cry – Inspiring Obituaries


WritingObituaries are quite possibly one of the most unique forms of writing. In a an area that usually brings on tears, there are sometimes a few that dare to break the mold and would rather inspire us and make us laugh. Throughout the years, we have seen some wonderfully non-traditional obits that have been eloquently written – painting a picture, and truly capturing someone’s life and personality. When you see one of these rare pieces of writing, they can certainly leave an impression on you, just as this obituary recently did for me:

Charles “Charlie” Clark Wheeler, 60, of Weare kicked the bucket, bought the farm and ate his last pretzel on Nov. 16, 2014. He was married for 32 years to Annie Pleatsikas and is also survived by what he always deemed his two finest accomplishments, his daughter, Meredith, 22, of Weare, and his son, Evan, 26, of Fairfax, Va.; by his brother, Jon, of Milford; and nephew Jonathan Wheeler and his wife, Amber, of Manchester. Born in Manchester, he was the son of the late Charles R. and Barbara (Clark) Wheeler. Raised and educated in Manchester, he was a graduate of Memorial High School, Class of 1972, and a graduate of Manchester Community College, HVAC, and was second in his class (he always reminded anyone of that).Charlie lived life in his own way. He held sweet memories of the times he spent at “Camp Weownit,” which he owned with his brother. He was notorious for his numerous sound effects, sense of humor and easy smile. He was a brilliant mechanically gifted man, inventor of tools and pre-eminent house fixer-upper, and was always puttering around. Charlie’s many talents included repairing cars and motorcycles, riding his Harley, barbecuing and hanging around the fire pit. Best known for his fashion sense, Charlie consistently wore white tube socks, tank tops, shorts, flannel shirts, fleece vests, a sweaty baseball cap and raggedy, barely wearable sneakers. He was a rabid fan of the Red Sox and Patriots, long before it was fashionable. Charlie loved to snowmobile on his Arctic Cat, but hated snow blowing and took such joy in dumping snow on his kids. His favorite holiday was Christmas, and he enjoyed putting up the lights around the house and watching Christmas movies. In the summertime, Charlie could be found in the garden tweaking the tomato stakes, feeding the birds and squirrels. He was fiercely independent, hated haircuts and dressing up for an occasion. He frequently referenced the “Three Stooges” – “I’ll find that shutoff yet” and “I’ve got static in the left eye.Charlie adored his German shepherds, Zeffer and Teva, and his cat, Minkie. He was a hard-working man, loyal, silly, kind, gentle, respectful and incredibly generous. May you rest peacefully, honey. http://www.legacy.com/obituaries/unionleader/obituary/CharlesWheeler

Here are a few others that have caught my attention and have left their mark.




I encourage everyone to personalize their own or their loved one’s obituary, if you feel comfortable doing so. You may find it to be very therapeutic.

Children’s Grief Awareness

Today, November 20th is National Children’s Grief Awareness Day, and is observed every year on the third Thursday in November. This time of year is an especially appropriate time to support children who are grieving, because the holiday season is an especially difficult time after a death.

Most children are aware of death, even if they don’t understand it. It is a common theme in television, cartoons and video games, and some of your child’s friends may have already lost a loved one. However, a child experiencing grief firsthand is a different and often confusing process. It can leave them feeling alone and misunderstood. And just like every child is unique – so is the way that they grieve. A child may go from crying one minute to playing the next. Their ever-changing moods do not mean that they aren’t sad or that they have finished grieving. It’s just that children cope differently than adults, and playing can be a defense mechanism, helping them from becoming too overwhelmed. Some children may begin acting out, or young children may regress and start wetting the bed or sucking their thumb again. These are all normal reactions to grief for children.

How an adult address the child’s grief as well as their own grief, can have a big impact on how the child copes and grows from the experience. Children need to know the truth, so it is important to be honest about death and to not avoid the reality of the situation. This will build trust with the child and help them to truly accept and understand this reality, and will help them feel comfortable in approaching adults with any questions they may have. They need to feel loved and comforted by the adults in their lives. It is also often helpful for a child to be around other children who have experienced a similar loss. Being able to discuss and related to another child helps them feel less alone.

There are a lot of resources available to help a child work through their grief, which I highly recommend taking advantage of, as they can be incredibly supportive for both child and the entire family. Visit http://www.childrengrieve.org/programs-new-hampshire for a list of these invaluable programs in New Hampshire.