Thinking about being cremated? Well hold off until you’ve finished reading this. And don’t worry: no judgments here. You can shove yourself into a trash compactor for all I care. It certainly has become a much more popular way of disposing of the dead. (Cremation, not trash disposal, although you never know what’s next in Oregon.)
For example, 99.85% of Japanese are cremated, and that’s just Toyota employees. Fewer than 10% of Italians and Poles are cremated, however, no doubt owing to the Catholic discouragement of having anything to do with fire after death.
In the United States, cremation rates vary wildly by state. Nevadans can’t cremate themselves fast enough, at 68.41%, and no one seems to be complaining, while Mississippians prefer the old-fashioned way, at a scant 9.56%.
The traditional theological arguments against cremation are waning. Originally cremation was absolutely forbidden by church authorities, as sloppy procedures would often result in entire cities being set aflame, with dispossessed bishops having to endure sleepovers with cobblers. (It was also believed that making God go to the trouble of reconstituting your ashes at the resurrection would result in a diminution of eternal rewards, roughly the equivalent of two weeks’ pay and nosebleed seats at all the best praise-band recitals.)
In the Middle Ages, only heretics and the pestilent were cremated, a ceremony often accompanied by games, jousts, and the medieval equivalent of karaoke, with young maidens having to endure malodorous chevaliers mewling their way through Journey’s “Open Arms.”
But as notions of “sanctity” gave way to practical concerns about space and expense, melting one’s recently deceased into urn-size crumbles became more acceptable, accompanied by its own ceremonies and featuring decorous vases that occasionally proved downright prize worthy.
But that was then, and this is now. This is now, yes? If it’s still then, this entire blog post will be for nought. So let’s go with the premise that this is now.
Global warming: the earth’s way of saying get off. Obdurate race that we are, we nevertheless remain fixed, at least for the extent of our three score ten. But cremation is an energy-wasteful and somewhat toxic procedure, and so it was only a matter of time before some Earth Firsting fanatic dreamt up a greener way of removing one’s examinate relations from view.
What would you say to liquefaction? Well, who asked you? A Glasgow-based company, Resomation Ltd., has strode fearlessly into that Brave New World of precious bodily fluids:
The makers claim the process produces a third less greenhouse gas than cremation, uses a seventh of the energy, and allows for the complete separation of dental amalgam for safe disposal.
Mercury from amalgam vaporised in crematoria is blamed for up to 16% of UK airborne mercury emissions, and many UK crematoria are currently fitting mercury filtration systems to meet reduced emission targets.
“Resomation was developed in response to the public’s increasing environmental concerns,” company founder Sandy Sullivan told BBC News. “It gives them that working third choice, which allows them to express those concerns in a very positive and I think personal way.”
Before you sniff disdainfully, consider the possibilities. While “body tissue is dissolved and the liquid poured into the municipal water system,” I don’t see why relatives can’t keep demand possession, and perhaps add a little to the morning coffee, as a sign of solidarity and communion with the extended family member. Gives a whole new meaning to “Granny’s elixir,” now with 25% more Granny.
If this is too hippie-dippy for your taste, there’s always freeze-drying:
Another “green” alternative to cremation is in the pipeline. Susanne Wiigh-Masak, a Swedish biologist, has for a decade proposed a technology she calls Promession.
The process involves a fully automated and patented machine. Coffins are fed in one end, and the body removed from the coffin within the unit and then treated with liquid nitrogen.
The body is then vibrated until the body fragments, after which the remains are dried and refined further, and then passed through filters to remove metals, including dental amalgam. The remains are then poured into a square biodegradable coffin, again automatically, for shallow burial.
And lest we forget, there’s still the most practical means of recycling our deceased: