Alternatives to Burial

By Ygal Kaufman

plastinated
Plastination, which is basically modern-day mummification

We’ve come a long way as a species and civilization in the last 200,000 years. But even though we’ve since discovered Reddit, there is one major societal practice that has held over since the time of the Neanderthals: burying the dead. 

One of the most common societal imperatives is to protect and respect the bodies of the departed.  Everyone from Og the caveman (a person I made up) to Joan Rivers (a made-up person) has ended up underground after eventful lives. But as technology and social mores change, so do a person’s post-mortem options. For this Halloween, it seemed appropriate to mark a day that celebrates the dead with some new and improved options.

Get Planted

On its face, this may not seem like such a leap from traditional burial. And getting planted in some way or other is actually not that new. Spiritree is a company that will let your remains be intermixed with a new plant so your soul—or whatever—can grow into a tree… which presumably will be cut down some day and used to make inexpensive furniture for Costco. So if your wishes for the great beyond involved being sat on by (statistically speaking) the overweight and under-literate, this is an option. An easier way would be to just scatter your ashes on a theater seat before the premier of the next Transformers movie.

Oregon’s own Natural Burial Company provides more options in the category of “sort of like burial, but with a twist.” You can peruse their catalog at www.naturalburialcompany.com.

Sort of Like Cremation

Everyone knows the oldest alternative to burial (no, not leaving the body out for the animals, though that is an incredibly “green” option), cremation. What most people don’t know is that burning is no longer the only option in pulverizing a corpse to dust. Resomation and promession are two of the more popular cremation alternatives. Resomation involves using a high-temperature mixture of water and potassium hydroxide to melt away the body, leaving only the bones, while promession uses freeze-drying to turn the corpse into powder. Both of these methods are on the rise, and there are a few different options in Oregon City and Portland if this is your method of choice for riding into the sunset.

Become an Item on a Scuba Scavenger Hunt

Eternal Reefs, a Georgia-based company, has a unique process where they first cremate the body, then mix it with concrete to create an artificial reef which is then dropped in the water in areas where reefs need restoration. Your new reef grave then feeds and nurtures fish and local organisms, creating a new habitat. The endgame here is to have a tourist who doesn’t pay attention to the snorkeling tour guide sit on you and break pieces off in an attempt to get a good underwater selfie.

Time to Get Sci-Fi with It

As Ted Williams, Walt Disney, and John Wayne ought to be able to advise you, freezing yourself doesn’t work. In fact, the only person for who this post-death state of denial has ever turned out well is Austin Powers. The idea of freezing oneself in the hopes that we might someday be able to cure death is a fascinating one with tons of upside. And crazily enough, new research is finally starting to knock on the door of curing things like cancer, old age, and bad taste in sitcoms. So the idea that you might freeze yourself and then someday be cured of whatever was on the verge of killing you doesn’t sound that stupid.

Until you realize we’re still not any closer to solving the pesky you’re-a-block-of-ice part. We may be able to freeze you while you’re knocking on death’s door, but that’s the same as killing you. Also, there’s not much oversight governing the minimum-wage employees who may or may not play soccer with your frozen head during their graveyard shift break. If all this sounds great to you—and why wouldn’t it—you can contact Oregon Cryonics (www.oregoncryo.com) for your local freezing needs.

Double Down on Sci-Fi-ness

Celestis is a company that will do a modern take on an age-old tradition. Ever since Poseidon first allowed man to cross bodies of water on boats, people with a love for the big drink have been having their ashes scattered in the water after death. Celestis will let you do this with the biggest ocean there is: the vast depths of space. For roughly $5,000 you can get your ashes launched into orbit. For $12,500 your remains can get launched into what Gene Rodenberry referred to as the final frontier: deep space, baby. But be careful out there. In space, nobody can hear you decompose (I’m pretty sure there’s a good Victor Borge joke to make here…).

Go Imhotep

For fans of classic horror, there are really only two after-death options worth discussing: zombification and mummification. One of these has never been more popular and is on the tip of everybody’s tongues. The other is an actual thing that exists. I’ll let you figure out which is which. Mummification, though it does not guarantee reanimation and superhuman powers, is an increasingly popular option to keep a body preserved for generations to enjoy. You can get mummified in the traditional way, or in the newer method, known as plastination. The technique was pioneered by Gunther Von Hagens and involves replacing your fluids with plastic. You may recognize the technique from Hagens’ globetrotting Bodyworlds art exhibits, or from my nightmares. Either way, it’s awesome and you can have it done after death by donating your body to Hagens. Visit his website at www.bodyworlds.com, and bear in mind, he makes no guarantees that he won’t pose your plastinated body in an embarrassing way. So have fun picking your nose in front of audiences all over the world—er, I mean, rest in peace.

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1 thought on “Alternatives to Burial

  1. Aquamation should also be taken into consideration as a water based cremation option. Though alkaline hydrolysis is the underlying technology used with both Aquamation and Resomation, Aquamation takes this already “green” method of cremation a step further in that it is the only entirely sustainable choice presently offered. More importantly, Aquamation creates an entirely new selection of scattering services that are unavailable from burial, from flame based cremation or even from Resomation.

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