April 25, 2014

Elyria
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Ashes to ashes


Cremation, rather than burial, is becoming preferred way of dealing with the dead

Ashes to ashes and dust to dust — there are more than 2.4 million deaths in the U.S. every year, and families are turning to cremation more than ever as they widen their distance from home.

The Cremation Association of North America projected in August that more than 57 percent of all U.S. deaths will result in cremations by 2025. The projection is almost double the 32 percent reported in 2005 and supports a growing national trend that many local funeral home owners attribute to a changing generational landscape.

JASON MILLER / CHRONICLE
Certified crematory operator and senior funeral director Mark Bollinger of Busch Funeral Home in Parma stands next to the funeral home’s crematorium on Saturday. Cremation around the country has increased and is projected to double by 2025.

“People today are more mobile, and perhaps more open, to less traditional types of services,” said David Bogner, owner of David Bogner Family Funeral Home in North Ridgeville. “Cremation opens a lot of options for folks as opposed to the traditional type of funeral.”

Whereas traditional funeral services for a body have to be carried out within an average week, cremation offers family members the option of having the body cremated and conducting services at a later date for friends and family often separated by hundreds, if not thousands, of miles.

David Dicken, owner of Dicken Funeral Home and Cremation Service in Elyria, also attributed the spike to a more “transient society” and said the flexibility in cremation memorial services makes it a more accessible option for family members in a time filled with grief and separated by long distances.

“Everybody used to be in one area, but now family members are scattered throughout the country,” he said. “A lot of times, cremation just makes more sense for the family or friends involved.”

Mark Busch of Busch Funeral Homes and Crematory Services, which has locations throughout northern Ohio, said about half of those who choose cremation want a traditional viewing and service, which can easily bring the costs up to $2,000 to $8,000.

Basic cremation with limited services may cost between $800 and $900, Busch said, but the price isn’t the reason more people are choosing the cremation option.

“Cremation is just becoming one of the more acceptable methods of final disposition,” he said. “Depending on what families choose for services, sometimes cremations can be more expensive than an earth burial.”

The cremation process breaks the body down to bone fragments after it’s heated at more than 1,500 degrees for two to three hours in a cremation chamber, or retort.

The remaining larger fragments are processed into a finer substance and placed in a temporary container. The remains are often transferred to urns picked out by loved ones that range from 18-carat gold containers to basic ceramic.

Busch said his chain offers an assortment of ways for friends and family to contain the ashes, including necklaces with tiny vessels for remains and a new “Floramorial” process that adds a chemical catalyst to the remains before they’re mixed with normal potting soil. The five-gallon bucket of soil adds $300 to the cost of cremation.

“You can create a living memorial,” Busch said. “It’s totally driven by the consumer preference. We’re just listening to what the family wants to do today.”

Jerry Norman, president and CEO of the Neptune Society, the largest cremation-only services company in the country, has seen his business flourish enough in recent years to consider an undertaking unlike any in existence — the Neptune Memorial Reef.

The reef, 3 miles off the Miami coast, is a large underwater structure designed to contain cremated remains and could hold more than 125,000 remains upon its completion.

With 38 offices in 10 states, the Neptune Society helps more than 50,000 people make cremation arrangements every year, and looked to the ocean’s floor for its unique $30 million project.

“It’s a setting that reaffirms life and promotes a healthy marine habitat,” Norman said. “It’ll become a living city.”

It took three years for the society to secure the zoning permits before construction for the 16-acre memorial could begin.

Lying 50 feet underwater, the reef was created to resemble the “lost city of Atlantis,” Norman said, and it contains decorations including welcome gates and bronze lions.

Customers select the memorial they want, and the remains are mixed with concrete and placed within the memorial before they’re stamped with a bronze name and date plate.

Costs vary from a $1,500 stand-alone column to a $7,000 placement within the base of the two bronze lions. So far, the first phase containing 1,100 cremation placements has been constructed, with sales scheduled to begin this week.

“We have hundreds of people telling us they plan on buying a spot,” Norman said. “But there are millions of people out there who are still deciding what to do with their loved ones’ remains. The reef will give them another option that is unlike any other.”

Harvey I. Lapin, an Illinois-based attorney who provides legal assistance to cemeteries, crematories and funeral homes, said that those choosing to scatter ashes must realize that certain laws and regulations may limit where remains are spread.

Lapin suggests seeking permission from property owners before scattering anything on property other than your own. He added that many national and state parks have permit requirements that may limit where remains can be scattered.

“People think they can throw Uncle George out the window because (his remains) are ashes,” he said. “They have to realize that remains are bone fragments, and they’ll likely stay wherever you put them.”

Contact Stephen Szucs at 336-4016 or sszucs@chroniclet.com.