The next time you're gazing at those Fourth of July fireworks, consider what might be in the rocket's red glare.
The display could include explosives that contain the remains of someone's Aunt Minnie or Uncle Joe.
Cremation is growing in popularity, say local funeral directors, and loved ones have scores of options for storage or use of the resulting ashes, both traditional and nontraditional.
Besides being stuffed in fireworks, ashes can:
Fly at more than a thousand feet per second in a shotgun shell.
Shine brilliantly as a manmade gem in a ring or pendant.
Be part of a reef that helps protect endangered coastline.
Draw praise as a glass objet d'art
And, for the purist, ashes still can be placed in an urn and kept in a cemetery, although many families opt to spread them in special locales, keep them at home or even take them to special events.
Area funeral directors estimate that between 33 percent and 45 percent of their clients choose cremation. The rate was 15 percent to 20 percent 10 years ago, said Tom Belford, owner of John A. Gentleman Mortuaries in Omaha and Bellevue.
Zach Hanson, a funeral director at Crosby Burket Swanson Golden Funeral Home in Omaha, has dealt with people who find meaningful places to scatter a loved one's ashes.
“We have a lot of families that go on a little trip up into the mountains” to scatter ashes while hiking, Hanson said.
Nebraska law prohibits people from knowingly disposing of human skeletal remains or burial goods in any other place than a cemetery, though it appears to be focused on bodies rather than ashes. Laws in other states vary.
If you want to spread ashes at a public place, say funeral directors, it's wise to check with city, county or state government beforehand. For private property, get the landowner's permission.
Just so you know, Husker fans, you'll never get permission to scatter ashes in Memorial Stadium. Several families of Husker fans, however, have been known to put the ashes in pants pockets that have a small hole and kick the cremains out of their pant legs “Shawshank Redemption”-style, Hanson said.
Of course, some religious beliefs dictate what can be done with the ashes. Catholics can only bury human ashes in a grave or entomb them in a mausoleum or columbarium.
But for other people, even the sky's not the limit.
The ashes of astronaut L. Gordon Cooper Jr., for example, were launched into space in May 2012 aboard a private rocket. The remains of 307 other humans joined his.
Bill Cutler Sr., a funeral director at Heafey-Heafey-Hoffmann-Dworak & Cutler Mortuaries and Crematory in Omaha, said his clients have used ashes to make shotgun shells, rings, cuff links and necklaces.
And Belford helped one family turn the ashes of a loved one into a permanent reef.
He said a company mixed the ashes with concrete and molded it to create an artificial fish habitat. Participants, Belford included, donned wet suits to watch the placement of the concrete off the coast of Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
“It actually helps the fish population there,” Belford said.
He, too, has assisted families in having ashes loaded into shotgun shells — companies exist for that purpose. He's also helped people who wanted to scatter them in San Francisco Bay and place them in a biodegradable urn attached to a flower wreath to be set afloat in the Missouri River.
“You can really do about whatever you like,” Belford said. “If you can think it, it can probably be done.”
Some people have taken that to extremes.
A woman in Australia wanted her husband to remain close to her, so she had his ashes encased in her breast implants. You also can have them put into food-grade vitamin tablets and pencils.
But just because you can do these things, should you?
It's logical in the U.S. to be an individual and choose something original, said Dr. Robert A. Neimeyer, a Memphis-based psychologist who specializes in death and grieving. But he urges people to take the feelings of others into account when deciding what to do with cremated remains.
He gave an example:
A man he knew prearranged for his ashes to be placed into 100 small bottles for funeral guests. Only eight of the bottles went home with mourners.
Clearly, those who attended the funeral were not as comfortable with possessing a piece of the dead man as he was offering the ashes, Neimeyer said
Some families keep a loved one's cremains in a mortuary-provided container, but don't leave it in one spot.
Hanson knows of at least one family that takes an urn of cremains on vacation.
“That mom goes everywhere in ashes,” he said — she's been to at least 15 different places.
Former Hastings, Neb., resident Carla Dahl also has taken her mom's ashes on a field trip.
“Much to the astonishment of my siblings, I took her urn into the White Horse Tavern in Grand Island,” she said. “We all toasted her with a red beer.”
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