Earlier this year, June Cannon took the ashes of her husband to Arlington National Cemetery and spread them upon those sacred grounds.
As more people choose cremation, the options for how to handle those remains are growing past the traditional urn.
From spreading the ashes of a beloved family member at their favorite place to incorporating them in art, funeral homes have come up with a variety of ways to honor a person who chooses cremation over burial.
One option is to take some of the ashes and generate it into a gem for jewelry. Suspending ashes in a lit globe and placing them in a small charm to wear are two other ways a family can memorialize a loved one.
Customized urns are also available in all shapes, sizes and colors.
Some people have extreme requests when it comes to the handling of their remains. Journalist and author Hunter S. Thompson asked to have his ashes shot out of a cannon.
“He had the choice between West Point or Arlington,” Cannon said about her husband John, who served in the United States Army for 30 years. “Arlington was a no-brainer.”
John and his family are part of a growing number of people across the country choosing cremation over burial. According to the Cremation Association of North America, more than 40 percent of people in the United States today prefer cremation.
By 2025, that number is projected to be closer to 55 percent as cremation grows in popularity.
Impact in the Aiken area
Mitch Rivers, a funeral director with Shellhouse-Rivers Funeral Home in Aiken, said he's seen a 25 percent increase in cremation requests in the past decade.
Shellhouse-Rivers has had a crematory on site for about nine years, and it's the only one in the City of Aiken. Several other crematories are located throughout the County. Rivers said they saw a need for such a facility, and decided to establish their own.
Rivers said there was a stigma attached to cremation for many years, especially in the South, but he feels it's becoming much more accepted culturally and by some religions that were once wary of the method.
Rivers said that for the longest time, the only crematory that was south of Cincinnati, Ohio was in Macon, Ga., since that way of disposition was not commonplace in the Southern states.
Cody Anderson, Shellhouse-Rivers funeral director, added that the cost may also attract people to the idea of cremation, as some find it more reasonable than a traditional burial.
“Also, considering we live in a more mobile society today and family members live in different areas across the country, more people are choosing cremation over burial because it gives them more time to gather for a ceremony,” Anderson said.
Impact on the industry
Walker Posey, funeral director of Posey Funeral Directors and spokesperson for the National Funeral Directors Association, said there's a misconception about the cost of cremation and burials. Posey said when it comes to the final price, it's not really the disposition of the body, but the actual services the family chooses.
Posey said, with that in mind, many people may not realize there's a wide variety of ways to memorialize someone who chooses cremation, and that ceremonies can still be held. Some choose to have a traditional funeral and have the body cremated later. Others will hold a large service, and some spread the ashes somewhere that meant something to that person.
Ashes can also be incorporated into jewelry, art or placed in a customized urn.
Posey said it's all about working closely with families, and learning what they can about a family who has experienced a death to assure that the deceased receives the service they deserve.
“In our industry, our main goal is to not only provide care for the deceased, but also provide experiences and opportunities for families to come together to have meaningful ceremonies or rituals that help them deal with their grief long term,” Posey said.
Posey said that like with any other industry, funeral homes and crematories must adjust to the needs and demands of the consumer.
Posey Funeral Directors has had its own crematory for five years because the business would rather not use a third party. He said their professionalism in the funeral home easily transfers to the crematory, and with a crematory on site, Posey said they can assure all of their business is conducted in a respectful manner and is handled properly.
Making the decision
Cannon said she doesn't have an explanation for why cremation was chosen for her husband. Cannon's brother also chose that method and had his ashes spread across his property – located near Clemson University where he taught for several decades.
What she does know is that it's something her family had discussed. They didn't avoid a conversation that some find so uncomfortable.
“It is an individual choice, but I do think what needs to be stressed is that people need to talk about it,” Cannon said. “Be prepared like you are with other things. I think people need to be prepared.”
To Cannon, all that matters to her is something that stems from her deeply rooted faith.
“When I die, I will go to be with the Lord as everybody else,” Cannon said. “I never thought it makes much difference whether I'm in a casket or cremated.”
Cannon said a memorial service was held for her husband several days after his death in September, and his ashes were scattered at Arlington in late January. It was important to her to do something special – John was the man she was married to for 58 years.
“Funerals are a celebration of somebody's life, and that's what it needs to be,” Cannon said. “And, we had something to celebrate.”