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“Come and take away your father”: how the cremation industry in the US is developing

Vase with ashes. Reuters photo

The idea of ​​cremation began to gain popularity in Europe in the 19th century, but religious and national traditions for a long time prevented the development of this funeral rite. Even in the 1980s, it had little popularity in the West, but recently this situation is rapidly changing in the United States.

Under the weight of financial spending on funeral with burial and other factors, Americans are increasingly turning to cremation. However, sometimes this choice is much more difficult than traditional funerals. Popular Mechanics has learned how this industry works and changes.

Cheap analog

In films and series, it is often shown how relatives or friends disperse an urn with human remains in a memorable place. In fact, many of the remains are in their own cemetery – in the columbarium. This is a repository of urns with ashes after cremation, in Russia the most famous such burial is at the Kremlin wall, where since 1919 the remains of political figures are buried.

Usually urns in the American columbarium are in niches carved out of marble. Often, each regiment with remains is different from the neighboring in a huge row: somewhere lie flowers, small icons and photographs of the deceased, and on other niches only dust. Someone at all did not wish to leave an urn with ashes on a survey of employees колубария and has closed its marble tablet with a name and date of a life and death.

The Rosedale cemetery in New Jersey has its own columbarium: there are so many urns that they need a few large rooms. In some of them, the remains on the shelves are closed with a glass door – probably at the request of relatives. Behind these rooms and rows of urns there is an iron solid door – the entrance to the crematorium.

Blue bags marked with a company for the cremation of the Neptune Society, in which are the vases with the remains of the deceased. Popular Mechanics Photos

In the 1980s, about 5% of Americans were cremated after death. According to the National Cremation Association of North America, this figure has increased to 50% in modern times. As Popular Mechanics writes, in part this is due to cultural and religious changes, but the main role was played by the economic crisis of 2008. People’s incomes have decreased, and instead of costly funerals, they turned to an economical alternative – cremation.

At the Rozdale cemetery for the burning of the body ask 180 dollars. The urn, flowers and maintenance of the remains are paid separately. For comparison, the burial funeral costs an average of $ 2,500, plus another $ 1,500, so that the excavator digs out the grave.

Employees of Rozdale, which is located half an hour from Manhattan, cremate a day to 25 bodies. In early 2018, management had to expand the columbarium due to a large demand: at the start, the organization had three machines for burning, but in 2013 had to buy another, and then another in 2016. By the end of 2018, six machines for cremation will work in Rozdale.

How did the attitude toward cremation change?

The history of the ritual of burning human bodies stretches from the time of the Stone Age. In ancient Greece and ancient Rome, cremation was popular, although not universally. In Hinduism and Jainism, burning was generally considered the preferred way of “parting” with the dead.

The development of this practice in Europe was interrupted in the 330s of our era, when the Roman emperor Constantine I the Great declared Christianity the official religion in the country and banned cremation. With the advent of the Reformation in the 16th century, the Catholic Church burned the bodies of blasphemers as punishment for their souls.

The practice of cremation returned to Europe in the 1870s, mainly as an effective way to get rid of the bodies infected by diseases. The first relatively modern crematorium was first created in the USA in 1876, the second appeared eight years later. By 1900 in the country worked 20 machines for burning bodies. From the Vatican’s filing in 1963, the Catholic Church permitted cremation, but the scattering of dust was still against the rules.

The ceremony of burning the body in India. Getty Photos

In 2018 there are 2,100 crematories in the USA. According to the representative of the funeral bureau Magoun-Biggins in Massachusetts, the popularity of this rite is associated with its adoption in society. In developed regions like California, Oregon or southern Florida, between 60% and 80% of the dead are cremated, but this figure is much lower among Catholics, African Americans, and residents of the Biblical belt(southern states with great religious influence).

There is another reason for the increasing popularity of cremation – in cemeteries, the place ends. According to Rozdale owners, they will have enough space only for the next 15 years. Some funeral parlors also build columbariums because of the lack of places for burial. “Some of the society still sees cremation as something terrible and disgusting, and they do not want it in their backyard,” says Rozdale president Jim Koslovsky.

How to cremate the body

In the crematorium “Rozdale” bodies come in coffins made of wood or, more often, cardboard. They lie there until the burning, so that employees do not contact the bodies. Most of the floor is occupied by five cremation machines, covered with aluminum plates. They are not usually called “furnaces,” but the word “burning” is not used to describe the process inside them. Employees of the marketing industry explain that such words remind people about the Holocaust and Auschwitz, causing negative associations.

Before cremation, a metal icon with initials is attached to each body – exactly the same is attached to the door of the machine. This is a mandatory procedure that helps to avoid mistakes and return the ashes of their relatives to clients. When the body is ready, it is placed on a special stretcher and “pushed” inside the machine. To do this, employees open a massive door, but not unbuttoned so as not to get burned by heat and flame.

Cardboard coffins in Rozdale. Popular Mechanics Photos

The temperature inside the machine reaches 650 ° C, therefore only fragments of bones and ashes remain from the body. In this case, specialists should always monitor the pressure of the machine with the help of the panel from the outside and calculate the weight of the deceased. Specialists in cremation believe that 45 kilograms of fat for fuel properties equal 64 liters of kerosene.

In other words, if a person weighs 180 kilograms, at least half of his weight is fat that will instantly burn in the car. This will dramatically increase the temperature inside the device, and it will start to emit smoke and an unpleasant smell. To avoid this, most experts cremate obese people in the morning, when the machine is not yet warmed up. On average, it takes an hour and a half to fully burn, but it all depends on the weight of the deceased.

Machines for cremation in Rozdale. Popular Mechanics Photos

When the process ends, the remains are collected and put on something like a silver tray. The technician carries a magnetic device over it to remove unburned materials: mostly medical plates or pins. Sometimes employees have to manually clean the ashes of extraneous elements like glass, when the client wants the deceased to be cremated together with, for example, a bottle of whiskey.

New ways

Although cremation as an alternative to burial is only gaining popularity, it already has analogues using the reaction of alkaline hydrolysis. During this procedure, the body of the deceased is placed in a chamber filled with water and potassium hydroxide, and then heated to 160 ° C under high pressure. After three hours the body acquires a greenish-brown hue, and the bones become very soft. They are broken and returned to the family, pre-pumping out all the liquid from the body, which is then sent to the waste water.

The idea is not new – it originated as a way to get rid of animals that fell ill with cow rabies. Initially, European farmers had to excavate trenches and drop dead bodies there, then pour kerosene and set fire to them. After the discovery of the process of alkaline hydrolysis in the 1990s, specialists began to make deep stainless tanks, where the bodies were dropped and treated with a special substance. It gradually destroyed the brain of livestock, in which, it is believed, is the source of infection.

Explanation of the principles of the procedure based on alkaline hydrolysis

Such a method is considered safer for the environment, but so far the technology is too expensive. The cost of equipment can cost up to $ 650,000, while cremation machines cost between $ 80,000 and $ 100,000. In addition, in a number of states there are laws prohibiting experiments based on alkaline hydrolysis on human bodies.

According to the National Cremation Association of North America, between 60% and 80% of people take the cremated remains of relatives or friends home, and do not dispel, as shown in the movies. In this case, there are rules that determine where and how to spread the ashes. According to Massachusetts law, cremated remains should be “scattered with candor”. This confusing wording means that “a person can not scatter remains on the street or sprinkle other people’s property on them,” says Robert Biggins from the funeral bureau of Magoun-Biggins in Massachusetts.

What remains

The leadership of Rosedale allows the relatives of the deceased to be present at cremation. In the funeral home, it is believed that this helps people not to be afraid and not to treat the procedure with suspicion. Sometimes someone regrets that he agreed to the cremation, and did not bury the body. Missouri resident Susan Luke admits that she had to arrange a traditional funeral for her mother, and not to keep her remains, similar to “cigarette ash.”

The remains of a man on a tray in Rozdale. Popular Mechanics Photos

On the other hand, Luke is glad that her older brother’s body was cremated. He died in 2017 from an overdose, and preparations for a full-fledged funeral could take a long time and lead to uncomfortable conversations. Luke wanted to avoid this, so she turned to the cremation specialists. After the procedure, she only took the urn with the ashes on the way home, but arrived already in tears – as the girl explained, it was very difficult for her to come back with the remains of her brother.

A few years later, when Luke’s stepfather died, she could not bring herself to go and take his remains. She did not call the funeral home, and only time and again she listened to a voice message, where she was politely asked to “come and take her father.” Time passed, the girl still did not dare to go for the remains, and one day she found a box with them at the door of the house.

Now Luke stores two such boxes (she buried her mother’s ashes) somewhere in the apartment, but she does not know the exact location. The girl asked her husband to hide the remains, so as not to see them. “Not the most healthy reaction,” Luke admits. She is not the only one who hides the remains in a domestic mess. Sometimes people store boxes with dust in the garage or basement, but most often treat them carefully. For example, store in a small corner in the bedroom.

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