Cremation ashes to stones? How’d you like to skip your loved one’s remains across a pond?
My wife and I had figured that, when it’s time, we’d want to be cremated. Now, I’m thinking about choosing a service that lets you turn your corpse into a box of rocks rather than ashes.
With a deadly pandemic making our mortality less of an abstract concept, this seems like as good a time as any to tell you about how you can turn your corpse into a box of rocks.
The suggestion comes courtesy of the Cremation Society of Illinois, which is working with a New Mexico company that transforms cremated remains into smooth, polished stones.
The New Mexico outfit, Parting Stone, bills its service as “a clean alternative to ashes.” It’s for people who have chosen cremation but aren’t keen on dealing with the ashes.
The concept caught my attention because it sounded so strange. But the more I’ve looked into it, I can’t say it’s any more strange than our traditional death rituals, just different.
“I do understand that some people would think it’s weird,” said Nancy Sacks, 69, of Evanston, who chose to have her father’s cremains sent to Parting Stone last year after he died of COVID at 97.
Weeks later, she got back a small, pine box filled with what she described as “very clean, white, polished stones.”
By way of tribute, the family tossed some stones into Lake Michigan. Family members also left stones in Massachusetts near where Sacks’ father went to veterinary school and in the state of Washington at another school he attended. Sacks brought some of the stones to her son in Colorado. He threw them into a picturesque river while they walked.
“It became a very, very meaningful experience for us,” said Sacks, who still has a dozen stones left.
She said she found it preferable to spreading ashes, which they’d done after her mother died.
“Part of it is tactile,” said Sacks, who had careers as a social worker in the eldercare industry and as a tax consultant. “You can hold these stones.”
Katie Sullivan Frideres, marketing director for the Cremation Society of Illinois, one of the state’s largest providers of cremation services, told me about 75 families here have chosen to pay the additional $595 fee to have their loved ones turned to stone since the service was introduced in late 2019.
The simplified version of how it works is that the ashes are sent to Parting Stone, which combines them with a binding agent to convert them into a clay-like substance. “Lab techs” then hand-roll the material into stone shapes of various sizes before baking them in a kiln, according to Parting Stone founder Justin Crowe.
Crowe said his company is doing about 1,000 “solidifications” a year.
The cremains of an average size person yield 40 to 60 stones, which are usually the light gray color of ash but can vary unpredictably for reasons that aren’t understood, Crowe said.
My wife and I agreed many years ago to be cremated after death, but the plan gets a little hazy after that.
Neither of us is looking to be preserved in an urn sitting on a shelf in some closet. Better to be returned to the earth. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust and all that. But we’ve never worked out the particulars.
I’m now intrigued by the potential utilitarian uses of stones.
Our kids could use us to decorate the garden, line the bottom of an aquarium, fill in bare spots in the driveway or provide drainage for their flower pots.
My preference would be to serve as a skipping stone. Whenever I’m near the water, I’m on the lookout for the perfect skipping stone: smooth edges, flattened sides, light enough to bounce but heavy enough to cut through the air when thrown. My arm isn’t what it used to be, but a good double-digit toss across a placid lake can still make me happy as a kid.
The stones from Parting Stone look like they’d be good for skipping, depending on their weight.
I asked Crowe if I could custom order stones so that they’d be the ideal shape.
“No, we don’t take any customization, but we have had families tell us they did skip their stones,” said Crowe, a ceramic artist who had a previous venture turning cremains into dinnerware, which I’m trying not to hold against him.
My wife might need some convincing.
“I don’t know how to skip stones,” she said. “What kind of pressure is that going to put on me?”
Still, she seemed amenable to further discussion.
“I’d rather be an ash in the meadow, but I’ll be gone, so do as you like,” she said.
That’s the spirit.