death (un) ltd.
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Death (un) Ltd.
April, 2012, Page 226
cremations are recorded as arm-like spikes on the crematory’s thermograph
“The crematorium was always this anonymous place in back of the cemetery in the old days,” Gabriel explains. “Now we’re taking it out of the shadows and giving people a way to make it a personal experience. More and more people choose cremation. It’s what people want.” The advantages of cremation over burial are manifest. It’s cheaper – about $900 compared to $9,000 for a standard burial package. And it’s more mobile – Gabriel cites the example of a family that wanted to hold a funeral in Rocky Point. Good luck trying to ferry a corpse over the border; a 10-pound urn, not so hard.
Cremation has never been more common or popular in the United States. Back in the 1950s, embalming was the norm, followed by a traditional burial. Today, the majority of deceased Arizonans – about 65 percent, according to the Arizona Board of Embalmers – are blasted with flames in excess of 1,600 degrees Fahrenheit and atomized into a fine, gray ash. According to a national study, Arizona ranks fifth in per-capita cremations, a figure that Gabriel attributes to our large population of non-native transplants. He says that people are much less likely to choose burial in a place where they lack family roots. He also theorizes that cremation might be better suited for the frequent-flier transience of modern times. “We live in such a mobile culture,” Gabriel observes. “You like to leave flowers on your grandmother’s grave, but what if you bury somebody and move across the country? I don’t think the connection between family and land is as strong as it used to be.”
Though modern cremators shifted from coal to natural gas and oil fuels in the 1960s, the basic science of cremation has remained unchanged for decades. First, in the funeral home’s morgue, Gabriel will remove your pacemaker or internal fibrillation device, owing to the tendency of these devices to explode in the oven. If you weigh more than 420 pounds, he’ll refer your corpse to a facility with a larger crematory, as vast amounts of burning fat tend to create out-of-control burns and excessive smoke.
He will then place your body in the facility’s dedicated cold storage area at 32 degrees Fahrenheit and double-check your family authorization forms. If you have adult children, Gabriel will want all of them to sign off, either in person or by proxy. (If, while living, you had the foresight to sign an “immunity document” mandating cremation, it will also suffice.) By and by, he will place your chilled-over body in a simple cardboard box atop a gurney. After rigorously cross-documenting your name and tag number on both a clipboard and dry erase board to avoid any possibility of a mix-up, he wheels your gurney up to the window so your family can get one last look. When the time comes, he will slide you into the “retort,” or main chamber, of the crematory, and dial up the furnace to 1,600 degrees. A secondary furnace will burn off the smoke created by your body, eliminating particle emissions, but if you’re Hindu or Buddhist, your family will want and expect to see a bit of smoke escape from the chimney outside, per their custom.
Urns for sale
In roughly two hours, it will be over. Gabriel will open the retort and sweep your ashes into a tray with a long push-broom. He will pick out the blackened pieces of metal – the box hinges, or the artificial hip joint, if you had one – and toss them into a trash can filled with similar leftovers. Your ashes will be run through a processor to grind up the stubborn bits of bone and, finally, placed in a simple urn with the metal ID tag that has accompanied you through the entire process. After that, the fate of your remains is entirely up to your family and survivors. Maybe they’ll divide the ashes, and maybe your son will keep a little of you in a small keepsake urn on his dashboard. “My mom rode with me like that for a few months,” Gabriel recalls. “She also yelled at me not to text when I was driving. Having that little urn there reminded me.”
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