Deep Dive: The new art of dying
Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios
Modern burials and death practices are changing how we die and where our bodies go after we die.
Why it matters: Today, the funeral industry is worth $17 billion ($). Businesses are innovating on traditional practices, and more people are taking control of how they wish to die and be buried — in unconventional, surprising and even extraterrestrial ways.
It now ends with most of us getting turned into dust and obituaries posted online. Some new burial practices and places include:
- Orbit in outer space. SpaceX recently launched the cremated remains of 152 people on its Falcon Heavy rocket. A company called Celestis facilitated these “funeral flights,” charging over $5,000 for 1 gram of “participant” ashes.
- Transformation into a diamond. Engineers can turn the carbon from human ashes into diamonds that are physically and chemically identical to natural diamonds.
- Green burial. Touted as an environmental and financially friendly option, green burials can be as simple as wrapping a body in a cotton shroud and lowering it to the ground — factoring out conventional vaults, coffins and embalming.
- Green cremation. Instead of using flame, green cremation uses heated water and an alkali solution to accelerate the natural decomposition of the body.
- Celebration of life ceremony. In lieu of a somber funeral, an end-of-life ceremony celebrates a person’s life and legacy, often with a dedicated event planner, a speaker and activity lineups.
- Digital tombstones: One Slovenian cemetery is experimenting with digital tombstones that can show pictures and video, and potentially link to a smartphone application for interactivity.
- Smart library. One Tokyo crematorium allows you to summon ashes with the swipe of a card: A machine transports the ashes from an underground vault through a conveyor belt to the right room.
- Pet burial. “Togetherness Resting Places” reunite humans and pets “when the time comes.”
- Memorial reef. Florida-based company Eternal Reefs mixes ashes with “reef ball” material, creating memorial reefs that can serve as habitats for sea life.
- Living wake. Some people are attending their own funerals ahead of death — by holding a “living wake,” offering family and friends a chance to say goodbye.
- Live-streamed funerals. An estimated 20% of funeral homes offer livestreaming, allowing those who can’t make it to a funeral to share the experience — and those who’ve attended to look back on it.
- Disney World. About once a month, Disney employees clean up scattered remains ($) in the park, where visitors sneak in ashes to disperse at Cinderella’s castle, on the Pirates of the Caribbean ride and throughout the Haunted Mansion.