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Futuristic Funerals You Can Have Today

VO: Noah Baum WRITTEN BY: Caitlin Johnson
Death comes to us all, but are standard funerals the only options available to us? Are there other, more unconventional things to do with our bodies after we die? Rather than being buried or cremated, could we be frozen? Shot into space? Or turned into something completely new? In this video, we take a look at some of the most incredible things you can plan for when you shuffle off your mortal coil.
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Futuristic Funerals You Can Have Today


As difficult as it is for us to acknowledge and accept, the truth is that we’re all going to die someday. It might be next week or it might be in a hundred years, but death is still just as much a part of life as, well, life. And regardless of what might happen to our souls or consciousnesses, when we shuffle off our mortal coils, we leave at least one thing behind . . .

Throughout most of human history, we’ve been given two options for what to do with a corpse: bury it or cremate it. But as the world becomes more eco-conscious, as funeral prices skyrocket, and as technology advances, these won’t be the only two ways to go about planning for the inevitable. The stone and metals used in burials will never biodegrade, while one cremation uses as much fuel as a 500-mile road trip, leaving people increasingly desperate for fresh, new alternatives.

There have been ideas about how to preserve a person’s “essence” with technology for centuries, ever since Mary Shelley wrote about re-constructing a living being out of discarded body parts. Thomas Edison even wanted his phonograph to record the voices of the dead, preserving them indefinitely after their earthly vessels ceased to function. Today, these occultic notions have given way to suggestions of holograms and other digital restorations; there are even researchers working on recreating people’s behaviors online for friends and family, using their social media accounts to simulate the way they’d type and talk.

But there’s one key area where the wonders of science-fiction and the banal disposal of bodies overlap: cryonics, or, cryopreservation. Cryopreservation was first utilised as early as 1954, by freezing sperm cells for artificial insemination – a process still used today in sperm banks around the world. Thirteen years later, in 1967, American psychology professor James Bedford became the first person to actually be cryopreserved – a year after Walt Disney was cremated, contrary to urban legends about the man-behind-the-mouse. Cryonics remains a highly controversial practice, however, namely because we don’t yet have a method to actually wake somebody up from the big freeze. One new method requires the use of lethal chemicals while people are still alive - meaning it can be seen as a form of euthanasia.

Beyond our aspirations for immortality though, there are still numerous other applications for cryogenics, like their viability for organ transplants. While we may not be able to bring back a whole person, a method for indefinitely freezing their organs could alleviate the shortage when it comes to medical transplants. People might not be able to achieve their own longevity through cryonics, but they could well help others.

Another ice-based method for the disposal of bodies could be promession, proposed by Swedish biologist Susanne Wiigh-Mäsak in the 90s. Basically, promession would involve freeze-drying a dead body with liquid nitrogen. The cadaver would be put into a vat of chemicals and then broken into dust with powerful vibrations once it became brittle. The idea is that the powder could then be buried in a shallow grave, where it would essentially function as compost and go back to helping the Earth.

A popular alternative to burial or cremation is a process called “alkaline hydrolysis”, or “aquamation,” currently touted as “green cremation”. It’s been dubbed a “gentler” alternative to your typical method of burning somebody to ashes in a big oven, though this is up for debate as it involves dissolving an entire corpse in a chemical solution. It certainly is better for the planet, however, not leaving behind pollutants like headstones and coffins, and not generating toxic fumes; aquamation takes the phrase “watery grave” as literally as possible, as a liquid alternative to the fires of a standard crematorium.

There are many more ecologically-minded ways to be laid to rest nowadays, as people become more environmentally conscious. “Green burials”, for example, forgo the standard headstone and non-biodegradable coffin. One innovative proposal from Italian designers Raoul Bretzel and Anna Citelli involves putting remains into an egg-shaped, biodegradable pod. Called “capsula mundi”, Latin for “world’s capsule”, the pods’ first iterations will be for ashes, while future models will house entire bodies. The pod will then be buried and a sapling planted in the earth above it; when the pod degrades, the body becomes food for the growing tree, and the tree in turn becomes a replacement for a traditional headstone. This option maintains all the appeal of a standard burial - providing a physical place for loved ones to visit - with the added bonus of turning cemeteries into places not imbued with death but with lush, new forests – making the circle of life wholly tangible.

A grislier version of “green burial” has been developed by MIT graduate Jae Rhim Lee, co-founder of the company Coeio. Called the “Infinity Burial Suit”, or the “mushroom death suit”, it’s essentially a jumpsuit full of mushrooms spores that accelerates decomposition. But you’d have to really love mushrooms to choose this as your way to go.

Alternatively, if you want to save the planet and love the ocean, there’s a company called Eternal Reefs who transform people’s ashes into underwater structures designed to propagate coral reefs. Reefs can grow on most things left in the ocean – shipwrecks, for instance – and being turned into a new home for fish and ocean plants alike is undeniably cool. Your family may struggle to visit, but you’ll certainly never be alone, and there’s the added benefit of spending eternity in a tropical climate.

And if THAT’S not adventurous enough for you, well there’s always space. Several notable individuals have had their ashes launched into Earth’s orbit and beyond. American scientist Eugene Shoemaker made it all the way to the moon, and astronomer Clyde Tombaugh into outer space. Celestis, the company responsible for many of these space burials, piggy-backs their memorial payloads on commercial or scientific launches. If you’re not quite that ambitious, there’s also Kentucky-based company Mesoloft, who use balloons to scatter ashes in the upper atmosphere. Hey, it’s probably a much easier way to reach for the stars than actually becoming an astronaut. It would certainly make for an exciting funeral, to say the least, though the downsides are families having no way to visit your remains and the hefty price tag.

Last of all though, if you’re planning on cremation but want to leave something behind that’s more exciting than an urn, you can have your ashes transformed into diamonds. Diamonds are made out of carbon and, luckily, so are all living things; because of this, with enough pressure even our remains can be transformed into diamonds. These diamonds can then be turned into wearable jewellery, called “cremation jewellery” or “memorial jewellery,” and can even be engraved with a particular message or the person’s information, as if it were a headstone. Many people do find themselves hanging onto a relative’s ashes, and not everyone leaves instructions for them to be scattered, so this is a nice way to go about preserving them in a heartfelt and romantic manner. The best thing about cremation diamonds is that diamond is one of the most durable materials on Earth, so you’re at no risk of accidentally breaking it – although, this does make it one of the less ecologically friendly ways of preservation, since it will never biodegrade.

Death comes to us all, but it doesn’t have to be the bleak ending we’re so scared of. In some ways, it doesn’t even have to be an ending at all. We can help life continue with what we leave behind, whether by giving those closest to us peace of mind that we’ll always be near, or by helping to cultivate new life. It may be macabre and upsetting to think about, but the potential for a continuation and “life after death” in more ways than one is the silver lining hiding inside our fears and uncertainty about our own demise. We can decide to go on our own terms, and as technology progresses and we become more advanced as a society, our posthumous options are only multiplying.
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