These days, there are a whole lot of ways to be dead.
You can be planted as a tree, or turned into jewelry. You can have your likeness cast as one of these incredibly creepy 3D busts. If you created something people actually give a shit about, you could choose to be made into your own product, like Frisbee creator Walter Morrison or Fred Bauer, inventor of the Pringles can. You can be put into a helium balloon and sent into the atmosphere. You can even be shot into space, FFS.
Driven by factors like cost, religious affiliation, and desire for personalization, more and more people are moving away from traditional burial and toward cremation (in North America, cremation rates have doubled since 2000, and by 2019, 75 percent of Canadians are expected to make use of the option), and as a result, the range of post-cremation options has become broader than it's ever been before.
But don't take our word for it. Collected below are stories from people who have chosen to say goodbye in a multitude of interesting ways, having their ashes placed in everything from teddy bears to shotgun shells, to what sounds like the world's least appetizing cup of tea.
Because while there's no debating it's an interesting time to be alive, it's actually a pretty interesting time to be dead, too.
'I just wanted to get rid of the thing'
My grandmother passed away when I was around 14 or 15, and she'd made her own arrangements beforehand. She wanted to be cremated, and she'd chosen an urn, but when my family received it, it looked like this hideous, marble toaster. And we thought: "Oh, God. What do we do with this?"
We respected our Grandmother and loved her, but she was a very difficult woman. We weren't going to put it up on the mantelpiece or something. We sprinkled her ashes on the rose bushes in the back garden (those bushes promptly died the following spring), and then this ugly urn that none of us liked got put in the garage. And then Christmastime rolled around, and I had to go to this party where you play that stupid game where you can steal people's gifts for a few rounds. And then you get stuck with whatever at the end. Money was always tight when I was a teenager, and having a morbid sense of humour, I thought: "Oh, dude. I'll totally bring this."
People spent the entire evening trying to figure out what it was. "Oh, maybe it's a doorstop." And I didn't say a word. I knew no one was going to touch it if they knew the truth. But I just wanted to get rid of the thing. And of course, at the end, when somebody finally ended up with it, then I told them what it was, and they were—justifiably—totally appalled.
And that's how we got rid of Grandma's urn.
— Sylvia, 29*
Tea for two
When I was younger, my grandfather passed away, and in accordance with his wishes, we undertook a Buddhist ritual where we soaked his ashes in blessed water, and chanted prayers in Sanskrit. After soaking his ashes we all made a promise to be better humans and drank the tea. It tasted about how you would expect: musky and chalky, kind of like someone had put cigarette ashes in your water.
'She wasn't really an urn type of person'
My Mom passed away three months ago from ovarian cancer. I was six weeks pregnant when we found out, and three months later, she was gone. She wasn't really an urn type person—it wasn't her to be stuck in a stuffy, old thing like that—and I was searching on the internet, just to see what's out there, and I came across CamiBear [a site that puts the ashes into a personalized teddy bear], and I thought: "Oh, that's Mom all over." She'd always loved cute little things. Teddies and stuff like that. I'm 41, and my Mom still used to buy me teddies all the time—basically right up until she got sick. So it was just perfect.
He sits at the top of my bed right now (I don't know why, but I refer to him as a he), but when the baby gets here, I'll probably put him in the crib. She wanted a grandbaby so much. And so being able to keep the baby close to the teddy—it's huge. Sometimes you just need your Mum, and now you have a teddy to cuddle with when you need it.
Last November, a bunch of us loaded a good friend's ashes into shotgun shells and shot them over the range at the local gun club. He had always been a very avid shooter, and on weekends, he participated in Cowboy Action Shooting [competitions involving rifles and handguns, where competitors dress in old-time cowboy attire]. He mentored a lot of shooters, too—probably for 30 or 40 years.
And when he passed away, we had a celebration of life at the Silverton Trap and Skeet Club, and there were about 30 of us there with shotguns. And somebody had loaded his ashes into the shotgun shells. We each got two shells, and stood in a line, and progressed from one end to the other, each of us firing a shot, and then when we get to the end, we went back the other way. We each fired two shells filled with his ashes, and that way, we were able to spread him over the range.
I'm not exactly sure whose idea it was, but I suspect he had something to do with it.
I took my Mom's ashes from Vancouver to Quebec in a Louis Vuitton tote bag.
I'd learned a few years before that human cremains are considered a biohazard (we'd been stopped by security while transporting a friend's mother in her carry-on bag), and so rather than go through all the paperwork, I decided to rent a car and drive there. I packed the large red wooden box containing Mom's ashes into her bag, put the bag in the passenger seat, and off I went. In some ways, it was very cathartic. I picked up a friend of mine in Regina, and after a few days, he finally asked what was in the box I was hauling to and from the car each day (at this point she was riding in the back seat).
When I said "Oh, that's Mom," he looked pale. When I asked if he'd prefer I put her in the trunk, he looked even paler. "I don't think she'll mind either way," I told him. "She's travelling in Louis, and she seems happy." I put her into the trunk at the next rest stop. My friend and I parted ways in Toronto, and Mom and I continued on to Quebec. I think she was glad to get her seat back.
When I was a kid, a pretty standard ash-spreading ceremony went sideways when my grandmother poured my grandfather all over my brother.
She was emptying the ashes off the back of a boat, and my brother was helping her stand back there without falling in. It might have been that she lacked the motor skills to actually aim her pour, or it might have been that the boat turned into the wind which was now blowing directly back into the boat (likely it was both), but either way, my brother was covered from head to toe with a third of the ashes and was a uniform tone of beige. It was like that moment in The Big Lebowski. I'm sure I fabricated the memory of my brother coughing out a big cloud of grandpa, like in a cartoon or movie, but it amuses me nonetheless. The whole thing took an uncomfortably long time to unfold, and everybody on the boat except grandma was well aware of what was happening and we were all laughing and crying equally.
Afterward, I asked the boat captain if I could use the hose to wash the rest of grandpa off the deck. I guess it wasn't intentional, but all over a living person is still a pretty weird place to put a dead person.
*Some names have been changed.
Lead image via Flikr user justthismoment
Jesse Donaldson is a Vancouver writer.