Sunday, November 22, 2009

Solar Cremation in India?

Hindu death cremation
Solar Cremation may soon be an option at an innovative new crematory in the city of Barot, India. Special reflectors are used to heat the cremation chamber to very high temperatures, offering an environmentally friendly option to electric power and traditional pyre cremations currently employed in India.
Here are excerpts from the Times of India, and the Meri News:

The crematorium has been built as a chamber with special scheffler reflector developed specifically for this concept. The reflectors are designed to heat a two meter long crematorium chamber to above 700 degrees centigrade. "The facility was made operational on an experimental basis recently. It will be commissioned within two months and shall be free of cost for everyone using it," said trustee Uday Dalal. The traditional system of cremating people on woodpile consumes over 300 kilogram of wood. Many trees are felled to meet the requirement. The old method the woodpile was then to some extent replaced with electric and gas fired chambers. Times of India

Contrary to popular perception, electric crematoriums also lead to more pollution than the traditional Hindu style of cremation, involving burning the body on a pyre. The UNDP report informs that electric cremation is nearly seven times more intensive in terms of emission of green house gases as compared to the traditional Hindu style. Solar crematorium also appears to be a viable option, suggests V Ramesh of Karnataka Renewable Energy Development Limited. India is the front runner in this regard, with Baroda, a city in Gujarat equipped with the world’s first solar crematorium. It was developed by Wolfgang Sheffler, a Swiss national and Ronnie Sabbawala of Rashron Energy and Auto limited. The body is burned exclusively using solar energy. The second solar crematorium is to be erected in Patna, Bihar, by 2009. But this method also has certain disadvantages. Solar crematoriums are impossible in many parts of India during the winters and monsoons. Also, they can be used only during the day as long as the sun shines. Meri News

Important questions remain on how well this method will work, and how widely it will be accepted in India, let alone elsewhere. It is important to keep in mind that the traditional cremation in India does not achieve the degree of combustion that is expected in North America and Europe. 700 degrees Centigrade is at the low end of incineration temperatures used in the West, so this method would be more time consuming and result in more recognizable remains. Adoption of this method may be difficult for families and operators unless the technology advances, and higher temperatures can be created in the chamber.

This is certainly a promising first step, though, and many of us will watch closely as solar cremation is tested in India.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Technology Facilitates Ritual at Japanese Cemetery

In Japan, a novel solution has been found for overcrowded cemeteries - high rise columbarium condos with a high tech vending machine style retrieval system. Families insert a card at an altar and the urn of their loved one is brought to them for a visit.

This innovation shows that when something is important enough, we can find ways to facilitate it. For other posts on cemetery crowding and solutions, visit:

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Faron Young's 'Bucket List'

Thanks to T. Tex Edwards for the link to this great video. The 'Bucket List' is nothing new. Hopefully this song from fast-liver Faron Young will inspire you to make the most of your time here!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

"We were all dreading it, but it was an amazing day"

no funeral

"Mad Mike" and Fay Vercoe (photo from Dartford Messenger)

"It was an amazing day." How often do you hear a funeral described this way? Actually, I hear this kind of sentiment quite a lot after funerals. No one looks forward to attending a funeral, but when it is an appropriate tribute to the person we have lost, when friends and family participate in ritual and remembrance, the results are moving and uplifting. No service or expression of sympathy can take away the pain and grief of loss, but the presence and participation of friends and family demonstrate to us that our loved one is missed by others too. Their support acknowledges that this life had meaning, and its departure is a serious and important loss felt by many.

The rituals we follow can be old, newly made, or a combination of the two, like a motorcycle procession. In any case, participating in them is a public expression of the importance of this event and helps us to accept and work through our grief.

The acknowledgement of our situation, the remembrance and tribute to the unique personality of our loved one, and participation in rituals that are relevant to us and the spirit of the deceased,can all have a wonderful and meaningful effect on us. That is what funerals are all about.

Here is a wonderful example from an article fr0m The Dartford Messenger / KM Group, by senior reporter, Danny Boyle:

Just days after battling out of hospital, Fay Vercoe, of West Kingsdown, paid tribute to husband Mike as she laid him to rest on Friday, following the smash in Italy. About 250 bikers from across Europe followed his coffin, carried in a motorbike sidecar, from a Farningham pub to the funeral of the well-loved 66-year-old, known affectionately as Mad Mike. In her first interview, 62-year-old Mrs Vercoe, who only left Darent Valley Hospital last Tuesday, said: “Going to Mike’s funeral was a goal I was determined to hit, it was the least I could do for him.

“We were all dreading it, but it was an amazing day. It was absolutely incredible to see the sheer number of people that turned up. Talk about lifting the spirits.”

Mrs Vercoe was riding on the back of her husband’s new Triumph Thunderbird when tragedy struck near Trento, Italy, on September 22, just one week into a trip with the Motorcycle Touring Club of Europe. She paid tribute to her husband: "Mike was the life and soul of everybody’s party. He loved to dance, which we would do whenever we could, and he was a talented artist. “But bikes were his true love, he’s been riding since he was 16 and very experienced. He was a happy guy who lived for the moment.” for the full article, visit The Dartford Messenger

Monday, November 9, 2009

Is Ritual Important?

no funeral
This incredibly moving photo from The Vancouverite was sent out by my esteemed colleagues at Seattle's Evergreen Washelli Funeral Home, who assisted the family of slain Seattle Police officer, Tim Brenton. The photo shows some of the 220 Royal Canadian Mounted Police officers who attended Officer Brenton's funeral services.
In addition to being a powerful statement of respect and remembrance for Officer Brenton, the uniforms and solidarity shown here are an important lesson to anyone who plans a funeral or memorial service: Ritual is Important

When a loved one or colleague or neighbor dies, we need to acknowledge the importance and gravity of the event through our clothing and our demeanor. Even our presence is powerful, meaningful and healing for those who have lost a loved one.

When our world has turned upside down, we need the comfort of familiar ritual. Walking through those formal steps and acting out those time honored rites helps us to accept and deal with the new reality both inside and out.

Personalization and improvisation are important and increasingly popular in funerals these days, but we should never forget the importance of ritual because ritual speaks for us when the right words just cannot be found.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Humberto Luis Rivas: Photographer of Silence dies at 72

art and death

BARCELONA – Award-winning Argentine photographer Humberto Luis Rivas died Saturday in Barcelona, where he had lived for the latter half of his life. He was 72.
Rivas, called the photographer of silence because his portraits attempted to capture the interior qualities of the people he photographed, was born in Buenos Aires in 1937 and arrived in Barcelona in 1976.
Rivas’ death came just two days before Barcelona City Hall was to award him the Gold Medal for Artistic Merit in recognition of the value of his images.

From the Latin American Herald Tribune obituary. For the full text, visit

art and death memorial

art and death

Friday, November 6, 2009

Atlanta Undertaker on StoryCorps

funeral director ritual ceremony

“I strive ever day to make people feel better.”

Sam Reed, a mortician and the caretaker of Atlanta's historic Oakland Cemetery, talks about how his interest in the funeral business started at a young age.

Listen to this charming story on StoryCorps

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Funeral service faces a crisis of relevance, and I am passionate about keeping the best traditions of service alive while adapting to the changing needs of families. Feel free to contact me with questions, or to share your thoughts on funeral service, ritual, and memorialization.