Urns for Ashes on USA Today


Lori Lemons holds a Teddy Bear that contains the ashes of her baby girl Nakita who was murdered last October.

By Wendy Koch, USA TODAY
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As more funerals are followed by cremation, the plain brass urn to hold ashes is being replaced by sculptures, picture frames, pendants, wind chimes, sundials and even teddy bears.

Ashes of a police officer can now be kept close in a .44-caliber Magnum silver-bullet keychain. Those of a biker can be cherished in an urn that looks like a born-to-ride motorcycle gas tank.

"Cremation gives people many more options to grieve," says Armand Chevrette, a board member of the Cremation Association of North America.

Ashes can be shot into space, compressed into "diamonds" for jewelry or mixed with concrete into balls that are placed in the ocean to create a coral reef.

A container for ashes is "the last gift people buy their loved one," says Susan Frazer of In the Light Urns, a Three Rivers, Calif., company selling such products. "They want to make sure it's the right thing." Her biggest seller: a $30 cobalt blue necklace pendant. It comes with a funnel to put the ashes inside and glue to seal the pendant.

Frazer's firm, which has seen monthly sales increase from $5,000 in 2001 to $30,000 today, has received requests for custom urns for ashes that reflect the deceased person's occupation or interest, including urns shaped like a fiddle, a clown and even a 1955 Chevy Impala.

Eternal Image in Farmington Hills, Mich., signed a licensing agreement in June with Major League Baseball to reproduce the names and logos of all 30 major league teams on a line of urns and caskets next year

Alexandra Lachini, owner of Hold Me Urns in Redding, Calif., says she began making teddy bears after her father died in 1998 and his ashes were stored in an "ugly plastic urn" in a closet. Each bear has a small compartment for a plastic-lined velvet bag of ashes. Sometimes they are made with fabric from clothing that was worn by the loved one. They cost about $80.

Karen Dalton, a nurse in Laureldale, Pa., bought her sister a teddy bear for Mother's Day to remind her of her son, also a nurse, who died of a drug overdose. The bear is made from his lab coat and Harley-Davidson jacket. "She keeps it on her bed all the time," Dalton says.

Frazer got into the urn business after her 14-year-old son, Ryan, died while swimming in 1995. "It was absolutely devastating," she says. She has three teddy bears inscribed with his name and dates of birth and death.

"Cremation of pets is also extremely popular," Frazer says. She says people want to carry mementos of their pets with them, even to their own graves.

Lisa Ernst, a probation officer in Limerick, Pa., bought a four-sided picture-frame urn after four family pets were killed in a fire in August. "We all needed some closure," she says. Her two sons miss their dogs and cats and "always want to look at the pictures," she says.

The cremation industry expects further growth. A 2005 survey by polling firm Wirthlin Worldwide found that 46% of Americans plan to be cremated, up from 39% in 1995 and 31% in 1990.

Some religions oppose cremation, including Islam and Orthodox Judaism. The Roman Catholic Church dropped its objection in 1963.

Sheryl Gafka, a massage therapist in Algonquin, Ill., says her father, suffering from a terminal illness, wants his ashes to be buried in Yellowstone National Park. This month, she bought a biodegradable urn in the shape of a heart. She says, "He's the only person in my life who has truly touched my heart."

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