NORWALK, Conn. — Every time Robert Deluca of Westport thinks of the ocean, he thinks of his father.
The two loved to scuba dive together, and Deluca’s father had a passion for all things related to the sea.
So when his father passed, Deluca didn’t think a traditional burial was fitting. Instead, he went online in search of something special. That’s how he discovered Eternal Reefs, a company that incorporates cremated remains into structures designed for coral reefs to grow over. His father is now part of a reef off the shore of Florida, between Miami and Fort Lauderdale.
“It’s just beautiful, because it’s so much better than a regular cemetery,” Deluca said. “When you drive past a regular cemetery, you think, what a waste. But with a reef, it’s great — you’re creating something new, something alive. It’s a great way to remember loved ones.”
He has already made arrangements in his will to do the same with his body after he dies.
More and more, people are prearranging their own funerals and moving away from traditional burials, funeral directors throughout Fairfield County told the Hearst Connecticut Media Group.
“People want to find more personal meaning in their funerals,” said Rebecca Lautenslager, funeral director of Shaughnessey Banks Funeral Home in Fairfield. “I think it’s just part of society now. Everything is tailored to be unique to each person, which is a good thing.”
The number of burials, which had long been the most common type of funeral in Connecticut, fell behind the state’s number of cremations in 2014, according to statistics from the National Funeral Directors Association. As of 2018, 58 percent of dead bodies in the state are cremated. And funeral directors only see that trend rising — the NFDA projects that 80 percent of dead bodies in Connecticut will be cremated by 2030. The Connecticut Department of Public Health has already reported seeing the number of funeral homes licensed to provide cremation services rise over the past few years.
With the rise of cremations came the rise of the question of what exactly to do with those cremains.
While a burial necessitates a plot and a casket, a cremation opens both to deliberation. A casket can be rented to show the body before the cremation for considerably less than the $2,000 the Federal Trade Commission estimates to be the cost of an average casket, but the step can also be skipped all together.
And while a plot eventually works out to be cheaper for urns than caskets (three urns are allowed per plot, according to John Lesko, the director of the Hoyt-Cognetta Funeral Home in Norwalk), the decision of whether or not to inter often comes down to religion. Hinduism embraces cremation and families often scatter ashes in a meaningful location, while the Catholic Church maintains that cremains should be kept together and placed in a grave or a tomb. Cremation is off-limits to Orthodox Jews altogether.
A changing society has also impacted decisions to purchase plots. As Gary Miraldi pointed out, “You have no idea where your kids are going to be … will your kids really visit it like we used to? Also, with population growth, there’s less free land.”
If not in a cemetery, then where? Miraldi has been designing jewelry in Connecticut for 36 years, and his work has unexpectedly led him to grapple with the question.
Over two decades ago, a customer who had lost a son in a car accident came to him with what was then an unusual request. The person wanted to create a piece with the ashes that didn’t seem religious, and Miraldi was able to help.
Since then, objects incorporating people’s ashes — known as keepsakes — have become a significant part of Miraldi’s business, A Soul to Heart.
“It’s more acceptable,” he said. Jewelry remains a common choice, but he once inserted ashes into a Disney Service Award and has also turned a microphone into a keepsake memorializing a karaoke-loving mother.
“You try to give them what they want that makes them connected to the person they lost,” he said.
At Nicholas F. Cognetta Funeral Home in Stamford, Crematory Manager Anthony Notaro opened a case of urns ranging from the classic to the unconventional.
“Those are actual Harley Davidson parts,” Notaro explained of an urn that resembled industrial tongs with drums on either end. “The transmission pan and pistons. And inside the transmission pan can go cremated remains.”
Other options at the funeral home included an organically shaped vessel made of corn starch, salt and non-toxic glues, designed to dissolve in water for a burial at sea, and a metal rose which could unscrew to hold ashes within the stigma.
The funeral home is one of only four in the state that has its own crematory on the premises and has witnessed cremation’s rise in popularity. Lesko said that now many people are surprised by all of the options. “We ask: What would you like to do? Merchandise evolved for cremation out of the needs of people and what they’d like to have.”
But many, like Deluca, have already decided on the ritual that means the most to them. Dolly Curtis of Easton said that when her husband passes away, her family plans to cremate his body and incorporate it into one of her son’s works of handblown glass.
“It would just be the natural thing to do for his dad,” she said. “I wouldn’t think of anything else.”
Information from: The Hour, http://www.thehour.com