I’m now going to share with you something I hate.
I hate when people are REALLY SUPER PROUD of themselves for doing something sort- of- mildly “quirky” with cremated ashes. Now, by all means, if you’re someone who is actually doing something interesting or transgressive- then my hats off to you, sir or madame! Carry on, good soldier!
240 pencils made from a single person’s cremated remains. That’s an obscene amount of pencils. You could use them for absolutely every thing you need to write down for the rest of your life. Or give them away to Trick or Treaters at Halloween (with like, supplemental Snickers). Or write long bittersweet remembrance letters to your poor dead love with a pencil made of said dead love.
The artist here is Nadine Jarvis. She’s young and interesting. Her website is down or else I would link you. She has another project called “Rest in Pieces” where is an urn suspended by a wire that slowly decays, eventually sending the urn crashing down to earth, smashing and scattering the ashes. Swoon!
But for every Nadine Javis you have hundreds and hundreds of Americans who think that putting dad’s ashes in an urn shaped like a golf club because “Dad sure liked golf!” is breaking the mold.
“Hi family. That you all for coming to dad’s service today. Just so we’re clear, this is a golf themed urn we have dad in. Do you see it? It’s not just a normal urn. It’s GOLF urn. I found it on the internet in an article called “Breathing New Life into a Dead Industry Something Something.” Wouldn’t he just have loved it, guys? Dad was funny like that.”
Getting super psyched about funeral personalization is kind of like when people call something “hipster.” Hipster is not a subculture anymore. It’s just normal, regular ol’ mainstream culture. The same goes for most anything related to funeral personalization. Every funeral home in America would love to sell you some Green Bay Packers endcaps for your casket or show you how put your interactive obituary online. If you’re not going beyond that entry level stuff, personalization is FUCKING BORING. And frankly, not really helping people deal with mortality any better. If I have to read another article about “Cool Caskets” I’m going to kill myself. Except not. Because there’s a chance you’d put me in a golf urn, assholes.
Maybe I’d like to try my own ash experiments. My father is an artist, I’m sort of nominally a writer. But most of all I have tons of morticianly pep- which has to be half the battle here. Unfortunately, to be “experimental” is to require materials with which to experiment. One cannot attempt bold new rituals with human cremated remains if one has no such remains.
The cremated ashes in question don’t just rain from the sky–except metaphorically. When you’re working in a crematory, there is a thin film of human ash that covers everything. I’m serious. Everything. Tables and walls and the machines and papers and often your lunch.
After a cremation takes place, all that is left is a pile of bones, piping hot out of the cremation oven. The crematory operator has to grind the bones into an ashy pulp. After the grinding, ash rises into the air in an inevitable dust cloud and settles on your skin and your clothes and in the crevices of your nostrils. It’s like having a microderm abrasion facial with human bone. Which, secretly has been what’s kept me young. I’m actually 57 years old. Don’t tell anyone.
That ashy film won’t be enough. Where else to get practice ashes? Whilst driving the body van, every few weeks I would take whole CRATES full of ashes to be scattered at sea. They came from bodies donated to hospitals for medical research. Literally box upon box of unidentified ashes. “I could totally just take one of these in the name of further research!” I thought with great longing. But no, that will not do. Illegal, I suppose.
So I must take inspiration from one of the great funeral industry fuck ups of the century: Ray Brent Marsh. Mr. Marsh ran a crematory in the backwoods of Noble, Georgia, where instead of actually cremating something like 350 dead bodies, he chose to come up with new ways to dispose of them around his 16 acre property. Bodies in the shed! Bodies in the woods! Bodies in the bog! Bodies in old cars! Bodies bodies bodies!
Here he is. Oh dear Mr. Marsh, could you be any more simpering and creepy? Also, your ears are unnaturally small.
How is it that Marsh kept these poor suffering families convinced for so long that he was actually cremating corpses that were, in actuality, decomposing out back? Why fauxmains, of course!
: Artificial, false versions of dead human remains
Marsh used concrete dust and wood chip ashes to create artful replicas of cremated human remains. So, without seeming to show sympathy for arguably the worst guy on the planet, I too have created my own alchemy of false remains for conducting experiments.
My friend David, a beloved member of the Order, has a cabin in the woods. There is a fire pit that we use for our bacchanalian orgiastic revelries. Or…you know… to grill eggplant.
After one such bonfire, I took the white chunky ash from the bottom of the pit and mixed it with some clay earth from up the hill. Voila! After a bit of sifting, surprisingly cremains-like.
Aren’t they be-yoo-tiful?
I shall proceed with my fauxmains, but if any members of the Order have someone’s ashes at the back of their closet and wish to donate them to a higher cause, orderofthegooddeath(at)gmail.com would love to hear from you.
Viva la Muerte! Your Mortician