Alternative Funerals: Thinking Outside the Box

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Alternative Funerals: Thinking Outside the BoxDeath isn't cheap: According to recent studies, the average cost of a traditional funeral is almost $8,000. And unlike weddings -- the other big-ticket, life-changing event that most people go through -- funerals often arrive suddenly, potentially devastating the bank accounts of one's survivors.

In America, internment usually comes down to a choice between burial and cremation, which many see as a cheaper, more convenient option. Both choices have their pluses and minuses: Traditional burial is expensive and environmentally destructive; on the other hand, it provides loved ones with an opportunity to say goodbye and leaves behind a permanent place where friends and family can visit. On the other hand, cremation is convenient and inexpensive, but a standard scattering of ashes can leave the bereaved feeling bereft, robbed of the opportunity to leave -- and revisit -- their loved one.

Recently, however, some companies have developed burial options that combine the benefits of cremation with the permanence of traditional burial at a fraction of its cost.

Ocean Burials

One of the most romantic forms of internment, burial at sea, can be especially evocative for Navy veterans. And, with prices for sprinkling ashes at sea starting at $100, it can also be extremely affordable. Many companies use biodegradable containers and old-fashioned burial shrouds, reducing the environmental impact. What's more, by giving the bereaved the GPS coordinates for their loved one, many at-sea burial companies make it possible for return visits.

While even the basic burial at sea is environmentally responsible, there are some ocean burial options that actually help improve the environment. For example, Eternal Reefs, a Georgia-based company, combines the ashes of the deceased with cement to create a concrete reef ball. This huge, porous ball is then lowered into the ocean, where various aquatic creatures can make their homes on its rough surface. Loved ones can take part in the reef ball construction, and multiple family members can be buried inside a single reef ball. The price for internment starts at $2,995, but larger reef balls can accommodate up to four family members. To make it easier for loved ones to visit, the reef balls have built-in GPS transmitters and plaques commemorating the inhabitants.

Get Shot into Space

For the explorer in your family, what could be better than being shot into space? Celestis offers its own version of eternity: For relatively small fees starting at $695, they will place up to fourteen ounces of your cremated remains into a rocket -- along with those of a lot of other people. The basic service sends you into space for only two minutes and forty seconds before you come hurtling back to Earth, but other options will let your remains travel to the moon -- or even to the stars -- for eternity. This last option, which starts at $12,500, was chosen by Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry and his wife Majel Barrett; their launch is planned for 2012.

Get Turned into Jewelry

While space is an exciting option, some families like to keep their deceased members a little closer. If you plan to stay with your loved ones for eternity, you might consider becoming a Lifegem. The Illinois-based company will take carbon from your hair or cremated remains and, using a proprietary process, compress it into a diamond. Sizes range between 0.2 and 1.5 carats and cost between $2,490 and $24,999. If you don't care for the standard clear diamond color, Lifegem also offers jewels in blue, red, yellow, or green.

While a single jewel is certainly impressive, Lifegem also appreciates the value of accessorizing: If you buy two or more diamonds, they offer a discount. They can also make gems out of pets or multiple family members. Ultimately, this may be the most cost-effective internment method available: After all, while most funerals leave you with a family plot, Lifegem can leave you with a tennis bracelet.

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