Cremation keeps loved ones close


Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Steve Clementi sits on his deck, looks at the bird bath in his wooded yard, smiles and thinks of his parents. It makes sense. They’re right there.

The cremated remains of Tony and Edy Clementi, who loved to prune, plant and putter in the garden, rest in the cast steel cylinder that holds up the bird bath.

Clementi finds peace in it. “It’s a reminder of them and their life, and their love of life, as opposed to a reminder of their death,” he says.

Bird baths, earrings, sundials, even fireworks — cremated remains are finding a resting place in these and other remarkable vessels as cremation, once a rarity, goes mainstream and families search for a fitting final home. Now chosen in 42 percent of U.S. deaths, cremation is expected to capture half the market by 2016.

Cost is the main reason people cite, followed by “saves land.” A traditional burial costs $8,000 to $10,000, according to industry estimates — four times the cost of basic cremation. The Catholic Church, which once banned cremation, now permits it, though it still prohibits the scattering of cremated remains.

What remains after the 2- to 2 1/2-hour cremation process weighs 5 to 7 pounds – roughly the volume of a 5-pound coffee can. So for most people, cremation brings a question: Where do the ashes go?

For Clementi, the birdbath, which cost $925, “was just a good fit,” he says. “They just really enjoyed working out in the yard and being outdoors.”

He could have chosen to go deep or fly sky high. Eternal Reefs ( combines cremated remains with cement to create a “pearl” that becomes part of an offshore reef. Angels Flight Fireworks in Marina Del Ray, Calif., will make them part of a fireworks display, though they can’t legally ship fireworks to non-licensed parties.

You can get urns that look like clocks, golf bags, lighthouses, cowboy boots, and Harley-Davidson gas tanks. There is a line officially licensed by the Boy Scouts of America.

There’s cremation jewelry — lockets, cuff links and bracelets — much like the Victorian tradition of keeping a lock of hair of the deceased and wearing it in a locket or woven into jewelry.

The Madelyn Co. ( offers a line of simple pendants and bracelets (starting at $80) — including one pendant fitted with a hand-crafted lens. Look through it and view either a verse or photo of the deceased. In the works is a “tree of life” pendant design with branches with separate chambers to hold remains of several people.

Lynn Muelbl went the custom route when her husband died in 2001. She had a locket made from his wedding band and three diamonds from her engagement ring — one each for her and their two children. Within it is a clear glass compartment containing some of his ashes.

She and a goldsmith friend designed the locket. Another friend who’s a glassblower made a glass dish and blew ashes into it with a pipette so they’d be sealed within. The locket has gone with her to family events — birthdays, anniversaries, holiday gatherings.

“Mom would wear the locket and dad was coming with us,” she says. “That was a way for him to always to be with us.”

It went on vacation — along with more of his ashes, which she and son Matthew, now 25, and daughter Marenav, 23, scattered on beaches in the Caribbean and among pines on a ski slope in Vail, Colo.

“We would have ceremonies for him and build a rock altar,” she says. “We would go to the beach and find rocks and build a memorial and put his ashes there. And say a prayer.”

At home, a rock memorial in their backyard has stones from places where her husband’s ashes were left. Muelbl and her children each have hand-blown glass vessels with still more ashes that are meant to be displayed like art.

It gives her a sense of peace, she says. “I know that I can talk to him at any time.”

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