FORT MYERS, FLA. (News-Press.com) - Fewer Florida families are entombing their loved ones' bodies underground - opting instead to send the remains into the Gulf of Mexico, shoot them into the sky or wear them in a locket.
The traditional burial, once so important in the grieving process, is becoming a thing of the past.
More than half of Floridians who die are cremated instead of buried.
"What's interesting is cremation seems to be becoming the new tradition for many families," said Barbara Kemmis, executive director of the Cremation Association of North America.
Florida, for example, cremated 59 percent of its dead in 2011 - the second highest percentage in the U.S., according to the most recent Cremation Association statistics.
At Mullins Memorial Funeral Home & Cremation Service in Cape Coral, about 85 percent of clients choose cremation, according to owner Shannon Mullins.
Cheaper than burial
A major reason is cost. A basic cremation costs an average of about $2,250, according to the Cremation Association. That's compared with about $8,350 for the average burial.
Cremation is also a practical option for Florida's seasonal and transplant residents, as cremated remains are cheaper and easier to transport, Mullins said.
Cremation gives families more options, Kemmis said. There are a handful of cemeteries in Southwest Florida, but unlimited ways to lay cremated remains to rest.
Mullins dedicates one wall of his funeral home showroom to casket options, and three to urns. There are urns that display pictures, are disguised as lamps, worn as lockets or are biodegradable. Mullins sells a Florida Gators urn, and a $695 urn hand-made by an artist from Sarasota. Families can encase their loved one's remains in concrete and send them to the bottom of the ocean to create a reef. They can put the remains into a blown-glass work of art, or extract the carbon from the remains to create a diamond.
Cremated remains also can be interred at traditional cemeteries.
Perhaps the most unique way to lay a loved one to rest - shoot the remains up in a rocket over the Gulf of Mexico. At 3,000 feet a parachute deploys and floats the remains down to the water.
Mullins has conducted the rocket launch twice in his career - once was for a deceased fireworks fanatic.
"No two people grieve the same way," Kemmis said, "so I think this personalization is just so important."
At Friendship Missionary Baptist Church in Fort Myers, about 2 percent of members choose cremation, according to Pastor James Bing. Five years ago, no one did.
But the church doesn't dictate how its members lay their loved ones to rest, Bing said. While he's not sure he would want to be cremated, the practice doesn't bother him.
"In the Old Testament," Bing said, "bodies were often burned. So cremation really is not a new phenomenon."
The Catholic Church once banned cremation, but now allows the practice as long as the remains are interred instead of scattered.
To watch or not to watch
Religious faith also dictates not just whether, but how some families approach cremation. Hindu and Sikh families are more likely to ask to watch the process, Mullins said.
Many families don't want to know how the process works and also decline to read the cremation authorization form.
"Half the families want to know all you can tell them," Mullins said, "and the other half want to know nothing."
But that's changing, according to Kemmis. As more people begin to understand cremation, more people want to see it and be involved.
"There's no taboo about it," Kemmis said.