In the 21st century, there are a lot of new options in addition to urns and gravestones

Once upon a time, there seemed to be a limited number of ways people would physically pay tribute to a lost loved one, outside of the cemetery or urn: a well-worn newspaper clipping of a brief obituary, a memorial card from the funeral home, a dried flower from the funeral service. Recently, though, we’ve seen a huge boom in creative memorial ideas.

Many of these — though not all — are options for those who want to incorporate the cremated ashes of a loved one into a special, unique form.


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The ashes of a music lover, for instance, can be pressed into a vinyl record — or if you have a recording of your loved one’s voice, the record can play that recording. Ashes can be embodied within a special teddy bear that’s much cuddlier than the average urn. A family member who loved to hunt or shoot can be remembered by having their ashes placed in useable bullets. Or if your loved one’s tastes ran more toward ocean conservation, you can have their ashes incorporated into a coral reef to nurture a disappearing part of the ocean ecosystem.

Some people deserve a sky-high send-off, and there are companies making that happen — from an option to incorporate ashes into fireworks, to a helium balloon  “urn” that will explode and scatter the ashes once it’s about five miles high, to an opportunity to have ashes sent into space on a rocket.

If your family member was known for their taste in the finer things — well, ashes can be used to create a certified diamond in remembrance of a loved one who was partial to bling. Glass objets d’art can be blown or molded with ashes included, visible as a swirl in the glass or invisible, depending on your preference. And ashes can be mixed with oil paint to create a one-of-a-kind painting.

In fact, drawing and writing with ashes can be done in a variety of ways. Ashes can be mixed with ink, and one use for this ink is a memorial tattoo. (Of course, you can also opt for a memorial tattoo without ashes.) Ink mixed with ashes can also be used at home to create all kinds of calligraphy or art projects in memoriam. (One Marvel Comics editor specified that after his death, his ashes should be mixed with ink and used to create a comic book in his memory.)

If you want to remember a loved one via writing but with no ashes involved, you can preserve their handwriting in a unique way. One company will print a pattern on fabric using your loved one’s actual handwriting or drawings. Mom’s recipe cards could be made into an apron, grocery lists can become tea towels, doodles can become a skirt — whatever you can imagine.

Memorial plantings aren’t so unusual — many people like to plant a tree, a rose bush, or even a small garden plot in memory of a loved one. But now there are ways to make a memorial planting even more personal and meaningful. One is to add your loved one’s cremains to the soil you’re planting in. This can be done in a very low-tech way, simply sprinkling the ashes in the dirt, but you can also choose a biodegradable urn designed expressly for this purpose. Some are delivered with tree seeds incorporated in the urn and others with live saplings included, while there’s at least one ultra-modern urn design that you can monitor with your smart phone to know how well it’s growing.

If you like the idea of a backyard memorial but you don’t have a green thumb, there are other ways to make your yard into a place for remembering. Say Dad was a grillmaster who loved a backyard bonfire: You might build a firepit in his memory and think of him every time you sit around it on a summer evening. For a remembrance that’s steeped in ancient tradition, you can build a cairn of stones, something you can add to over time with stones you find beautiful or meaningful. Or simply sit and remember your loved one on a pretty day by adding a memorial bench to your yard.

Finally, there are opportunities to immortalize your loved one’s name through a dedication. A star can be named after a person using a star registry, as can an asteroid, so when you look to the night sky, you’ll always think of them. For nature lovers, a new species — perhaps a frog or an orchid — can be named for them. Or a tree can be planted in a loved one’s honor: options include supporting a mountain reforestation project, dedicating an Italian olive tree, or planting a memorial tree in a U.S. National Forest


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