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3k turns loved ones into diamonds

Crushing your grandma into a diamon d, rocketing your dad ashes into space, sprinkling your mum remains along a mountain trail with flower seeds.

Behold the growing world of creative cremations.

In Australia the number of people choosing to be cremated is steadily increasing, according to the Australian Funeral Directors Association, and it says cremations now outnumber burials.

In the US a torpid economy, decliningpromressesau religiosity and a modern trend towards simplicity has driven the number of cremations in America to 41 per cent of all deaths - up from 30 per cent just eight years ago, and a tiny 4 per cent in the 1960s.

While that has reduced the number of mortuaries and traditional funerals, it has inflated the alternative market as never before, from do-it-yourself choices to things that might have seemed too bizarre to consider just a few years ago.

LifeGem is a sparkling example.

For $US3000 ($2905) a pop, mourners at the Alta Mesa Funeral Home in Palo Alto, California, can turn their loved ones into a genuine diamond - usually about a quarter carat at that price. A full carat can cost north of $US25,000.

"Some people say, no, I would never do that And others say, absolutely want that said Alta Mesa co-owner Don van Straaten.

"It a very special way of remembrance."

Creating the diamond requires sending one cup of cremains to LifeGem in Illinois, which then takes up to a year to heat and pressurise them into a diamond.

The gems come in blue, yellow or clear, and can be worn or propped on a mantle. Interest has steadily grown since the company formed a decade ago.

The long-time publisher of Mortuary Magaz ine says changes in the US $US12 billion funeral industry can be tagged to factors far deeper than recessions, which come and go.

"People are increasingly looking for simple methods of honouring the departed, not more elaborate ones," said publisher Ron Hast.

"The big funerals in big churches, we just don see them as much as we used to. And because cremations are so common now, that has led to fewer people needing graves."

Mary Hickey contribution to this funereal landscape is selling packets of forget-me-not flower seeds with cards and bookmarks.

The idea is to bring a card to a memorial service, or use a bookmark when reading from a Bible or similarly appropriate book at the service, then honouring the dead by spreading life in the soil.

Ms Hickey co-founded Next Gen Memorials 10 years ago offering urns and other products, but in the past five years the seed packets have become her hot sellers, shooting from 100 a day to 1000 at less than $US2 apiece.
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