Although unthought of among Christians in the past, to cremate the dead became acceptable in modern cultures particularly in Europe where it became legal in the late 1800s.
Cremation has always been customary, though, in Hinduism and Buddhism–religions that believe the dead person is reborn into another human or other form of life many times over.
In the Philippines, practicality has emerged as the main reason why cremation has gained ground as the choice of many families in laying the body of a loved one to rest. Besides lowering costs from buying a plot of land, Filinvest 2 Christ the King parish priest Father Nonnette Legaspi told The Sunday Times Magazine in a previous interview that it will prove easier for families to visit their dearly departed at columbaries, which are often located within church grounds.
In the same article, Therese, a devout Catholic, also related that their father was cremated, it was easier for their family to let him go that way, than watch his coffin buried into the ground.
“The next thing we knew, we already had him again in the urn. We didn’t have to go in the next days to his gravesite and have to imagine he was rotting away. I think cremation really helps to lessen the pain of death for those left behind. What I like about the whole experience was that the place we chose for our dad was done so beautifully, within the church’s grounds. We truly felt our dad had found peace,” she said.
Beyond economics and emotions, however, a US company based in Portland, Oregon has taken the idea of cremation a huge leap further with a concept called “EterniTrees.” They asked the question: What if a beloved departed can live again, by growing a beautiful tree?
Thus, EterniTrees offer the bereaved a “living memorial” to visit and with which to feel the presence of the departed. The bonus here, of course, is the opportunity to give back to the environment.
“EterniTrees are biodegradable memorial tree cremation urns specifically designed to be planted in the ground along with a lost loved one or dear pet remains, from which a beautiful and life-sustaining tree will grow,” the company says in its portfolio.
‘Perfect green alternative’
Planting a memorial tree using the cremated ashes of a loved one is a burgeoning trend in the US, Europe, South Africa, China and Australia.
It is considered by proponents as “the perfect, green alternative” memorial to honor a loved one, with their cremated remains serving to nurture a living, environment-friendly remembrance, representative of their vibrancy during their lifetime. Best of all, it is a “living presence” of those who have gone ahead.
Interestingly, ashes by themselves are harmful to plants, but once placed in an EterniTrees urn and planted, the cremated ashes turn it into a mixture that nourishes and sustains.
These small, earth-conscious urns contain tree seeds in the lid, and can hold 35 cubic inches of cremated remains. Utilizing a special biodegradable and eco-friendly mixture which neutralizes the pH found in cremated ashes, these urns incorporate the remains into the growth process of the memorial tree.
Some of the seeds available in the EterniTrees are Blue Spruce, Deodora Cedar, Dogwood Tree, Eastern Red Bud, Flowering Cherry, Ginkgo Biloba, Japanese Maple, Japanese White Birch, Oak, Ponderosa Pine, Quaking Aspen, Sugar Maple and Tulip Poplar.
In an e-mail exchange with The Sunday Times Magazine, Urns Northwest business manager and US Urns Online editor Daniel Szczesniak said that the tree seeds for market in the US are not available elsewhere.
“We only sell the Personal Choice Memorial Tree Urn in the USA, since we have not tested the individual trees outside of the US. The Personal Choice comes without seeds, with an empty pocket in the lid for the family to put the seeds of their choice inside. [Those outside the US] will have to obtain the seeds of their choice locally,” he informed.
This unique memorial urn is equipped with a paper label that can be peeled back for the chosen seeds to be placed inside, allowing freedom to imagine a loved one’s personality thriving in the selected tree, shrub or bloom.
Szczesniak pointed out, however, that the urn is intended to hold only the 35 cubic inches of ashes indicated, so that to use all the remains of say a 175-pound individual will require five of these biodegradable memorial tree urns.
Szczesniak added they can ship orders to the Philippines for the same price as in the US at $120, plus $97 shipping and handling fee. Transit time is three weeks.
In Europe, Bios Incube is revolutionizing the memorial tree urn concept with its versatile design to fit into any space—indoor or outdoor—combining the insights of tree growth with data from its environment.
As explained in their website urnabios.com, the Bios Incube “comes with a sensor device that is used to track the Bios Urn, detect levels of light exposure, assess electrical conductivity, and monitor moisture and temperature in the atmosphere and soil.
“The sensor device attaches to the surface of the soil just over the Bios Urn, and is constantly being updated on the growth conditions and status of the seed or tree. Hidden inside the device is a custom piece of hardware equipped with sensors that are capable of tracking and mapping the needs of the tree.
“All this information is wirelessly transferred through Wi-Fi to an application, making the data available anytime, anywhere.”
Created by Spanish designer Gerard Moliné in 1997, the first working prototypes of the Bios Urn were created and produced in 2002. It was only in 2013, however, when Gerard’s brother, Roger Moliné joined the team that the two brothers launched Bios Urn as a start-up company incorporating technology with the aim of changing the way people understand life.
The Bios Incube is designed in a way that is easy to manage and ensures growth, with the system created to work independently and autonomously. Since the first months of growing a tree from a seed are the most crucial phase of the process, the Bios Incube makes this effortless. As such, for non-green thumbs, this is the suitable choice for memorial trees because it cares, waters, and monitors itself.
“In order to ensure that the tree grows healthy, make sure it receives adequate sunlight, and choose a tree that is native to the environment. In case a tree does not grow, additional seeds can be planted beneath the surface of the soil,” the brothers advice.
Perchance that the tree is not watered, the Bios Incube has a built-in irrigation system that can sustain the tree for up to 20 days. When the Incube requires more water, it alerts the Bios Incube application for personal watering.
Now once the tree has grown to an appropriate size, it is recommended that it be planted somewhere natural, such as a forest or backyard, as trees only grow in accordance to the volume of their soil. If the tree is left in the Bios Incube, its growth is stunted, reaching a certain size, until transplanted to a setting with more soil space.
Bios Incube can be ordered online and costs $145, with shipping and handling fee depending on the local rate.
Whether or not a memorial tree will be something the predominantly Catholic Philippines will adopt remains to be seen, especially with the Vatican’s new set of rules for the faithful who decide to be cremated after death.
While cremation is not is not officially prohibited, the issued statement on October 25 indicated that the Church prefers a traditional burial.
But Catholics do choose cremation, those with specific instructions to their families of what to do with their ashes should know that church officials no longer permit scattering them in particular locations. Moreover, the Vatican rules that urns must be kept in “sacred places,” and neither at home nor divided among family members.
Interspersed between Biblical passages pertaining to Jesus’ death and resurrection, the Vatican stated in the “Instruction Ad resurgendum cum Christo regarding the burial of the deceased and the conservation of the ashes in the case of cremation:”
“The burial of the faithful departed in cemeteries or other sacred places encourages family members and the whole Christian community to pray for and remember the dead, while at the same time fostering the veneration of martyrs and saints…
“When, for legitimate motives, cremation of the body has been chosen, the ashes of the faithful must be laid to rest in a sacred place, that is, in a cemetery or, in certain cases, in a church or an area, which has been set aside for this purpose, and so dedicated by the competent ecclesial authority…
“The reservation of the ashes of the departed in a sacred place ensures that they are not excluded from the prayers and remembrance of their family or the Christian community. It prevents the faithful departed from being forgotten, or their remains from being shown a lack of respect, which eventuality is possible, most especially once the immediately subsequent generation has too passed away. Also it prevents any unfitting or superstitious practices.”