The Cremains of the Day

Written By Meg Elison

Meg Elison is a Philip K. Dick and Locus award winning author, as well as a Hugo, Nebula, Sturgeon, and Otherwise awards finalist. A prolific short story writer and essayist, Elison has been published in Slate, McSweeney’s, Fantasy & Science Fiction, Fangoria, Uncanny, Lightspeed, Nightmare, and Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy. Elison is a high school dropout and a graduate of UC Berkeley.

A mausoleum? In this economy? A full-on shrine in my millennial one-bedroom starter apartment/retirement hovel? A pyramid? On my block in Brooklyn?

It is just so inconvenient to try and keep your dead loved ones near to you in this day and age. Most of us don’t want to move an urn full of ashes from one temporarily affordable condo to the next, let alone buy a plot of land for someone who can’t even enjoy the mushrooms that grow on it.  While the Victorians used to make beautiful jewelry from the hair of the deceased, modern problems require modern solutions. There are ways to keep your departed dear reliably near without paying rent or a mover for the privilege.

(None of this is sponcon, by the way. I’m just the sort of person who makes a hot cup of tea and searches keep dead body legal how and human corpse practical use until someone shows up with a warrant.)

First up is one for all you environmentalist goths out there: human composting. I wrote about this upon the death of my lover, David, because he opted for this one. Recompose specializes in human composting, as does The Natural Funeral, Earth Funeral, and a handful of other providers. Human composting legally and respectfully processes human bodies into forest-nurturing compost. This is a great option for those family members who insist they want “nothing fancy” or “just a Hefty bag” or “don’t waste money on a coffin, just let me rot.” This is rot for the good of the trees, and it’s now legal in six states. For mementos, these outfits offer a range from a tiny urn filled with the soil made of the loved ones’ body to a sackful of it to spread on your own garden or throw in a dumpster while crying. It’s portable, it’s powerful, it’s safe to carry on an airplane (though I don’t suggest you tell the TSA the story of your bag of dirt.)

Sign-up for Letters From The Psychopomp

a weekly letter from The Psychopomp about Death, and the latest from

    But maybe you’re too fancy for all that. Maybe you’d rather return to stardust than plain old earthdust when you die. When you’ve lived a fabulous life, it’s only natural that you’d choose a fabulous keepsake of your death. Human remains can be compressed into diamonds. Using only one pound of crematory ashes, the power of science, and the desire for sparkle, the dead queens among us can keep gagging them by becoming a literal gem. We are all just elaborations of carbon, after all. So why not be the most elaborate one possible? Even pets can die like a diva and become an opal for remembrance. Remember: a box in the dirt may be nice and traditional, but diamonds are a landless peasant’s best friend.

    We’re not eternal creatures. Perhaps the idea of becoming an indestructible stone runs counter to your sensibility as a living meatbag with hormones and feelings. Or perhaps you’d like to eat of your own dead! Either way, you’re in luck. The mushroom burial suit is a legal option accepted at most green cemeteries, and the human body can be processed immediately through mycoremediation and made to grow delicious mushrooms. These fungal bodies can also be dried and preserved as a souvenir of the person that was: a fruiting body from the fruiting body is a fitting and poetic way to remember the fleeting life of meat.

    Many of us are more romantic about our eventual end than mushrooms, but less than diamonds, as so there are options in the middle. Ashes from cremation can be pressed into a vinyl record or sifted into a clear locket so that the living can see the tiny chips of bones left behind. Cremains can be secreted in a picture frame or sealed forever into a gold elephant-shaped pendant. The options for a portable piece of a human corpse that you can take with you wherever you go and store no matter how tiny your studio are too numerous to mention. If you dream of keeping a loved one in a wearable football helmet bearing the logo of the Oregon State beavers, your dream can come true.

    We live very differently from our forebears, thousands of generations of whom lived and died within a five-mile radius of where their parents were buried. With new ways of living must come new ways of dying and grieving. When it comes time to see to your people’s final disposition, don’t be afraid to get unconventional. There are more options than ever when it comes to laying someone to rest and deciding what (if anything) to hold on to. Planning ahead, you can also make any of these choices for yourself.

    After all, it’s your funeral.