For those struggling to let go, a South Florida funeral home is offering a new way to keep your loved ones close.
Palm Beach Memorial Park in Lantana will deliver and install engraved granite monuments, benches or statues to create a personalized "cremation estate" on your property, for about the same price as a similar set-up at its cemetery.
As cremation rates continue to grow, these at-home estates are just the latest innovation for an industry that also turns ashes into diamond jewelry to wear or packs them into fireworks shells for a brilliant display.
"While someone may think these are goofy ideas, someone else may love it," said Mike Nicodemus, vice president of cremation services for the National Funeral Directors Association, adding that he's never heard of another American funeral home promoting at-home memorial gardens.
"I think it's pretty clever," he added. "They are capitalizing on offering people options."
It's also perfectly legal, state officials say, as long as the homeowner first checks for any county, municipal or homeowner association restrictions.
South Florida is particularly fertile ground for new cremation concepts among the increasingly competitive funeral homes. About 70 percent of South Florida burials now involve cremated remains, said Daniel Perrin, the state's representative to the National Funeral Directors Association's policy board, as compared to about 42 percent nationally.
Memorial Park hopes to capture a specific clientele: the indecisive ones who can't decide what to do with that box of ashes, said Brad Pfau, family service manager.
"While we find more people are choosing cremation these days, they were hesitant to part with their loved ones," he said. "Yet they still wanted to give them a respectful burial, rather than keeping them in the closet at home."
Memorial Park began running ads about their new venture this month. Pfau said two families have expressed interest so far, although none have signed contracts.
The cost? About $1,900 up to "the sky's the limit," Pfau said.
A full "cremation estate," which would include a 4-foot-high monument that looks like a small house with an alcove for flowers, would run about $10,000 to $15,000. There also are interment pedestals available, topped with sculptures that signify something personal about the deceased: the Virgin Mary, a guitar, a golfer, an angel with a bowed head, a Corvette.
If not for the price tag, Keith Haag, of Pompano Beach, would be sold on the idea of an at-home memorial garden.
"To me, it's not outrageous at all," said Haag, whose mother's ashes remain in the container the crematorium placed them in 10 years ago, sitting near his dresser. Her wishes were to be buried at sea, and Haag plans to get around to it when he can afford it, he said.
"At least you'll always know where to go to pay your respects. I know people whose parents are buried in some cemetery far away that they only get to once a decade," said Haag, owner of Edge Recycling, a company that minimizes waste for retailers and businesses.
He knows plenty of people who have sprinkled their loved one's ashes in their yards, or placed them in a garden ornament, just the way people bury their pets outside.
Florida regulations don't control what happens to human remains following cremation, including how they are disposed. State guidelines do point out, however, that "future sale of the property should be considered" when opting for a backyard burial ground, as it might cloud the title -- not to mention scare off potential buyers.
But Pfau said it is possible to take a cremation estate with you when you go. The monuments weigh 700 to 800 pounds, about the same as a grand piano.
Gary Peckham, owner of A Monument & Casket Depot with offices in Delray Beach and Hialeah, said he sells plenty of cremation monuments, urns and markers. But after 44 years in the business, he said he's never sold anything larger than an urn for placement at a private home.
"I would be fine with it, but you never know. A lot of ordinances don't allow you to even have a treehouse these days," he said.
The National Funeral Directors' Perrin, who is also general manager of Babione Funeral Homes in Boca Raton, said he's never had a request to set up an at-home cemetery.
"But it's clearly something we would offer if a family desired it," he said.
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