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California companies get creative with 'cremains'
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SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — More people are taking the remains of their loved ones and having them cremated, and having the ashes turned into other items such as diamonds.

The number of cremations in the U.S. has jumped to 41 percent of all deaths, up from 30 percent eight years ago, and up from four percent in the 1960s.

With that increase comes rising demand for finding alternatives for what do with the ashes. The newspaper reported in its Sunday edition that some of the more creative options were unheard of just a few years ago.

In Palo Alto, a funeral home offers a service that allows family members to turn the cremated remains into a diamond. For $3,000, the Alta Mesa Funeral Home will take the remains and, using the services of Illinois-based LifeGem, have the ashes turned into a genuine diamond of about a quarter carat.

LifeGem will, according to its website, produce a "high-quality diamond" that can serve as a "memorial to their unique life."

"Some people say, 'Oh no, I would never do that!' And others say, 'I absolutely want that,'" Alta Mesa co-owner Don van Straaten told The Chronicle. "It's a very special way of remembrance."

Some grieving loved ones are also turning to Eternal Reefs, a Georgia-based company that offers to create "permanent living legacies" by taking cremated remains and placing them in artificial reefs. The so-called "cremains" are placed in a cement mixture, designed to create artificial reef formations.

The memorial reefs are then placed in a permitted ocean location selected by the individual, friend or family member, according to the company's website.

Other options for cremated remains include using the services of Celestis, Inc., which through its affiliate company of Space Services, Inc., will launch the remains into space, or, for $10,000, send the ashes onto the moon's surface. There's also Eternity Message, which offers a service where the someday-to-be-departed can send mourners emails up to 60 years after death.

The changes in the $12 billion funeral industry are attributable to a number of factors, said Ron Hast, the publisher of Mortuary Magazine, a trade publication for the funeral service industry.

"People are increasingly looking for simple methods of honoring the departed, not more elaborate ones," said Hast. "The big funerals in big churches, we just don't see them as much as we used to. And because cremations are so common now, that has led to fewer people needing graves."