Ashes to… fireworks

words: Ken Symon
colorful fireworks display

Time was when people would choose to scatter their loved ones’ ashes in a favourite location or in some cases bury them, but that was about all they would choose to do with them. The place of the scattering or burial might occasionally raise some eyebrows, but that would be all.

Now the range of what people do with ashes is growing wider and wider, and the uses to which they are put becoming more and more surprising.

You can now do everything from having the ashes launched into space to having them built into a coral reef or, if the client really has the wish and the means, turning them into a diamond.

Or there is the American company in the state of Alabama called, somewhat incongruously, Holy Smoke, that takes ashes and puts them into bullets or shotgun shells to be fired to commemorate a particular kind of outdoors person.

As you might imagine, many of these new services offered for ashes are based in the US, but there is a small but growing number of businesses in the UK offering services with ashes for a different kind of send-off, commemorating them in a single big day or in a lasting reminder of their presence.

Richard Martin, Managing Director of Scattering Ashes, who has researched the area, said: “Now, 70% or more of relatives will take the ashes away with them. Some choose to scatter the ashes, some choose a column burial, but there are more and more people choosing different options here in the UK.”

One emerging practice is to include the ashes in fireworks that are then set off in a display as a tribute to the life of the deceased person that can be attended by relatives, friends and colleagues.

One company that offers this service throughout the UK is Heavenly Stars Fireworks based in Colchester, Essex. Director Nigel Claydon said that Heavenly Stars had been created as a specialist business within a more general fireworks company because of the demand.

The company offers a range of packages from professional ones where a technician will set off the firework display, possibly accompanied by music, to sending self-fire fireworks containing the loved one’s ashes, which can be transported anywhere in the UK with guidance of where and how to set them off.

A very different way of commemorating a one-off send-off is for the ashes to remain constantly with the person mourning a loved one.

One way of doing this that has been around in the United States for many years is for the ashes to be mixed in to tattoo ink and to be used for a tattoo on the body, often with a specific message remembering the departed.

This may immediately spark questions about health issues, but one American tattoo artist, Bob Johnson of Finest Lines in Wickliffe, Ohio, claims he has been doing such tattoos for 30 years and has never had any complications.

It is still rare in the UK – a spokeswoman for a well-known Scottish tattoo artist said: “He has been asked but he’s never done it.”

One tattoo shop that does do it is Chris’s Tat Shack, a well-known tattoo parlour in Axminster in Devon, run by Chris Williams.

However, while it is done here in the UK, Richard Martin of Scattering Ashes said: “Personally I would not recommend it. I tell people to avoid it because it’s putting an unsterilised material under your skin.”

Another less intrusive way for a loved one’s ashes to remain constantly with you comes in the form of ashes jewellery or memorial pendants.

Companies such as London-based Legend Urn make a range of jewellery including pendants and crosses in a variety of styles and materials that include gold, silver, gold plated, silver plated and nickel plated items.

A company spokeswoman said: “Many people find ashes jewellery, containing a small amount of the deceased’s ashes, a real source of comfort. In fact, people have used ashes jewellery for centuries, and ashes jewellery is a touching and popular way of honouring a loved one and keeping them close.”

The jewellery is designed in such a way that the top or bottom can be unscrewed so that the item can be filled with ash. Legend Urn suggests that after the ashes are inserted it is glued so that it cannot be opened again. The resulting item can then be worn every day or on special occasions to commemorate the departed.

Richard Martin said that at Scattered Ashes they had produced a papier maché suitcase, which carried labels on it of all the places that the deceased, who had loved to travel, had visited.

He added: “One of the other ways of commemorating the person, which only we really do, is to send the ashes out in a miniature Viking longboat, set light to it and they go out in a blaze of glory.”

Golfers can go out with a bang

Among the growing numbers of unusual uses for ashes, perhaps the most way out comes from – you’ve guessed it – the US, where one company has put ashes into exploding golf balls. So the relative can really give a dramatic send-off to a golf-loving loved one.

If that is not unusual enough, there is the possibility of the smoking of a dear departed’s ashes or something similar. Rolling Stone legend Keith Richards famously said that he mixed his father’s ashes with cocaine and snorted them.