KANSAS CITY, MO. - Dwight Smith and his mother made several trips to Ireland over the years, reveling in the beauty of the Killarney lakes in the southwest corner of the country.
When Smith’s mother died in August, there was no question she would be cremated — a request she had made often — or that her remains would be scattered near the lakes.
But Smith, of New London, Conn., said he didn’t have the time or resources to make the trip now and wanted to fulfill his mother’s wishes soon.
“What she doesn’t want to be is in Long Island Sound,” he said.
Checking with a mortician friend, he hooked up with the International Scattering Society in the Kansas City suburb of Lee’s Summit, a sort of travel agency for the cremated dead that offered to handle for a fee all the paperwork and logistics required in taking his mother’s remains overseas.
Sometime this month, one of the society’s members will scatter her ashes in Killarney, providing Smith with video or photos of the event.
“I feel that it will be done in a better way than I could have done,” he said. “My mother would be happy that someone who likes doing this is doing this.”
The dead are not content to just sit on the mantle anymore.
As the number of cremations grows — 32 percent of U.S. deaths led to cremation in 2005, compared with 21 percent in 1996, according to the National Funeral Directors Association — the demand has risen among friends and family seeking out companies and organizations that can help them deal with the remains. The companies can either fulfill the family’s loved one’s wishes or find a final resting place more exotic than a family urn.
Bill Metzger, for example, said he’s seen a 50 percent increase in customers over the past year for his business, Final Flights, which uses his Piper Cherokee airplane to scatter ashes above southern California sites, such as La Jolla, Big Bear or the Catalina Islands.
He said he does six to 10 scatterings a month at a cost of $300 to $500, depending on distance and fuel prices.
“When I get a call and I explain what we do, people are stunned; they didn’t know something like this existed,” Metzger said.
Mark Smith, president of the Chicago-based Cremation Association of North America, said the majority of cremated remains still go home with loved ones for burial or safekeeping.
But his association did a study last year that found that 21.7 percent of remains are destined to be scattered, up from 17.8 percent in 1997.
Smith said much of that growth is coming as funeral home directors increasingly offer scattering services in their funeral packages or at least broach the subject of alternative disposition of the ashes, something traditionalminded families may have never considered.
He added that some relatives choose scattering because they worry about possibly losing the remains or subsequent generations letting the ashes lay forgotten in a closet or attic.
The most popular scattering option is water, according to the Cremation Association’s study, although land-based scattering has grown from 27 percent to 40 percent since 1997.
Joanie West of Crystal River, Fla., has taken a different angle on air scattering with her 10-year-old company, The Eternal Ascent Society.
With the help of the family or by herself, she launches the cremated remains inside a large helium-filled balloon. Once it reaches a height of five miles, it pops, distributing the ashes to the winds.
For the person envisioning a more localized scattering, there are numerous services willing to take the ashes to any spot on the globe.
Jonathan Rose in Mountain View, Calif., charges $225 to take a person’s ashes to land he owns south of Yosemite National Park in the Sierra Mountains where he’ll scatter the remains or bury them in one spot, which he said appeals to Catholics.