Saturday, May 25, 2013
Karin Anderson still has her husband's cremated remains stashed in a box at her condo in downtown Portland. Steve Fisk, a math professor at Bowdoin College, died two and a half years ago after a decade-long fight with leukemia.
Karin Anderson of Portland holds a box containing the cremated remains of her husband, Steve Fisk, a Bowdoin College math professor who died in early 2010. She and her husband, when he was in hospice care, talked about how her to dispose of his body.
Photos by Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer
BY THE NUMBERS
Here are the 10 states with the highest cremation rates in 2010:
Nevada 72.2 percent
Washington 70.9 percent
Oregon 69.4 percent
Hawaii 69.1 percent
Montana 65.7 percent
MAINE 63.9 percent
Colorado 63.3 percent
Arizona 62.5 percent
New Hampshire 61.6 percent
Alaska 61.1 percent
Here are the five states with the lowest cremation rates in 2010:
West Virginia 23.2 percent
Louisiana 21.2 percent
Kentucky 20.8 percent
Alabama 17.2 percent
Mississippi 13.8 percent
Source: Cremation Association of North America
As Fisk lived out his remaining days in hospice care, the couple talked about what he wanted. First, his body would be donated to the University of New England's medical school for research. Then, he would be cremated.
"Neither of us thought it was important to preserve the body," said Anderson, 56. Next weekend, she and her daughter plan to scatter his remains.
Mainers are cremating their loved ones at an extraordinary rate, and the numbers keep going up. In 2000, 44 percent of deceased Maine residents were cremated. In 2010, the rate was 64 percent -- well above the national rate of 41 percent.
The cremation rate here is the sixth highest in the country and the highest in the eastern half of the United States. The Cremation Association of North America projects that more than half of Americans -- and three-quarters of Mainers -- will choose cremation within 10 years.
There is no one reason that explains the growing rate. There are a variety of factors: the lower cost of cremation, relaxed religious views and increased environmental awareness. Cremation also offers flexibility that traditional burial does not and fits into today's transient lifestyle. People do any number of things with their loved ones' remains, from burying them in the backyard to scattering them in woods or at sea.
Peter Neal, a funeral director in Piscataquis County and a board member for the state's funeral directors association, said the trend toward cremation has mirrored a broader societal shift.
"Fifty years ago, everyone went to church, everyone had a big wedding, no one moved in before marriage, and no one got divorced," he said. "Now, all those traditions have eroded a little. Funerals are no different."
Funerals are rarely solemn, black-clothing-and-dark-sunglasses occasions anymore. People don't always want caskets or religious services. And more and more they don't want to be buried beneath the ground.
For Anderson and Fisk, the decision had nothing to do with cost or religion. Cremation was a practical option that suited his lifestyle. They never talked about what to do with his remains. It took her a month to pick them up because she dreaded the finality of having them in her possession. She has hung on to them ever since, waiting for the right time to dispose of them.
"My daughter and I are going to sprinkle some at a few special places -- there is a spot where we had our first date that comes to mind," she said. "And I suspect we'll get a little silly, too. He was a silly man sometimes."
Besides, she likes the thought of knowing that there won't be just one place where she can go visit her husband. There could be dozens.
COST IS THE BIGGEST DRIVER
Six years ago, there were only five crematories in Maine. Now, there are 12, ranging in size from the Lighthouse Crematory in Freeport, which logged 122 cremations last year, to Gracelawn Memorial Park in Auburn, where 2,391 cremations were performed.
From the road, you can't see the Lighthouse Crematory. It's set back in the woods, shielded by Burr Cemetery and its rows of gravestones, many blackened with age. The markers evoke a time when returning a body to the earth whole was a time-honored custom.
(Continued on page 2)
click image to enlarge
Chris Stilkey operates Lighthouse Crematory in Freeport, one of the newest in the state. Maine now has 12, ranging in size from Lighthouse, which performed 122 cremations last year, to Gracelawn Memorial Park in Auburn, where there were 2,391 in 2011.
click image to enlarge
A machine called a retort, like the one here that Chris Stilkey uses at Lighthouse Crematory in Freeport, heats its chamber to 1,600 degrees Fahrenheit, reducing a human body to bone fragments in about two hours. The remains are then pulverized by a processor into a fine powder that resembles ash.