CRESTONE, Colo. -- Belinda Ellis' farewell went as she wanted. One by one, her family placed juniper boughs and logs about her body, covered in red cloth atop a rectangular steel grate inside a brick-lined hearth. With a torch, her husband lit the fire that consumed her, sending billows of smoke into the blue-gray sky of dawn. The outdoor funeral pyre in this southern Colorado mountain town is unique. Funeral and cremation industry officials say they are unaware of any other place in the nation that conducts open-air cremations for people regardless of religion. A Buddhist temple in Red Feather Lakes, Colo., conducts a few funeral pyres, but only for its members. (Article by Ivan Moreno of the Associated Press)
James: I have long told family and close friends that my wishes upon death are to have my body cremated and the ashes spread through the four elements of nature: earth, fire, air and water. It is my hope that those ashes will be of benefit to the natural world that made this current life possible. It is a good reminder of the impermanence of life, and a powerful, visual aid to help us let go of the deceased. It seems as though it would help loved ones accept the reality of the death easier than dressing them in fancy clothes and applying make-up as though they are off to a party, rather than no longer alive. I feel that sealing that costumed corpse into a box, to bury in the ground, frozen in time, seems like it often makes the suffering of those left behind more painfully drawn out; leaving them lost to the enslavement of denial.
So, I am pleased to see my home state of Colorado taking the lead on allowing cremation by funeral pyre; especially when you consider the growing Buddhist population here who tend to favor cremation. I like the visual impact of it because so much of the death process in the West is hidden from view--even the current manner of cremating remains occurs behind closed doors. It seems very natural and fittingly appropriate for family and friends to be active participants in the disposal of the body. I don't think there is anything wrong with burying your family in the ground, if that's your style. However, I don't see why there should be laws outlawing cremation by funeral pyre if the proper regulations, authorities and guidelines are established. As well as a location deemed safe and sanitary for such a ceremony.
PHOTO: Cremation by funeral pyre in Crestone, Colorado, USA by Ivan Moreno for the Associated Press.