North Carolina

Time to let go?

Famous Swedish writer Selma Lagerlöf once said, “Nothing on earth can make up for the loss of one who has loved you.”  That may be true for most for us, but for some, it seems they’ve found a way around it. 

Ha Lam, a Vietnamese man from the central Quang Nam province, exhumed his wife from her grave and has been living and sleeping with her corpse since 2003.  Apparently, Mr. Lam isn’t the only one who shares this coping tactic. 

The International Business Times reported a Russian widow kept her husband’s corpse for three years, and even had her children “feed” him every day because he would eventually come back to life.  A Brussels woman slept next to her husband’s mummified corpse for over a year.  According to the article (warning: graphic images), “[e]ven though the smell of human decay is quite specific, many people equate that smell to the smell of garbage and once the body has become rotten the smell does decrease significantly.”

Modern treatment of the deceased varies significantly, but in the U.S., it’s socially acceptable to keep at least some tangible artifact of the deceased loved one.  Understandably, different cultures could see our traditional funeral practices and embalming methods akin to the stories above.  But at some point, refusing to let go becomes illegal.

North Carolina law prohibits disinterment unless certain criteria are met.  The government can disinter when it is “reasonably necessary to perform its governmental functions and the duties delegated to it by law.”  Churches may disinter when they “expand or enlarge an existing church facility; or better to care for and maintain graves, and electric companies are can remove graves from their land to build reservoirs.  In fact, any person or corporation who owns land on which an abandoned cemetery is located may remove the graves after obtaining consent from the town or county.

Ryan Joyce


Diamonds After Death

Diamonds

Historically, American have had few choices when it comes to the disposition of human remains. While traditional burials and cremation are, of course, still available, there are a growing number of additional options. One of the increasingly popular choices is the ability to turn cremated remains (“cremains”) into diamonds.

Several companies can now take cremated remains and subject them to extreme heat and pressure conditions—over 4,500 degrees Fahrenheit and almost 60,000 atmospheres—in a process that mirrors the process by which diamonds are naturally created. The process only demands a small amount of cremated remains, usually one pound, so it does not require that a family relinquish all the cremated remains. The entire process takes three to nine months, depending on the size and quality of the desired diamond.

Creating a diamond from ashes costs anywhere from $5,000 to $26,000, again varying on the color, size, and quality desired by the customer. LifeGem, an American company, currently offers diamonds in red, blue, yellow, green and white and anywhere from .20 to above 1.5 karats. There is an assortment of different cuts also available to customers.

While customers largely consist of relatives, people can also arrange to have their own remains transformed into diamonds. Many choose to take the rough diamond created by the process to jewelers to be finished and fashioned into rings and necklaces. Companies such as LifeGem offer their services through partner locations, a vast majority of which are funeral homes and cremation service companies, though they do offer customers the option of directly mailing the cremated remains to their headquarters or for personal pickup.

As it stands, there is little, if any, law covering the creation of these memorial diamonds, or the disposition of cremated remains more generally. Most state law focuses on the disposal of cremains or how uncremated remains—e.g., intact bodies—are to be handled. If a state statute does cover cremated remains, it usually specifies where remains can and cannot be disposed of. A North Carolina statute, for instance, allows for cremated remains to be disposed of in “a crypt, niche, grave, or scattering garden located in a dedicated cemetery, or by scattering over uninhabited public land, the sea, or other public waterways.” Nevertheless, there is little in the current legal regime to suggest that the creation of memorial diamonds from cremains is illegal.

LifeGem boasts of having fulfilled over 5,000 diamond orders. International companies, such as Swiss company Algordanza, while not disclosing exact numbers, have expanded to offer their services in over thirty countries. Needless to say, memorial diamonds are fast becoming a popular option.

Dal Burton