In the 2019 movie Poms, Martha (played by actress Diane Keaton) moves into an independent living community to die. A retired teacher, she struggles to share her terminal illness with her women neighbors, but goes on to start a “club,” a cheerleading squad of her fellow ladies, cheering themselves on.
Jump ahead to these sections:
- What are Cremation Fireworks?
- How Do Cremation Fireworks Work?
- How Much Do They Cost?
- Where are Cremation Fireworks Legal?
Throughout the movie, a television commercial features a funeral home selling cremation fireworks to send “your loved one out with a bang.” The implication at the end of the movie is that upon her death, Martha also goes out with a bang.
While Poms may be inspiring a new generation of interest and curiosity, it is the death of journalist Hunter S. Thompson that originally inspired cremation fireworks, or the practice of including someone’s cremated remains into a fireworks display. At his private funeral in 2005 in Aspen, Colorado, Thompson’s ashes were fired out of a cannon, accompanied by red, white, blue and green fireworks set to the tune of Norman Greenbaum’s “Spirit in the Sky” and Bob Dylan’s “Mr. Tambourine Man.”
Sending your cremains off with an explosive display of lights and fire can be equal parts dramatic, amazing, and just plain hilarious. Before asking your family to take a rammer to push your ashes down a barrel, there are some regulations that must be followed before lighting up the sky.
What are Cremation Fireworks?
Cremation fireworks are also known as “memorial fireworks.” Clay Adams, general manager and funeral director at Greenlawn Funeral Home in Springfield, Missouri, says that families choose this option because they feel that a funeral is a celebration.
Frequently, families have a meal catered at the funeral home before the fireworks show at night. Other families, says Adams, say that the Fourth of July was their loved one’s favorite holiday. Many veterans also have chosen to have their cremated remains be part of a fireworks show.
How Do Cremation Fireworks Work?
Adams says that about three tablespoons of cremated remains are loaded into a fireworks shell by a professional pyrotechnics company in Springfield. The funeral home provides a service that is about three to four minutes long. The cremated remains explode in the last shell.
Since Thompson’s funeral so far, Greenlawn is the only funeral home in the country that offers cremation fireworks as a memorial option for the family of someone who has died.
There have been startups in many places in the country, and it is very popular in the United Kingdom, but for a variety of reasons, other funeral homes are unable to offer similar services.
For instance, at Greenlawn, no permit is needed and there is no noise curfew. Furthermore, the fireworks show is hosted at the cemetery, which is located outside the city limits.
How Much Do They Cost?
At Greenlawn, the cost is $2,700. Families nationwide can call Greenlawn and schedule a fireworks show three to four weeks out at their cemetery.
On average, Greenlawn hosts about four to five cremation fireworks shows a year.
Where are Cremation Fireworks Legal?
There have been other companies that have offered cremation fireworks as a memorial service in the past, but they have closed for a variety of reasons around permitting, noise ordinances, and insurance.
In the United Kingdom, the company Heavenly Stars states online that they are the “market leader in the incorporation of ashes into fireworks” since 2007. Based in Colchester, Essex, they offer “ashes fireworks displays,” self-fire fireworks, and self-fire tributes at a variety of costs. Scattering Ashes, another British company, also offers self-firing fireworks and can also coordinate a fireworks display.
The reason Greenlawn has been committed to this service for the last seven years is because “our ownership’s thing is to work out of the box,” says Adams. When asked why other funeral homes throughout the country are not offering like services, Adams said that at Greenlawn, they are not restricted by the same regulations that other cemeteries might be.
Frankly, he said, other funeral homes need to “get out of their comfort zone and listen to families more and their wishes,” adding that the Poms movie has piqued a lot of people’s interest. He describes Greenlawn as a progressive company because the option to have cremation fireworks is simply another avenue to help families mourn their loss.
“Funeral homes are not looking forward enough,” he said.
Messages were left with the National Funeral Directors Association in Wisconsin by email and phone for a comment on this blog, but they did not respond.
More Than Just a Show
It is possible to send yourself or a loved one “out with a bang,” in the United States. However, there is still the fact that only one place can provide a service for someone beloved who loved a good fireworks show.
Like other burial alternatives, Cremation fireworks serve as a great reminder that death and dying rituals are so important to create and honor for ourselves and our loved ones. In particular, they show how services can be unique, and incredibly creative.