Why you should care
Because this is a beautiful alternative to keeping ashes in a cupboard.
More than a year after Chris Linn’s disabled son, Tom, died unexpectedly of sepsis in his 20s, his ashes were still in the U.S. Postal Service priority mail slip they had arrived in and gathering dust on a shelf in Linn’s garage. To Linn, It felt like a distant, strange way to remember her son, even though the ashes being out of sight helped with her grieving. “I knew I had them, and I thought, someday I want to do something with them,” she explains.
That something appeared when Linn heard about Parting Stone on a local Santa Fe radio show. The company, which won a 2018 bizMIX contest and recently raised half a million dollars in funding, has pioneered a service turning cremated remains into a more meaningful form. Similar to the way clay is refined and then fired in a kiln, the process used by Parting Stone creates a handful of smooth stones, which take on different colors based on the chemical composition of a person’s or pet’s ashes. While typically white, blue or green, sometimes the stones take on chocolate, lavender or honey hues.
“I love holding them in my hand,” Linn says. “It’s just really sweet. When I show them to people, I can say, ‘This is Tom; here is my son.’ You can’t do that with ashes.”
The average person (the equivalent of about 8 pounds in ashes) results in roughly 25 stones of varying sizes.
Parting Stone is part of an evolving funeral industry looking for new ways to memorialize loved ones. For about $595, the Santa Fe–based company creates stones from cremated remains (the initial cremation service at a funeral home typically costs about $1,500). The average person (the equivalent of about 8 pounds in ashes) results in roughly 25 stones of varying sizes — some as tiny as a fingernail and some as big as the palm of a hand. Orders can be placed online or through one of 75 partnering funeral homes nationwide.
The idea was born out of founder Justin Crowe’s own experience with grandfather’s death, in 2016. “That was the first major loss of my life,” he says, and it led him to wonder how others dealt with the death of a loved one. Crowe found that others spoke passionately about the pets and people they had lost, yet kept their remains in a closet or basement. He read stories of the California wildfires, where people hired dogs to sniff out the ashes of loved ones. “It just seemed so bizarre to me,” Crowe says. He put his product design expertise and background in ceramics and materials science to work and started Parting Stone.
The United States has seen a sudden and dramatic shift in the way we lay our loved ones to rest. The cremation rate has risen from 25 percent to 55 percent in just two decades, from “a nonconsensus practice to consensus practice,” as Crowe notes, and that seismic shift has made the funeral industry ripe for disruption. “Urns are this design element in our homes that is completely outdated,” he says.
Of course, Crowe isn’t the only one noticing an opportunity. A host of companies have jumped into the business of the afterlife in recent years. Algordanza, a Swiss company, turns ashes into diamonds for just under $5,000. The biodegradable casket and ashes-to-trees industry is overgrown with competitors. Everything from reefs to rockets and even vending machines are now available. Can Parting Stone avoid the grave in such a competitive market?
Regarding competition, Crowe argues they “are all Band-Aids to this core problem: that cremated remains come in this very inconvenient form that is kind of messy, kind of gross and kind of scary to look at.” To be fair, there may be plenty of market to go around. In the U.S. alone, there are 3.5 million cremations annually (about 1.5 million people and 2 million pets). “Our early research is telling us that we’ll be able to sell between 3 and 7 percent of cremation customers,” Crowe says.
That could mean as many as 105,000 to 245,000 customers yearly. And that’s not even counting the 20 million people already living with remains, like Linn was. This year, she is traveling the U.S. full time in an RV, with plans to visit every national park and drop Tom’s stones in meaningful places along the way. “There is some way that he continues to feel closer, and more a part of my life,” she says.