I’m just a few points short of qualifying for a long-haul plane ticket on the Air Miles program. By mid-2012 I’ll probably still be a few points short of qualifying for that ticket. You see, at present, I don’t need a thing. I suppose I could pony up and buy a Jumbotron TV for the family room, but I think larger-than-life Kardashians would scare the dog. All my Christmas presents are bought and just waiting to be wrapped so there’s no imminent spike in seasonal spending anticipated.

So, how to bridge the gap between a round-trip ticket to Edmonton or a round-trip ticket to an exotic destination? What defensible, big-ticket purchase can I make that will take my rewards points to the next level? What? What?

And then I happened across this tidbit.

Yes, when the student is ready, the undertaker will appear.

Undertaker?! Precisely.

Did you know that if you book your funeral in advance all sorts of mortuaries will give you Air Miles?!

Yes, that’s right. Book now and travel later. But not too much later … just to be on the safe side. And get this: If you have the unhappy occasion to ship a body home, you can collect Air Miles there, too!

Photo by Sandy Millar from Unsplash.

Discount airline Jet Blue claims that about 18% of its cargo business is made up of dearly departed departures. Fifty-thousand corpses annually get freighted to their final resting place by Delta Airlines.

The transporting of human remains is very lucrative and airlines want your business. Loyalty programs don’t cease just because you do. Surprising, isn’t it?

The impetus for many of these — forgive me: I can’t resist — frequent dier programs is the Sun Belt.

Retirees have a penchant for expiring on golf courses, poolside or after the early bird special at Olive Garden. Florida generates the most human remains traffic: of the 180,00 residents who die there annually, about 23,000 of them are shipped elsewhere.

You’d think that given the premium charged for this type of service, more people would consider cremation as an option. The U.S. postal service will ship ashes home at a fraction of the cost of booking refrigerated, horizontal air passage. Oddly though, cremation isn’t as popular in the U.S. as it is in Canada.

Maybe it’s the weather …?

I spoke with Thomas Crean of Kearney Funeral Home in Vancouver. As a third generation funeral director of the only family-owned funeral home in Vancouver, he has a wealth of information on how we despatch our dead.

According to Crean, the North American average for cremation is 37%. Although legal in Canada since the early 1900s, cremation didn’t become popular until after 1966 when the Vatican allowed it with the provision that the ash-filled urn be interred in a cemetery. Vancouver’s dead favour cremation to the tune of 90%! The B.C. average is slightly less at 80%. Initially, I figured that West Coasters would favour cremation due to our well acknowledged love of all things green. Cremation, however, isn’t the environmental choice I first figured it for. In fact, about the best thing you can say for cremation is that it doesn’t eat up the Agricultural Land Reserve with new cemeteries. Here’s why cremation probably isn’t Suzuki-endorsed: carbon.  A cremation incinerates the body at temperatures of about 1,000C. Normally, it takes three hours to reduce the average human body to approximately five to eight pounds of bone fragment and ash. A crematorium runs pretty much around the clock. That’s a lot of combustion. Crean tells me that the carbon footprint of cremation is significant, despite a fuel change to natural gas and better technology. He has an arresting statistic: “Sixteen percent of atmospheric mercury is caused by incineration of people’s teeth.”

Photo by Noah Silliman from Unsplash.

No, according to Crean, if you wish to leave the planet a little better off than you found it, consider alkaline hydrolysis. It’s not yet legal everywhere — remember: cremation was only legalized in Canada at the start of the last century — but this new process is starting to win converts. Think of it as being like cremation only without flame.

There’s a Scottish company behind this technology. The trade name for the process is resomation. Using lye and water at high temperatures, the body is broken down to its basic chemical components. At the end of approximately three hours all that remains is a green-brown liquid comprised of sugars, salts, amino acids and peptides plus bones, which can be processed to form a white dust of calcium phosphate. Here’s where the environmental benefit kicks in: the liquid can be used as fertilizer. When you consider how many people scatter ashes, it’s really not so very different from that well-accepted ritual. Currently, Hulse, Playfair and McGarry Funeral Home in Ottawa is making inquiries into offering this service. The costs associated with alkaline hydrolysis, where available, are equivalent to those of standard cremation. But wait, there’s more!

Trust the forward-thinking Swedes to come up with something even more progressive.

It’s been on the brink for some time, but a new method of dealing with the deceased is being hatched right now. Promession involves placing the body of the deceased in a special machine that fills with liquid nitrogen culled as a by-product from industry. The body is frozen to the point of extreme brittleness. High amplitude vibrations then cause the body to shatter into powder, which then can be buried in a cardboard coffin in a shallow grave to allow for the natural aerobic actions of decomposition to take place. Essentially, it’s composting without the pitchfork as the freeze-drying does the lion’s share of the work.

My inquiry into funeral practices eventually led me to Summum in Idaho where, for about $70,000, you can be prepared for the afterlife as a pharaoh with a mummification process. Or sky burial, which involves birds and, well, let’s just say that if it catches on, expect to see vultures expanding their territory.

So, do I book my final chapter now and rack up the Air Miles? Or do I shell out for the big screen TV? After writing this, I’m thinking that a holiday with the family would be a better option.

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