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Funeral Contest Rewards Those Who Think Outside The Pine Box


Making decisions about funeral arrangements is never easy but the National Funeral Directors Association has added a creative element to the process. The winners of this year's Design for Death competition are now on display at their international convention in Austin, Texas.

Christine Pepper was one of the judges. She's CEO of the National Funeral Directors Association and she joins me from the Design for Death booth at the convention there in Austin. Miss Pepper, welcome to the program.

CHRISTINE PEPPER: Thank you. It's a pleasure being here, Melissa.

BLOCK: I wanted to ask you about one of the contenders here that was really intriguing. It's called "I Wish to Be Rain." And it won third prize in Eco-Green Death Care category. Why don't you explain how that would work?

PEPPER: The cremated remains would be in a weather balloon and it would take you up into space, if you will, until it came into contact with the clouds. As the remains hit the clouds there is an interaction with the clouds and your cremated remains. And that's how rain is produced, if you will.

BLOCK: Help us understand, Miss Pepper, why this competition in the first place?

PEPPER: The competition was really looked at to have the ability to look at new products and services for funeral service around the world. And so, we thought what better place to come together and have people outside of the profession take a look at different ideas. These were architects and engineers and artists from around the world who just looked at death care and funerals and memorialization from a whole new light.

BLOCK: Well, the overall winner, first prize in the Eco-Green Death Care category, a prize of about $34,000, was something called "Emergence." That's from a team in France and it involves a tree that would be sprouting from a biodegradable coffin, I think.

PEPPER: Right now, if you go to a traditional cemetery you have a headstone and then you have, obviously, the casket beneath that. In this case, you have kind of a circular memorial stone, if you will, that surrounds this biodegradable coffin or urn. And on that circular stone is the name of the deceased. And that also can be used as benches for the family; so they can come and visit, remember the individual, and they also continue to see the tree grow over the years.

BLOCK: So the tree is coming from right inside that coffin or that urn?

PEPPER: Correct.

BLOCK: Miss Pepper, do you have a particular favorite of all of these Design for Death entries in the competition?

PEPPER: I knew you were going to ask me that, Melissa.


BLOCK: It's hard to choose, right?

PEPPER: I know. And it truly is hard to choose.

BLOCK: How about one entry that just appeals to you for some particular reason?

PEPPER: I guess I would say the Family Tree Memorial. Family Tree is a cluster of honeycomb-shaped urn vaults. To me, it's something that I could see being implemented pretty easily. And as we see the increase of cremation across the country, that just whole family unit of bringing the cremated remains together, I've never seen anything like that before. So I really do like that. It's similar to a family plot in a cemetery but with cremated remains.

BLOCK: Do you think there's any real prospects of these design ideas will become reality?

PEPPER: I actually do. As I'm sitting here looking at the various displays, I can see quite a few of them coming to fruition. I'm sure there are funeral directors who have taken a look at these already and have already begun to think how they may be able to incorporate them into what they're currently doing.

BLOCK: I've been talking with Christine Pepper. She's CEO of the National Funeral Directors Association, and was one of the judges for this year's Design for Death competition. Miss Pepper, thanks so much.

PEPPER: Thank you so much, Melissa. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.