September 09, 2019

Why I Make Cremation Urns

Cremation Urn for Adult

I’ve had this conversation I don’t know how many times during the past year. I’ve got my short answer down pat and I show them pictures of the urns on my phone. But it inevitably ends up being a longer conversation, with the person telling me their story of a dead loved one or pet, and how they have nowhere to put their cremains. Or that their grandma keeps their grandpa’s ashes in the trunk of her car because she can’t bear to look at them. The conversation usually ends with them saying, “What a good idea! I want one, keep me posted!”

We never really get to their original question, why I do this. Here’s my story.

In 2016 I was married, living in a loft in Downtown Los Angeles-enjoying what I thought was a fun and picture-perfect life. We went out to dinner frequently, traveled, and we had lots of friends. It was exactly what I wanted my life to be. I had a small woodworking business, and sold my handmade goods online and to cool, design-y stores. I did the occasional custom job. My business made money, but not a lot. But that was ok because my husband was the primary breadwinner and provided well for our life.

In April of that year, my husband came home one day and announced that he was leaving me. Overnight, our 10-year relationship and my life as I knew it were done.

2 weeks after my husband left, I came home to find blood smeared all over the kitchen and living room floor. My 17-year-old cat’s belly tumors had burst. I raced her to the vet wrapped in a towel, already knowing what the vet would say. I stood stroking MayDay’s head until the vet injected the medicine to stop her heart. The vet techs let me sob in the room for as long as I needed. I had never felt so alone.

I had to pay for MayDay’s cremation, and the vet asked if I wanted to pay extra to keep the ashes. He showed me the little box they come in, it looked like an old lady’s tacky jewelry box. And it was like 200 dollars! I declined. That thing was ugly AF. I went home and cleaned up all the blood and cried some more.

I was, as a lot of people are during a divorce, kind of a mess in the months that followed. I became disturbingly distracted and forgetful. I locked my keys in my truck as I was getting gas. I left my lights on overnight so many times that I had to get a new battery. I left the stove on after making my morning coffee. Not only was I unable to handle mundane things, I also let my business slip. I had no direction and no drive to go into the wood shop. I didn’t follow up on wholesale leads. I borrowed money from friends to pay rent. I maxed out my credit card. Finally, I realized that I couldn’t go on this way and got a serving job at a restaurant. Divorced, broke, and working as a server again was not what I pictured for myself at the age of 43. But there I was.

Luckily, I made enough money at the restaurant to scrape by and keep my wood shop space. Even though I was unsure of where I wanted to go next with my business, I still did the occasional custom job. One such job was for a friend whose father had passed away. His father’s cremains were being split amongst family members and they asked me to make something. I empathized with this request, as I have dealt with death many times during my life. I had recently gotten the news that my younger brother had shot himself and while we were not close, it was still traumatizing to hear. It was also weird knowing I was the last living child my parents had. So, feeling all the feelings, I made a vessel that could hold cremains in the bottom, and a plant in the top, held together with magnets. I posted the result on Instagram and got an unexpected and enthusiastic response.

 I started doing some research, talking to people in the death positive industry (big shout-out to Jill Schock and Lauren Kane-Lysak for schooling me from the start!) and looking at what was available in the cremation vessel market. I found that there was a demand for a more modern cremation vessel. So, I spent the next year designing and prototyping a line of urns for both people and pets. Just like the first ones I made for my friend. the new line holds cremains in the bottom, and a plant on top. I call them Planturns. (A little on the nose, I know.)

The custom job I thought was going to be a one-off turned out to be something to renew my sense of purpose in life and led me to discover where I wanted my business to go. 

It’s so rewarding to discover that my love of woodworking can help people in their most difficult times. People who buy a vessel from me can know it is made with care and understanding of what they are going through. I know what it’s like to have your whole life turned upside down in an instant. I know the grief of losing family members and friends. I know the void that the death of a beloved pet can leave.

 I launched a Kickstarter earlier this year to help fund this new endeavor, and that helped me to start making the Planturns in earnest. I’m still working as a server a couple days a week, but as more people find out about my cremation urns, I’m hopeful that I can start making them full time, and develop new shapes using new materials. I’m honored and grateful for the orders that have come in already, and I can’t wait to see what's next.

UPDATE August 2022:

Smash cut to: I am fortunate enough to be making my urns full time now. The global pandemic gave me a push to put all of my effort into my business, as I lost my serving job in March 2020. Connecting with clients and others in the death care industry was a major stabilizing force for me during such a bleak time. I also was lucky enough to be featured in The Los Angeles Times and The New Yorker last year, which showed my urns to a wider audience. What started out as a one-off custom job has become a calling and I couldn't be happier.

Find the Planturns here.