Back in the day (like, a couple of years ago), you pretty much had two options when a loved one died: burial or cremation.
But now there's a third: stones.
Regency Mortuary in Sun City is one of only two local partners of Parting Stone, a Santa Fe, New Mexico, company that takes the ashes of deceased people and pets and transforms them into smooth stones. (The other is Accu-Care Cremation & Funerals in Phoenix.)
“I don’t think that saying it’s revolutionary oversells it at all,” says Regency's funeral director, John Perkes. “I was literally raised in a funeral home — I started working when I was 12 — and I’ve never seen anything that can change the experience for families as much as solidified remains.”
Parting Stone inventor Justin Crowe had lost his own grandfather, and when he spoke to people about their experiences, he noticed a pattern: People spoke passionately about their loved ones, but they often kept the ashes hidden away.
“They were saying, 'This is one of my most treasured possessions, but I'm afraid to look at it,'" Crowe says.
So he launched Parting Stone in 2019. How it works: Funeral homes ship customers’ ashes to Parting Stone’s lab, where the technicians add a small amount of binder and water to turn the ash into a clay-like substance. (Customers can also skip the middleman; for $600, the company will send you a collection kit and return your stones in six weeks, give or take.)
“From there, they’re put into a kiln which is hotter than the original cremation temperature," Crowe says, "and this is where the stones get their permanence.” After the stones are solidified, they're smoothed and polished before being sent back to the funeral home.
Perkes estimates that around 15 percent of his mortuary customers pick this option, and that the color of the stones can be a surprise.
Crowe says that 50 percent of the stones turn out white and smooth, while 45 percent transform into a green or blue color.
“Five percent of the time we’re getting these radical variations,” he says. “They’re lavenders, honey yellows, chocolate-colored, or these deep greens. We once had a collection of stones that were black. It’s really remarkable. ... We don’t know why it happens.”
For Alex Korte of Phoenix, Parting Stone allows him to take his older brother with him when he travels. Korte’s brother Ryan died of an overdose, a tragedy the family hadn't prepared for.
“It was way too early, and Ryan wasn’t religious," Korte says. "There was little thought about what we would do if he passed away."
Korte says his father jumped on the idea when Regency told them about the biodegradable Parting Stones because of his brother's passion for energy efficiency.
According to Crowe, a body typically produces 40 to 60 stones. The Kortes shared Ryan's stones with family and close friends.
Korte keeps his brother's stones in a bowl by his bed, and takes handfuls with him on outdoor excursions.
“I have one of those camper vans, and he comes with me anywhere I go,” he says. “If I have a fire, or do a big hike, I throw him in the fire pit or off the biggest cliff.
“He’s gone as far as Taiwan and Chile. Even after death, he still gets to go on vacation."