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Cremation, green burials and celebrations of life: how Florida’s funeral norms are changing

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Cremation, green burials and celebrations of life: how Florida’s funeral norms are changing


Erica Fresh was 18 the first time she attended a funeral with an open casket. She remembers looking at her cousin’s lifeless body and feeling heavy with dread.

“I had these horrible nightmares that night,” said Fresh, now a 38-year-old Dunedin resident. “I thought to myself, ‘Nope, that is not what I want to happen to me.’”

Customs around death are changing in the U.S. Just 30 years ago, traditional burials accounted for almost 80% of all end-of-life arrangements.

Today, that number has dropped to fewer than 40%, with the majority of people choosing cremation for themselves or their loved ones.

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Such choices vary dramatically by state. In Mississippi, for example, some 34% of people who died last year were cremated, compared to nearly 72% in Florida. But cremation rates across the country continue to rise.

Driving the change are things like cost, transient populations and shifting religious values.

And though choosing cremation doesn’t necessarily mean forgoing a service or placement in a cemetery, research has found that about one in four American households keep cremated remains at home, with no plans for scattering or permanent memorialization.

“People decide they want to be cremated but don’t specify what they want to happen after,” said Barbara Kemmis, executive director of the Cremation Association of North America.

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Archie Allen, family service advisor with Anderson-McQueen Funeral Homes, hosts a pre-planning luncheon where Allen speaks to people about how to plan for end-of-life arrangements.
Archie Allen, family service advisor with Anderson-McQueen Funeral Homes, hosts a pre-planning luncheon where Allen speaks to people about how to plan for end-of-life arrangements.

[ DIRK SHADD | Times ]

Kemmis said she’s heard stories of people contacting funeral homes with three or four urns — the ashes of loved ones who passed years before — unsure of what to do with the ashes and fearful of inheriting more.

The good news, said Kemmis, is a bevy of newer end-of-life options offer possible solutions. The key is knowing they exist.

Shifting norms

It took a while for cremation to catch on.

The country’s first crematory opened in southwestern Pennsylvania in 1876. Almost 100 years later, in 1970, only 5% of people who had died nationwide were cremated.

But between 1970 and today, that percentage has skyrocketed. Last year, according to preliminary data, the national cremation rate was about 61%.

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Kemmis said cremation is often the more cost-effective option for families. As budgets tighten, she said, people gravitate toward affordability.

Last year, a full-service burial in the U.S. cost an average of around $8,300, according to the National Funeral Directors Association. Direct cremation — without a service — can ring up at about $1,000.

Kevin Hoobin, family service advisor with Anderson-McQueen Funeral Homes, holds pamphlets before an informational luncheon to help people plan for end-of-life memorials. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]

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Cultural shifts are also at play, Kemmis said. Fewer people today are religious, with more than a fourth of adults identifying as atheist, agnostic or unaffiliated. For those who are religious, traditions around death are evolving, too. In the 1960s, for example, the Catholic church ruled that cremation was an acceptable way to handle remains so long as the ashes were kept together, opening the option to congregants.

Today, families are more spread out than in the past, Kemmis said. People move from their hometowns, then move again. That can make choosing a final resting spot more difficult than in decades prior.

Cremation provides flexibility, Kemmis said, even for those who want to be memorialized in a cemetery.

“My father is buried in New York, and I’m going to be buried in the plot with him,” said JoAnn DeFrancesco, a 62-year-old Palm Harbor resident who moved south from Queens 22 years ago. “Shipping my body there would be astronomically expensive, so being cremated and then taken there is a lot easier.”

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In a place like Florida, where 165,986 people were cremated last year — the second-most of all states — it’s an especially common story because of the transient population.

Urns and urn pendants keep sake jewelry on display at the Anderson McQueen Family Tribute Center, 7820 38th Ave. North, on April 18, 2024 in St. Petersburg.
Urns and urn pendants keep sake jewelry on display at the Anderson McQueen Family Tribute Center, 7820 38th Ave. North, on April 18, 2024 in St. Petersburg. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]

And in urban areas where land is limited, Kemmis said cremation helps extend the life of cemeteries. More cemeteries are offering options for cremated remains, such as the ability to entomb ashes or scatter them at designated sites.

Doing so at Arlington Cemetery in Virginia, which was expected to run out of room by the mid-2050s, has extended the life of the cemetery by 150 years.

Meeting needs

Death care professionals have had to adjust to the changing desires of clients, Kemmis said, and more crematories have opened to keep up.

Still, backlogs are extremely uncommon. The normal wait time for a cremation is about 5 to 10 days, experts said, but that can vary depending on factors like delays in legal paperwork or a body being released to the care of a funeral home.

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Arin Rudd, lead funeral director of Florida Mortuary Funeral & Cremation Services in Tampa, said cremation accounts for about 90% of the services completed by her parent company, Foundation Partners, which operates more than 260 funeral homes and crematories across the country.

Rudd, a 30-year industry veteran, said the shift from burials to cremations has been accompanied by changes in attitudes around death and end-of-life commemoration, too. When she first started in the field, she said, funerals were times of mourning: people clad in black, quiet and respectful.

“Now, instead of the classic funeral with the casket, people are leaning more toward celebrations of life,” Rudd said.

Arin Rudd, lead funeral director of Florida Mortuary Funeral & Cremation Services, adjust lighting in the chapel housed within her funeral home.
Arin Rudd, lead funeral director of Florida Mortuary Funeral & Cremation Services, adjust lighting in the chapel housed within her funeral home. [ Lauren Peace ]

Rudd said that’s meant being more creative and flexible to ensure clients’ needs are met.

An infographic from the Cremation Association’s annual report, released earlier this year, also urged workers to be adaptive.

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“Consumers want to create a celebration of a life lived and will do so with or without the help of a funeral professional,” the infographic read. “Are you equipped to host families and provide the experience they want?”

A personalized touch

Through her work, Rudd has seen it all: People gathered in the parking lot, tailgate style, cracking beers with friends and family while sharing stories of their loved one before a service; funny slideshows and bubbling champagne, and the descendants’ favorite cookie being passed around the room.

At one family’s request, she placed a man in a canoe instead of a casket for the viewing — he was an avid outdoorsman who hated tight spaces. Another, she said, had his ashes propped up on the seat of his golf cart during his memorial.

As norms change, Rudd said, the options available to families have greatly expanded.

Today, there are green burials and tree pod burials, in which a body is laid to rest under a tree and acts as a source of nutrients for plant growth. Cremated remains can be made into remembrance stones and eternal reefs. DNA can be preserved.

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“There’s so much more than the classic funeral,” Rudd said.

Exterior of Florida Mortuary Funeral & Cremation Services, where lead funeral director Arin Rudd works to help families choose end-of-life arrangements that best match their values and reflect the life of the person being memorialize.
Exterior of Florida Mortuary Funeral & Cremation Services, where lead funeral director Arin Rudd works to help families choose end-of-life arrangements that best match their values and reflect the life of the person being memorialize. [ Lauren Peace ]

Alie Shaw, a Palm Harbor native, said she hadn’t thought much about her arrangements until she had kids a few years ago. When she learned that cremated remains could be turned into jewelry, she got excited.

Shaw said she wants her ashes to be made into a ring or a bracelet — a family heirloom that can be passed down for generations.

“My parents have burial plots, so they’re going the traditional route,” said Shaw, 32. “Just turn me into something beautiful.”

Despina Collins, 21, said she wants to be cremated and for her tattoos to be preserved and framed like art for those left behind.

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“I’m a tattoo artist and I think it would be super cool,” Collins said. “I wouldn’t want a bunch of money to be spent just to put me in the ground.”

And for Fresh, the Dunedin resident who wants to be cremated, her request is simple. She said she wants her ashes to be mixed with those of her husband and her dogs, then to be scattered in the Gulf.

“I’m a Florida girl, born and raised, and all I want is to be back in the water,” Fresh said.



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Florida

Ex-Baltimore State's Attorney Marilyn Mosby fights for Florida condo after dodging jail time

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Ex-Baltimore State's Attorney Marilyn Mosby fights for Florida condo after dodging jail time


Former Baltimore City State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby is fighting to keep her Florida condominium from being sold off as she appeals her mortgage fraud conviction, with her lawyers arguing the residence is her only “significant asset.”. 

Federal prosecutors are planning to seize the condo on Florida’s gulf coast, according to a May 23 order by Judge Lydia Griggs. Prosecutors argue that Mosby should be required to give up the property following her mortgage fraud conviction in February 2024, Fox 45 News reported. 

Mosby bought the condo in February 2021 for $476,000 in Long Boat Key, Fl. She would get her $47,600 down payment back, if the condo is sold for a profit, according to court documents.

BALTIMORE’S FORMER TOP PROSECUTOR MARILYN MOSBY HAS TRIAL DELAYED AFTER ENTIRE DEFENSE TEAM QUITS

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Former Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby arrives at the federal courthouse in Greenbelt, Maryland, with her lawyer, federal public defender James Wyda. (Kevin Richardson/Baltimore Sun/Tribune News Service via Getty Images) (Kevin Richardson/Baltimore Sun/Tribune News Service via Getty Images)

Mosby was granted a request to stay out of prison amid her appeal, but she is still seeking a presidential pardon.

Mosby’s legal team said the property was purchased in an effort to secure financial independence amid a crumbling marriage.

“And while Ms. Mosby awaits the outcome of her appeal, the home has served as a critical source of rental income; it could soon become her sole source of income now that her legal career is in jeopardy,” court documents state. 

FORMER BALTIMORE PROSECUTOR MARILYN MOSBY FACES POSSIBLE DISBARMENT AMID ONGOING LEGAL BATTLES

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Marilyn Mosby

Marilyn Mosby, pictured last year, is facing two counts each of perjury and mortgage fraud. Mosby is fighting to save her Florida condominium from being sold off.  (Jerry Jackson/Baltimore Sun/Tribune News Service via Getty Images)

“The home is Ms. Mosby’s only significant asset,” the documents said. 

Her defense team noted that since Mosby’s original purchase price of the condo at $476,000, Redfin estimates the property to be worth $886,084 and Zillow estimates the property is worth $781,800, the news station reported. 

Mosby was convicted on one count of mortgage fraud in February, after she testified that she unintentionally made false statements on loan applications to buy two Florida vacation homes. 

Marilyn Mosby

Marilyn Mosby, middle, is asking President Biden for a pardon upon her fraud conviction. (Kenneth K. Lam/Baltimore Sun/Tribune News Service via Getty Images)

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In November, she was convicted of two counts of perjury by a federal jury after she falsely claimed financial hardship during the COVID-19 pandemic in order to withdraw money from the city’s retirement fund. She has not been sentenced in either case.

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Florida's first drive-thru-only Wawa now open

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Florida's first drive-thru-only Wawa now open


Floridas first drive-thru Wawa is now open in Largo. (Photo: Wawa)

Are you craving a hoagie from Wawa but loathe getting out of the car? 

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Florida’s first-ever standalone drive-thru Wawa is now open for business! 

The 2,200-square-foot store is located at 2530 E. Bay Drive in Largo, which is about 5 miles southeast of Clearwater in Pinellas County. It’s the third drive-thru Wawa in the U.S. 

Is Cook Out coming to Florida? Late-night fast food chain with extensive menu could be expanding

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The drive-thru Wawa will be open daily from 5:30 a.m. to midnight and will serve guests’ favorite breakfast, lunch and dinner items like hoagies, burgers, fries, coffee, breakfast sandwiches, specialty beverages and bakery items. 

“Wawa has a long history of testing and innovating new store formats to provide the greatest level of convenience for our customers,” said Senior Director of Store Operations Robert Yeatts. “With our new Largo store, we will continue to learn from this new format while gathering feedback from our customers and associates.”

Florida’s first drive-thru Wawa location held a grand opening ceremony on June 13, 2024. (Photo: Wawa)

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20 Jack in the Box locations planned for Orlando

A grand opening celebration was held on Thursday morning. 



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DeSantis appointees approve new $17B deal with Disney. 5th Florida theme park on the way?

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DeSantis appointees approve new $17B deal with Disney. 5th Florida theme park on the way?


ORLANDO, Fla. – Gov. Ron DeSantis’ appointees on Wednesday gave final approval to an agreement that buries the hatchet between Disney and the governing district for Walt Disney World, which the Florida governor took over after the company two years ago publicly opposed a state law critics dubbed “Don’t Say Gay.”

The five DeSantis-appointed board members to the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District unanimously voted to approve a 15-year development deal in which the district committed to making infrastructure improvements in exchange for Disney investing up to $17 billion into Disney World over the next two decades.

The agreement followed a detente in March in which both sides agreed to stop litigating each other in state court and work towards negotiating a new development agreement and a new comprehensive plan no later than next year. The district provides municipal services such as firefighting, planning and mosquito control, among other things, and was controlled by Disney supporters before the takeover by the DeSantis appointees.

District board member Brian Aungst said at Wednesday night’s board meeting that the agreement provides a lasting and stable framework for Disney and the board to work together.

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“This is the day we all have been looking forward to,” Aungst said. “I was always extremely optimistic and knew we would get here because it was the right outcome.”

Under the deal, Disney will be required to donate up to 100 acres (40 hectares) of Disney World’s 24,000 acres (9,700 hectares) for the construction of infrastructure projects controlled by the district. The company also will need to award at least half of its construction projects to companies based in Florida and spend at least $10 million on affordable housing for central Florida.

Disney would then be approved to build a fifth major theme park at Disney World and two more minor parks, such as water parks, if it desired. The company could raise the number of hotel rooms on its property from almost 40,000 rooms to more than 53,000 rooms and increase the amount of retail and restaurant space by more than 20%. Disney will retain control of building heights due to its need to maintain an immersive environment.

Leaders of Orlando’s tourism industry praised the agreement, telling the district’s board members that it will bring boundless jobs, tourists and attention to central Florida.

“It very clearly demonstrates to the world that the district and Disney are eager to resume working together for the great state of Florida,” said Robert Earl, founder and CEO of Planet Hollywood International, Inc.

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Still up in the air was an appeal of a federal lawsuit Disney had filed against DeSantis and his appointees. After the settlement was reached in March, Disney asked the appellate court to put that case on hold while the development agreement was negotiated. The company has until next week to file a brief with the court if it wants to move ahead with the case.

Disney didn’t respond to an email Wednesday afternoon seeking comment on how the company planned to proceed. The DeSantis appointees to the district had planned to hold a closed-door discussion about the lawsuit after their board meeting Wednesday but cancelled that meeting.

Matthew Oberly, a spokesperson for the district, said Wednesday night that the district didn’t have any comment on the future of the federal litigation.

The March settlement ended almost two years of litigation sparked by DeSantis’ takeover of the district following the company’s opposition to the 2022 law that bans classroom lessons on sexual orientation and gender identity in early grades. The law was championed by the Republican governor, who used Disney as a punching bag in speeches during his run for the 2024 GOP presidential nomination until he suspended his campaign earlier this year.

As punishment for Disney’s opposition to the controversial law, DeSantis took over the governing district through legislation passed by the Republican-controlled Florida Legislature and appointed a new board of supervisors. Disney sued DeSantis and his appointees, claiming the company’s free speech rights were violated for speaking out against the legislation. A federal judge dismissed that lawsuit in January, but Disney appealed.

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Before control of the district changed hands early last year, the Disney supporters on its board signed agreements with the company shifting control over design and construction at Disney World to the company. The new DeSantis appointees claimed the “eleventh-hour deals” neutered their powers, and the district sued the company in state court in Orlando to have the contracts voided.

Disney filed counterclaims that included asking the state court to declare the agreements valid and enforceable. Those state court lawsuits were dismissed as part of the March settlement.

___

Follow Mike Schneider on the social platform X: @MikeSchneiderAP.

Copyright 2024 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

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