Anti-Science

Snuggling up with the icy cold company of Death.

What do you get when you combine a tragic loss, a severe case of credulity, and entrepreneurship? In this case, you get Huggable Urns.

I’ll admit that when I first saw the URL huggableurns.com, I immediately wondered what “hugga bleurns” was supposed to mean. One cup of coffee later, I was surfing the site and discovering oh-so-much about the newest way to cheapen — I mean honor — the life and death of a loved one. Simply reduce his or her lifeless corpse to a pile of ashes, and then stuff those ashes into a plush doll. Say, for instance, a plush cat that might be found for $12.99 at Amazon.com. Speaking of, one of the kitties at right really is $12.99 at Amazon.com and one is $90 at huggableurns.com. Can you tell which is which? I’ll give you a hint: the one from Amazon does not contain the worldly remains of your father.

The founder of Huggable Urns claims that the idea came to her via the supernatural: her recently deceased father began having long conversations with her, during which time he gave her the inspiration to sell stuffed toys at 1000% mark-up. Profit margins aside, I doubt that this woman is lying to scam a buck — on the contrary, I think she probably really does believe that her father is communicating to her from beyond the grave, and the most important information he has to convey is about stuffed toys. The “favorite sites” she’s listed include The Secret, Coast to Coast AM, Ramtha, and What the $%^&*(#^@#$ Do We Know.

That’s where the skeptical angle comes in — Huggable Urns have apparently received a good amount of attention, not just because they’re creepy as hell to many people, but because of the story of a dead father connecting with his daughter.

Reading the testimonials, I come away from this site pretty mixed. On the one hand, it’s creepy, cheapens life, and peddles an absurd paranormal claim. On the other hand, some people will gain comfort from having these bears on their shelves (or from taking the bears to family gatherings as the founder does . . . *shudder*), and if they can afford it then there’s no immediate harm.

What do you guys think? And how would you like your ashes to spend an eternity nestled inside a Beanie Baby?

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca leads a team of skeptical female activists at Skepchick.org. She travels around the world delivering entertaining talks on science, atheism, feminism, and skepticism. There is currently an asteroid orbiting the sun with her name on it. You can follow her every fascinating move on Twitter or on Google+.

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33 Comments

  1. Basically I believe that everyone has a right to mourn their loved ones anyway they like (well ok, Ed Gein and the like may have crossed a line or two). If it gives some comfort to her daughter, that's great. After all, what's the real difference between keeping a pluck of hair in a broche (as it was popular in 19th century Europe, dunno about the US) or some of the ashes inside a fluffy doll?

    However, if Mrs. H. Bleurns thinks this is such a great idea, why is she trying to sell you something way too expensive, instead of just offering a small DIY-guide? It's the idea that counts, right? Right?

    All you need is a stuffed animal and a small closeable purse; not only is it a lot cheaper that way (you could spend the money you saved on a "what the bleep do we know"-DVD, just as an exemple), it also offers you a little distraction in rough times while sowing it together.

  2. This doesn't bother me any more than the usual way the funeral business takes advantage of people. High markup and heavily distracted and rushed customers makes for an easy fleecing. It's a pretty crappy industry.

    Personally, I don't care what happens once I die. Chop me up (science / donor organs), burn me down (in the cheapest container possible), and stuff me into a ziplock bag (or just toss me in the trash). Or, if you want, throw "me" off a windy cliff into the ocean (wear goggles!).

    Or stuff me into a beanie baby. I'll try to make it dance.

  3. It strikes me as pretty morbid, but to each their own…

    When I go, my will states that any usable bits are to be harvested. Then cremation and my ashes to be buried somewhere on the family property; I leave it to those who survive me to choose the exact spot.

  4. You know what I'm not fond of? Human remains.

    I'm even less fond of people who cling to them as if they're anything more than potential zombies. Or at least food for bacteria.

    Still, cremation, even if the ashes end up in a creepy stuffed animal, is a million times better than traditional burial.

    My dad, when he died, got cremated. I thought his instructions were entirely sensible. A part of his remains was buried in a family plot, along side his father and one of his brothers — so that's reusing space that was already taken anyway, better than occupying a new grave. A small part was left for my younger brother, who was the closest person to him and who took the death the hardest. The bulk was scattered at sea, because he had always loved the ocean.

    I'm not one for rituals or sentimentality, but it was still a nice send-off.

    I guess the bottom line is that funerals are for the living, so they should be allowed to do what they want with the remains. I just wish people wouldn't want to do things that are so freaking creepy.

  5. Brum D inquired as follows:

    However, if Mrs. H. Bleurns thinks this is such a great idea, why is she trying to sell you something way too expensive, instead of just offering a small DIY-guide? It’s the idea that counts, right? Right?

    Exactly. If I had an idea like this (and stranger ideas have come my way now and then), I'd put it on Instructables. If I did it with a Cthulhu doll, I'd probably get slashdotted in the bargain. Can't you just hear the ad copy? "Make sure your loved ones are eaten first!"

    I have no objection in principle to making money from clever ideas, but dammit, I've been a grieving survivor too many times to want to profit off them.

  6. Though a Cthulurn would certainly be appealing, I'm still leaning towards a couple of ideas I remember from one of George Carlin's books. I don't have the book with me, and my Google-fu is weak on the subject, so I can't quote verbatim. However, I recall him suggesting simply having his body blown up when he dies, which would be quite an interesting way to merge with the infinite.

    He also considers being dropped from a helicopter or airplane, with the proviso that wherever he lands, he can't be disturbed, even if it's on the mayor's front lawn. I like that idea.

    Either one would be a bit too gruesome if too many people opted for them, of course. But I suppose those are good fall back choices if becoming a couch-mummy falls through.

  7. Sign me up for one Cthulhurn, but I insist on at least one non-Euclidian angle, so I may have a gateway through which I shall lead Shub-Niggurath's thousand young to devour those who would stand in the way of the Elder Gods.

  8. Dump my ashes in the ocean — I'd like to be part of something big, something anyone who wants to remember can look at and enjoy. In a pinch, scatter them anywhere. It's a big world.

    Although my puckish side would find it funny to think of my future remains being stuffed inside a soon-to-be motheaten old fake fur cat. :)

  9. Haha, very nice Rebecca! That may be the first instance I've seen of the word "remember" being used in the biblical sense. I'd be surprised, but I've come to expect a high standard of dirty double entendres from you and your fellow Skepchicks.

  10. I cant help thinking that the idea of cuddly toys with human remains and fairly strong and/or curious 3 or 4 year olds is a combination not thought of by the original designer.

    Otara

  11. Otara,

    Don't forget the tendency of many small children to chew up their stuffed animals!

    My brain just merged Blake's comment with the thought above into the disturbingly circular image of a small child eating a cremains-stuffed Cthulu doll. Eeewww.

    I say the only way to "go" is to be vaporized when the antimatter containment vessel in your hyperdrive is breached! Short of that, I'm a fan of composting.

  12. I'm not sure who came up with it, but I still like the idea of, similar to George Carlin, having your ashes shot out of a cannon.

    The ideal place to have this happen would be some place like the carribean, aboard an old wooden sailing vessel, perhaps with all the attending guests dressed like pirates (although I kinda dislike the FSM-connotations that brings up). The ashes will end up in the ocean just the same, but the ritual to get them there is just so much more interesting.

    And of course everyone should be having a big party afterwards with lots of rhum and loose women and drunken singing.

    At the very least, all those attending the funeral will get a good vacation and mini-cruise out of it. That's what matters.

  13. Ignoring her flaky marketing back story I guess it's a case of caveat emptor. Don't imagine there are too many caskets in the goog old US of A that cost $US90 ( or even $NZ120). Then again "What the fuck do I know?"

  14. Well, maw, remember that when you get cremated you also have to purchases a casket anyway and pay for the cremation. I suppose a $90 doll on top of it all is hardly going to break the bank, but the mark-up is still absurd.

  15. I'm guessing it's the bottom cat that's stuffed with cremains. Am I right?

    When I die I want my cremains to be mixed in a bucket of water, then I want a desiliter of that water to be mixed in another bucket of water, then I want a desiliter of that water to be mixed in another bucket of water, repeat at least 10 times, freeze into icecubes, use at kickass wake.

  16. A plastic-lined velvet pouch seems a rather light material in which to hold ashes. It's a sitcom episode in the making. Hilarity ensures when Timmy plays too rough with the stuffed animal and grandpa is spread all over the living room.

    The whole death ritual thing was morbid to me even back when I was religious. I'm not talking about getting together to remember and celebrate the life of a deceased loved one. I see the meaning in that. What I am talking about is the actual body disposal portion of this process.

    For me, one of the worst is the whole stake out a plot of land and moulder underneath it with a shrine to you on top. I just don't see how that is not grotesque.

  17. exarch just gave me a devious thought…

    It'd be fun to be cremated secretly, and put into an urn somewhere, etc. Then, have a normal-seeming funeral with an open casket, and hire an actor who looks absolutely nothing like you to lay in the casket. Preferably one with a big, Salvador Dali-esque mustache (particularly if you're female).

    Other options include having someone else be in on the gag, and have a closed coffin service. Then, when the plant gets to the coffin, he/she dramatically opens it to reveal a puppet of The Count from Sesame Street in your place.

    Heck, maybe we can combine the two ideas and have your cremains in The Count. That'd be quite funny if only you were there to appreciate it

  18. Is a casket required for cremation? I would have thought that if you were trundled straight from the morgue to the crematorium you could be incinerated in the body bag. Then the mourners could have a service with the stuffed cat. A cheap stuffed toy from Te Wharewhare & you could make off like a burglar for only $5 + cartage.

  19. Yep as I thought, you don't actually need a casket just a $US20 ($NZ25) cremation tray. Can even provide your own cremation tray if your a handy sort.

    http://casketgalleryfl.com/cremation.htm

    Cremation Services Price List

    Funeral planning in the Orlando area

    Complete Direct Cremation Service Includes:

    Professional Service………………………………………….$225.00

    Removal of the body from the place of death……….$125.00

    Rigid Fiberboard cremation container…………………..$20.00

    This is also known as a cremation tray. Required by law for the cremation process.

    Refrigeration………………………………………………………$75.00

    State Law reqruies 48 hour waiting period minimum before being cremated.

    Cremation fee……………………………………………………$150.00

    The Total Price for these services is …..$595.00

    Direct Cremation with cremation container privided by client…….$575.00

    And check out this supplier of cremation trays, they even have their own T-shirts for sale :-)

    http://www.customairtrays.com/cremations.shtml

  20. I've always been pretty impressed with the sheer variety of funeral customs. Two of my favorites:

    In ancient Jericho they used to leave your corpse outside of town for the critters to eat. Then they'd bring in the bones and treat them as part of the family, albeit defunct.

    The Zoroastroans still practice sky burial in which the corpse is put on a platform and fed to vultures. Unfortunately, the vultures are all dying from eating the fecal matter of domesticated animals who have been given an antiparasite medicine.

    Middle European Jews wouldn't bury a single corpse in a graveyard, so they'd keep the corpse in the synagogue basement until someone else died, and someone had to keep the corpse company so it wouldn't get lonely.

    For a fascinating take on our own peculiar customs, check out The American Way of Death, by Jessica Mitford, which was an expose of the American funeral system in the 1960s. The book was hilarious, and it led to real reforms in the system. I haven't read her 2004 update, but I will recommend the original book. Thanks to her book, funeral homes are more tightly regulated than they were, and they have to offer various low cost options.

    I actually had an interesting talk with one funeral director about cremation. I learned that they need some container since the body tends to spatter and spurt fluids when heated. A sturdy cardboard box that can confine the mess cost me $50 which is a bit more than I'd have to pay at Office Depot, but in the range of what they'd charge at the UPS Store. Convenience is worth something. I also learned that even on auto-clean, a household oven just doesn't get hot enough to carbonize a corpse.

    I really, really, really hope that the folks at cockeyed.com aren't reading this.

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