At the end of life, Nevadans increasingly are choosing cremation.
In fact, we’re choosing it more than any other option available. And we’re
choosing it more often than any other state. Nevada topped the list for
cremation rate in 2022 at 81.9%, according to a recent report by the
Cremation Association of North America (CANA).
That’s well over the national rate of 59%, a rate that’s been steadily increasing
The shift comes as no surprise to Rick Noel, co-owner of Walton’s Funerals
and Cremations, who has witnessed the change over 40 years in the funeral
“You go back 100 years ago, everybody lived in the same town,” Noel told the
RGJ. “They don’t live in close proximity together anymore, so it doesn’t make
sense to get a plot of land in your town.”
America’s increasingly transient nature has been fueling a growing nationwide
trend toward cremation that’s been especially acute in Nevada.
Fewer roots, more roaming
It’s not as if Nevada is lacking in wide-open spaces for burial. At just 28.3
people per square mile, it’s one of the least densely populated states in the
U.S., and most of that population is tightly concentrated in and around Reno
and Las Vegas.
Still, it’s a matter of where people would like to remain. Only 27% of Nevada
residents were born in Nevada, according to data from the 2020 census. That’s
the lowest rate in the country. The transient nature of modern America is one
of several factors cited by CANA for the recent increase in cremation rates,
Higher average education level
More immigration and more non-English-speaking residents
Lower religious affiliation
The COVID-19 pandemic, which reduced the ability for many to travel
for traditional funeral and burial services
Another factor that resonates here: Nevada is among the states with the lowest
home ownership rates. If Nevadans aren’t ready or able to buy above-ground
residences, they may be much less interested in staying here on a much more
“Especially here in Reno, we have a lot of people who were born and raised in
different states and just come here for either retirement or what have you, or
moved here for a brief time in their life,” said Mercedes Quartucci, Reno
location manager with the Neptune Society, one of the country’s largest
providers of cremation services.
“A lot of times, those families want to take them back to whatever their
hometown was, or scattering their ashes at their favorite places,” she told the
Scattering in Nevada’s open spaces
Quartucci notes that many Nevadans are choosing to inter their loved one’s
ashes in local mausoleums, but others are requesting their ashes become part
of Nevada’s landscape. Nevada has relatively loose rules about where and
when someone’s cremains may be scattered, but it’s not a free-for-all.
“Certainly you can’t legally just go to Mackay Stadium and scatter ashes; that’s
not allowed,” Noel said. “Anything that would be private property, you’d have
to have permission to do that.”
Public lands, on the other hand, are less restrictive. Popular natural spots in
Nevada include the Truckee River, Pilot Peak and, of course, Lake Tahoe.
“You can scatter on the Nevada side of Lake Tahoe,” Noel notes, “but not the
California side. California’s more restrictive.”
It’s been a rapid rise for cremation’s popularity in the United States and
Canada ― as recently as 2007, just 34.2% were choosing it. Now, it’s the
primary choice in the two countries.
“We’ve found that states generally demonstrate a geographic clustering effect,
suggesting that what started as individual preference became the norm in the
community and heralded a cultural shift to a new tradition,” CANA reported.
“Cremation will continue to be popular because it is ‘what we do now.'”
If the cremation trend eventually fades, what will be the next “what we do
now”? Starting Jan. 1, Nevadans will be able to choose “natural organic
reduction” ― aka human composting.
The human composting process varies slightly based on the funeral home, but
typically a body is placed in an insulated vessel packed with organic material
to help the decomposing process. After about three months, the vessel is
opened and soil is filtered for medical devices and large bones. Those
remaining bones are pulverized and returned to the vessel for another three
months of composting. Teeth are removed to prevent contamination from
mercury in fillings.
Other already-legal options for Nevadans include jewelry that includes
cremains, or having one’s cremains compressed into diamonds. Walton’s and
Neptune Society also have connections with a company that will launch
cremains into space.
“That’s really expensive,” Noel said. “We haven’t had any takers (locally).”
Gathering to say farewell
For Noel’s part, he plans to be buried in a traditional manner as most of his
relatives have been. He already has the location picked out: a Walton’s-owned
cemetery in Carson City. And although he stresses he doesn’t have any
philosophical opposition to cremation, he does see a worrying trend associated
“Sometimes people will choose cremation, and they don’t think they can have
a funeral. That’s not true,” he said. “We all grieve in our own way, but your
grieving has to go outward into mourning, and you can’t do that without
Cremation, he points out, does allow for the ability to schedule memorial
services weeks or months down the road in order to gather far-flung friends
and relatives in one place, as opposed to a traditional burial service which
takes place within a week or two of a loved one’s death.
But the ritual of gathering and remembering is essential, Noel says, even if it’s
a simple gathering in a park, a backyard or a living room.
“I’m not telling somebody, ‘Look, you’ve got to come into the funeral home
and spend money.’ I’m not. But please,for your own mental health and
emotional health, have something.”
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