Cremation at the Olympics

For some, cremation is just an inexpensive option when it comes to dealing with the dead. For others, it’s the means by which memorable tributes are facilitated. This year, very likely for the first time, cremation memorialization became a small part of the Olympic story.  This Olympics featured two stories of mortality and memorialization. 

Last year, Steven Holcomb, a three-time Olympic bobsledder died unexpectedly at a training facility in Lake Placid, NY. In the wake of his death, his teammates persevered, and in his memory, made their way to the Olympics in Pyeonchang. Steven’s parents made the journey to South Korea to cheer on his teammates and remember him.

Each bobsled, though similar, is unique. With a base price of $50,000 you’d at least expect a heater. Though they are no frills, finely tuned, pieces of equipment, the American teams bobsled did have one extra feature. Taped to the inside of Steve Holcomb’s would be sled, was a gold cremation pendant containing some of his ashes. Steve’s parents were not just cheering on the American teammates he left behind. They, along with his former teammates, were holding a memorial for him. There, in the middle of the Olympics, while his ashes were speeding down the icy track, his family and friends were remembering and honoring him.

Lindsey Vonn, Olympic skier and medalist, was inspired to race by her grandfather, Don Kildow. Don served in the Korean War and as an American soldier stationed in South Korea, supported the war effort by building roads. When he returned home he built the first ski hill in his area. He taught his family to ski and the rest, as they say, is history.

Mr. Kildow passed away in November of 2017. Lindsey said she would return to South Korea and dedicated her skiing to him. She kept her promise, competed well, won an Olympic medal and scattered a small amount of his ashes on the competition hills in the country he so proudly defended many years earlier. Lindsey’s telling of her grandfather’s story and their relationship, combined with the scattering of his ashes were all part of his memorialization.

Cremation in not just a low cost option when it comes to final disposition, it’s an open door to a new freedom of memorialization. In the past many in our profession thought of “personalized services” in terms of casket insert panels and video tributes. Though our profession is changing and the future of our profession is unknown, the human desire to memorialize a loved one is innate and will persist, regardless of the means of disposition.