Content Warning: This article contains language that may be triggering or traumatizing to some readers. CW: death, death of a pet
Carrie Berg, a tattoo artist at Kalamalka Ink, has found a new passion, and it involves cremation ashes.
After the tragic loss of her beloved pup, Chastity, Berg had her cremated at Radiant Heart After-Care for Pets.
As cremation becomes increasingly common in the U.S. — Washington, Oregon, and Nevada especially — many are left with the ashes of loved ones, either humans or furry friends.
Bobbie Ruth Langley, owner of Radiant Heart After-Care for Pets, said the cremation process involves the reduction of soft tissue. This is done either through combustion as with typical cremation or through water and crystalized alkaline that breaks down the tissue at the molecular level with water cremation.
The pet owner is then given the ashes. Langley said she has been told by customers that receiving the ashes is like receiving a gift.
“That’s why we do what we do,” Langley said. “To make the grieving process a little bit easier for folks.”
Berg originally ordered a keepsake created with Chastity’s ashes from a third-party company. Upon receiving the piece, Berg felt inspired to make something of her own. She ordered an epoxy resin kit, which was hard to find due to an increased interest in the craft since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Berg said.
“I was still in shock from her death,” Berg said. “But it gave me so much peace to be able to have a piece of her with me.”
Berg makes her creations with epoxy resin, which involves mixing resin with a hardener to create a chemical reaction that will turn the liquid resin into a solid. While the resin is solidifying, the crafter can manipulate and add things to the medium to achieve the desired product.
After making several pieces, Berg began telling her friends and tattoo clients about her cremation craft, and many showed interest. Carrie’s Cremation Creations was open for business not long after.
Before the resin process begins, Berg said she prays over the ashes, with permission from the customer.
Berg describes the process as bittersweet. When she presents a finished piece to someone, without fail, there are many tears and hugs.
Berg takes special care not to waste any of the cremation ashes. If she has extra, she’ll continue to create pieces incorporating them. If she accidentally messes up a piece, Berg will still give it to the customer.
“They’re going to think it’s precious, no matter how perfect it is,” Berg said.
Kellie Reichmann first met Berg at Kalamalka Ink. After hearing about Berg’s new business venture, Reichmann gave Berg complete creative freedom in using her late mother’s ashes.
When Reichmann’s mother passed away in 2019, she hired a funeral home to make a necklace featuring her mother’s ashes. Upon receiving the piece, Reichmann said she lacked the connection she had hoped to feel.
Reichmann said the necklaces and keychains that Berg made for her were both beautiful and wearable. Berg also incorporated some elements, such as colors, they previously agreed upon that related to her mother in a meaningful way.
“It’s comforting when you’re going through the grieving process, to have a tangible reminder,” Reichmann said.
Riechman said she paid a little over $100 and received several different pieces of jewelry as well as a keychain.
Wendi Sargent, a grief counselor at Providence Hospice of Seattle, said while everyone’s grief is unique, it’s common for someone to feel connected to remains.
Sargent said that in grief theory, such connection falls under the “continuing bonds” model, which maps out the continuing relationship between someone who has passed and their loved one.
Berg creates jewelry, trays and other various keepsakes to preserve cremation ashes and pressed flowers.
While tattooing continues to be a part of Berg’s life, resin creating is her passion.
“The gratitude [of the customer] fills up the room and fills up my soul,” Berg said.
Caroline Brooks is a journalism student and a reporter for The Front. Her work includes local features and Bellingham-based news.