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The vacation of a lifetime you never had before you died

A backpacker walking on a clifftop overlooking a beautiful ocean at sunset

Whether it’s far-flung destinations you plan to see before a milestone birthday, or special places you’d like to visit before you die, a bucket list is always fun to compile, but not always possible to fulfill.

But what if it were viable for a tiny little bit of you to end up at a beauty spot or faraway place that captured your imagination, or was close to your heart?

That’s the idea behind the Forever Vacation Project, created by entrepreneur Dave Blake, based in Austin, Texas. If a loved one never got to make that trip to Italy or that last dip in the ocean, then why not take them with you, after they die?

Taking cremated remains abroad, he realized, could be a complicated business. So what, he wondered, if you put cremains into glass pebbles small enough to carry in your purse or pocket?

A glass touchstone containing funeral ashes

“Once you put cremation ashes in glass, it’s just glass,” he says. “It would be easy to pack and you could leave little touchstones of your loved one all over the world.”

Dave was inspired to create glass touchstones around the size of a nickel – colorful glass pebbles available in rainbow shades. As an experiment, he initially had 30 stones made and sent them out with friends and travelers across the world. Geotracking them, he discovered that one had travelled 17,000 miles. So what, he thought, if each glass stone was filled with a tiny amount of cremation ashes?

Easy to pack, what could be more wonderful than to take a small, physical reminder of someone special and leave it in a nook overlooking a castle in Ireland, on a sand dune on an island paradise looking out to sea, or on the slopes of Kilimanjaro?

He initially envisaged that independent travelers might be willing to take the touchstones on other people’s behalf. But the idea’s been embraced by people who commission ashes to glass stones for many members of their family. As well as lay the stones in a place that has significance for them, or their loved one, the pretty beads can also be an affordable way for lots of family members to simply keep a little part of someone they loved.

A glass touchstone with a floral motif placed amid plants

A single tablespoon of cremated remains can make up to 30 touchstones. After placing an order online, clients are mailed a customized collection kit to return their loved one’s ashes in and can expect to receive their artisan-made touchstones within two to four weeks.

Any cremains that are unused are either shipped back to the bereaved, or respectfully scattered by Dave in a “serene” outdoor space not far from his studio.

Eventually, he hopes to work with tour companies interested in helping the bereaved to take loved ones on exotic final journeys. One project he has already begun is an ‘adopt a travel photographer’ scheme.

The idea is for photographers traveling at home and abroad to take someone’s touchstones along for the ride and take pictures of them amid breathtaking scenery and extraordinary cityscapes. One day in the future, too, Dave likes to imagine dedicated sites around the world that could serve as alternative touchstone cemeteries dedicated to people who had a spirit of adventure.

A jewel colored touchstone containing tiny amounts of cremation ashes

Most people, he says, place their loved one’s touchstone somewhere remote, or in a niche where it will be hidden and sheltered. While there is always a chance that the weather or other circumstances could move the stone, most people, he says are comfortable with this. “What’s the difference,” he reasons, “between that happening and scattering ashes from a plane, or on the beach?”

Through his website, Spirit Pieces, Dave also curates a selection of memory-ware created by artisan studios around the U.S. There are plenty of ideas for people who wish to commission an heirloom piece, made from their loved one’s cremains.

“Physical representations of the dead became taboo, although they’ve always been there through history,” he explains.

“Spirituality is great, but it is abstract. There’s always been a need to have a tangible connection with someone who has passed on. I think we are now on a rediscovery cycle.”

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