Joan and Clyde West conceived their novel new business over a somber dinner discussion. “Clyde said, ‘I don’t want to be buried. Just put my remains in a balloon and send it on up,'” Joan recalls.
In January, the Crystal River, Fla., couple launched the Eternal Ascent Society, offering burial “flights” to the grieving. After a funeral home cremates the remains, Clyde pours them into a helium balloon encased in a custom-made Plexiglas-and-vinyl carrier. Then it’s off to the wild blue yonder, all for about $150 (flowers and photos cost extra). A black cat, Midnight, made the charter trip.
The Wests reached a milestone in March when, says Joan, “we did our first human.” Mourners gathered with the Wests to honor a middle-aged woman’s final request: a flight to heaven in a big yellow balloon. “When you see the balloon go up, and the sun is shining, it will bring tears to your eyes,” Joan West says.
Of course, others would like to burst the Wests’ bubble. An unamused Maureen Hearn, of the Defenders of Wildlife, says balloon fragments could choke animals: “What goes up invariably does come down — and what comes down is killing dolphins, sea turtles, and probably other animals as well.”