Cookies and corpses: Inside the world's biggest death convention

Jason Bracelin, Las Vegas Review-Journal on

Published in Business News

It’s just past noon, and we’re learning how we can keep a dead relative in our pocket.

“The average person is about 40-80 stones,” notes Justin Crowe, the slim, mustachioed founder and CEO of Parting Stone, a company that turns the remains of the deceased into rock-like formations of various shapes and sizes that you can hold in your hands without getting ashes on your fingertips, or maybe skip the dearly departed across their favorite lake some day.

But a few feet away, Garrett Ozar details how his business turns human remains into gemstones.

“What we do is we get a small amount of remains or hair from a family,” begins Ozar, co-founder and co-CEO of Eterneva, which creates memorial diamonds. “We extract carbon from that inside of a machine that emulates the Earth’s crust — it’s like 600,000 pounds of pressure, 3,000 degrees in temperature — and the carbon atoms literally bond together in a real diamond.”

Over the P.A. system, a woman’s voice booms.

“Welcome to Las Vegas, baby!” she announces. “And the NFDA Convention.”


Those initials are short for the National Funeral Directors Association, and we’re at the world’s largest funeral services gathering — now in its 141st year since launching in Rochester, New York in 1882 — with 380 vendors and 5,000 attendees clustered in the Las Vegas Convention Center’s West Hall for three days early last week.

It’s a maze of urns shaped like bowling balls and motorcycle gas tanks, of high-end hearses polished to a reflective sheen and jewelry adorned with the fingerprints of the dead.

This being Vegas, of course, there’s a skeleton dressed like Elvis hawking embalming chemicals and such.

The subject matter here is dark, but the mood is light: Turns out the end of life can be the start of a good time — in the proper setting, for those who trade in grief for a living, who deal with all the ugly stuff that the rest of us pass on to folks like these to handle.


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