NISSWA -- Sooner or later, everyone is going to die.
According to Michael Doran, funeral director at Nelson-Doran Funeral Home and Cremation Services in Brainerd, it's never too early to start planning funeral services.
Doran said locally the number of people opting to be cremated after they die is increasing, as is the number of places ashes can be stored or spread.
According to the Minnesota Department of Health's most recent statistics, 32 percent of people who died in Crow Wing County in 2000 were cremated, up from 25 percent in 1995. Cass County's statistics told the same story, increasing from 29 percent in 1995 to 39 percent in 2000.
Marge Holmstrom, chairperson for Lutheran Church of the Cross' memorial garden and columbarium, held a niche containing a copper box to be filled with ashes after someone is cremated. The niche will be placed in a columbarium at the church's memorial garden when it is finished. Brainerd Dispatch/Steve Kohls
The Rev. Kurt Wied of Lutheran Church of the Cross in Nisswa said in the past it was considered tradition to have a cemetery next to a church, but today there isn't enough space. To make up for space constraints, a number of area churches have decided to build spreading gardens or columbariums to accommodate those who wish to be cremated.
A columbarium is an above-ground structure designed to store containers of cremated human remains. Ashes are stored in sealed copper boxes and placed in durable plastic containers before being placed in a columbarium.
Lutheran Church of the Cross in Nisswa decided to use the 1 1/2 acres of land behind the church to assemble a memorial garden and columbarium.
"It's time to make use of what we had," said Marge Holmstrom, project chairperson.
Holmstrom, who spends winters in Arizona, said columbariums are popular in the southern United States.
The Nisswa church plans to have four columbariums, totaling 96 niches, for containers holding ashes. Each container will have an engraved plaque on the outside with the person's name, date of birth and date of death. Holmstrom hopes to start selling niches for about $1,000 each in August.
"Dying is a part of living -- you have to plan for this," Holmstrom said.
The columbarium, to be finished this fall, will be a place family members and friends can go in remembrance of their cremated loved ones.
Wied describes the memorial garden and columbarium as a place of beauty, meditation, worship and peace.
"(A memorial garden) is a place of beauty -- a nice tribute to those cremated or earth-buried elsewhere," he said.
Holmstrom said columbariums are primarily for church members and their extended families, but some exceptions may be made.
"It's fitting to have a tribute to people who had church as an important part of their lives," Wied said.
When it's finished, the columbarium will be accompanied by a waterfall and a 4-foot by 6-foot memorial wall with name plaques representing people who have died and whose remains are elsewhere.
Following a recent ground-breaking ceremony, work on the memorial garden has gotten well under way. Land has been cleared and a 1,000-foot paved path has been installed, winding its way through the trees that surround the columbarium and memorial garden.
More than $5,000 has been raised for the memorial garden so far, and Holmstrom said the church will continue to take things step by step, raising money as it's needed along the way.
The memorial garden will be landscaped simply, with trees and bushes, in hopes of keeping maintenance costs down.
So far, the memorial garden is considered a welcomed addition to the Nisswa neighborhood next to the 28-unit Crossroads Retirement Community.
"Residents (of Crossroads) enjoy having a beautiful garden next to their homes," said Lois Jenson, Crossroads property manager.
HEIDI LAKE can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-5879.
Brainerd Dispatch ©2013. All Rights Reserved.