“Nothing is more powerful than an idea whose time has come.”—Victor Hugo
It’s not often that we think of the funeral business in terms of the cutting edge of societal evolution. However, the business of death, like everything else, is changing to fit the times.
This is the story of a business that can be impersonal—of an owner who wantedto do things just a little bit different—to make something that is a necessity for all of us into something more comforting and personal. The idea whose time has come is “witnessed cremations.”
It’s also not often that a new crematorium opens in San Diego County. There WERE eight of them—and with the addition last year of the Silver Lining Cremations—there are nine. It has literally been decades since a new crematorium was permitted in the county due to air quality concerns.
Silver Lining is the only crematorium based in Escondido. It operates in the industrial district at 421 S Andreasen Dr Suite B. It opened in May of 2022. It is an all in one business. You can contact them and they will arrange pick-up and whatever type of cremation, reception or celebration of life you want.
“We wanted to have witnessed cremations,” says owner and president Tatiana Maka. A registered nurse who worked in an ICU; she got the idea during the darkest days of the COVID-19 pandemic. “During COVID people couldn’t say goodbye to their loved ones who died in the hospital and crematoriums didn’t allow them to come see them either.”
She wondered, “Why can’t we let them come in and be alone with them? Why can’t families say goodbye?” She learned that it was not common for crematoriums to allow such visits, unlike most funeral homes. They were unable to get the kind of closure that a funeral, especially a graveside funeral, provides.
She went to her husband and told him, “I think we can do this better.” She convinced him. Neither had experience in the funeral business or cremations but Maka felt right. “It was up my alley. I was used to working with families. ‘We can do this better!’ I said.’ I wanted to give families the ability to say ‘goodbye.’ ” She added, “I can’t tell you how many hugs I’ve gotten.”
However they want to say goodbye, Maka makes it happen. “I’ve made playlists of the deceased’s favorite tunes and blasted it during the visitation,” she said. Some family members have brought photos or the hair of a favorite pet. “If a family wants to do it at a specific time I will set up my schedule,” she said. “Yes, they have passed but let’s make the process better.”
They started in February of 2021 and opened in May of 2022. It took a year and a half to get the permits. The County, state and city all require permits. The biggest hurdle they dealt with was the San Diego County Air Pollution Control District (SDCAPD.)
“There was a lot of jumping through hoops, laws and regulations” before they got their permit to operate a funeral home. “A crematorium must be in an industrial zone. It can’t be close to a residential area or school.” She added, “They had to look at the way the wind blows, where water flowers.” There was also a 30 day public review.
Getting the permits was not the end of it. The SDAPCD does periodic inspections, mainly monitoring emissions. But there’s also the State Cemetery and Funeral Bureau, which inspects funeral homes, crematorium inspectors and the fire department.
The city of Escondido, she said, “has been amazing! They were very open and responsive.”
At first, before they opened up their services they would do trades for funeral homes or other crematoriums. “We lightened the load for other crematoriums.”
The business is a low labor intense operation says Maka. “We have three employees, but you could actually run it with one person.” They can do 6-7 cremations a day, depending on how many “witnessed cremations,” they do. It takes about two hours to cremate a body and cool down to allow another load.
It takes so little actual labor to operate because the crematorium itself, which is five months old, is high tech, and operates at the highest level of air quality safety. It closely monitors and limits emissions. The oven cost about $150,000 and was by far the biggest capital expense. “We had to get an SBA loan and a woman owned business loan,” she said.
“Everything we have in here is American made. We do everything we can to support the local economy,” says Maka.
Writing about a unique industry such as cremation, one is, of course, impelled to ask some of the obvious questions. Such as, how hot does a crematorium have to get in order to render the departed until what remains is what the Bible refers to as “ashes to ashes, dust to dust”? That temperature, says Maka is 1,600 degrees, after which nothing is left but the bones. It is basically an oven. After that, the bones are ground up and the result is what will be a powder ready for an urn. There is no DNA to identify the remains.
They can cremate caskets, but only ones that have no metal parts.
Does Silver Lining do pets? “No, we do get a lot of calls about that, but there are pet crematoriums.
“For a lot of people who do cremation, price is on their mind,” said Maka. “Our first package is $1,065. Our prices are reasonable because we don’t have to pay someone to do the cremation.” Sure there are cheaper alternatives. “I can’t compete with $750 but we provide much more than they do.”
But just because a consumer needs to pay as little as possible for cremation of a loved one doesn’t mean that consumer should be treated to just the bare necessities.
Silver Lining, unlike most crematoria, has a chapel where people can spend some time with their loved ones before they are delivered into the flames. In the past, most crematoria allow loved ones to glance into the oven but don’t provide much else.
“Some families just want to say goodbye,” observed Maka, who noted they can accommodate a wide variety of religious practices and preferences, whether from priests, Hindus or Buddhists. “We work with all denominations that accept cremations.”
“ ‘Witnessed cremations,’ is not a thing but we would like it to become a thing,” she said. Silver Lining has a small chapel that accommodates a few mourners, but they can also stage larger funerals in the large bay. “The goal we had was for families to be able to say goodbye.” She adds, “I believe in doing one thing and doing it well.”
She can move quickly, “We have done twenty-four hours from death, but usually it’s two to three days.” Virtually everything can be set up online. “I pick up. With the family’s approval the body doesn’t move around.” Cremation doesn’t require embalming. Bodies will stay in good shape for about five days in the cooler where they are stored.
To find out more visit www.silverliningcremations.com. Or call 760-607-9393.
If you’d like to visit, they offer public tours. “I want to take the fear out of cremation,” said Maka. “I’ve opened the doors to anyone who is curious and wants to learn.”