Escondido crematory offers inclusive options to say 'goodbye'
Silver Lining Cremations in Escondido is the newest crematory in San Diego County that caters to something very specific — witness cremations.
"The reason we started as a crematory and funeral home is because we wanted to provide a service that is not there, more specifically witness cremations," said Tatiana Maka, the president and CEO.
During the height of the pandemic, Maka was an ICU nurse.
Due to COVID-19 and hospital restrictions, Maka said many people died alone, in a cold environment, and many times, all the family got back was a box with remains.
"I noticed there was a lot of death during COVID and a lot of families couldn’t deal with it and didn't have that closure. So I wanted to provide a space for them to have that time, have that moment with their loved one," she said.
She decided to leave the medical field and began dedicating her life to opening a space designed with witness cremations in mind.
The process to get approved and running took a year and half.
"There's a lot of licenses that are involved that we had to take from the state, from the city and from the county," she said.
While witness cremations aren't new, Maka said they are the first facility in San Diego with a dedicated space for it.
"Other funeral homes or other crematories in the area have that option, but their setup is very industrial. The family gets 5 minutes, they don't have a quiet space, they don't have a place to say goodbye. It's a very quick ‘Here we go, the bodies getting cremated,' and that's it," she said.
Space in front of the retort, or cremation chamber, allows for families to be a part of the cremation process in their own ways.
"We've had Buddhist monks, we've had Hindu priests, we've had Catholic priests here doing rosaries, I've had Jewish families doing cremations ... any religion you can think of, we’ve had it. And anywhere from 10 people to 60," Maka said.
For different cultures, it's tradition to be a part of the cremation process and witness it. Maka said these traditions would go unfulfilled without spaces like the one Silver Linings offers.
"A lot of the families that we've had are immigrants," she said. "So because they can't take them home, its important for them to give them the right way, the right goodbye."
But Maka said many people still view cremations as scary and the thought of witnessing the process is something they don’t consider right away.
"There's no flames coming out. Nobody's getting engulfed in flames. There's no smoke. There's nothing that is terrifying about the process," Maka said. "It's actually very calm. We play music, we have them be in the room, they see us load the decedent into the retort. It's nice to be part of it. The same way as when they go to a cemetery, they're part of the burial."
She said more people are choosing cremations over burials due to the cost and environmental consciousness.
"Embalming is formaldehyde and many other chemicals that at the end of the day, end up in the ground," Maka said. "With burials, the body goes into the ground and it stays there in a casket until the time comes and it disintegrates. With cremations, embalming is not required by the state of California. So it's a greener, faster, more affordable option for the family."
Maka said her experience with death in hospitals is what really motivated her to open a different kind of space.
"Back in the days, people used to die at home and families cared for them. Families don't have that opportunity anymore. So with witnessing, it gives them that chance," she said. "I've had families that came in and brushed the hair of their loved one ... or applied lipstick for the last time."
Maka said it's those small details that help many families move on, and she's proud to offer that.
"Death will happen. It's part of life. But if we can find that sliver of peace and calm ... and if we can offer that space for the families, and help them have closure, then I think that's worth everything that we do," she said. "That's why we're here."