Earlier this year, Eterneva, a consumer technology company and grief wellness brand that celebrates lives by making diamonds from ashes, announced its partnership with Baylor University in a shared effort to research and evaluate how material objects and rituals may help facilitate the grieving process and serve as a form of continued bonding. They also aim to study Eterneva’s customer base through surveys and interviews to analyze how the diamond creation journey might aid customers through grieving and serve as a legacy project.
Recently, the partners announced a portion of their findings, which confirmed that a physical item associated with a lost loved one can positively impact the grieving process. The preliminary findings were reported by Dr. Candi Cann, the lead researcher on the project.
Dr. Cann is a lauded grief researcher and associate professor of religion at Baylor University. She received both her Master of Arts and a doctorate degree in comparative religion from Harvard University, a Master of Arts in Asian religions from the University of Hawaii at Manoa, and a Bachelor of Arts in Asian studies and English from St. Andrews in North Carolina. She teaches courses that include World Cultures, Social World, World Religions, Death and Dying in World Religions, and Buddhism. Her research focuses on death and dying, as well as the impact of remembering and forgetting in shaping how lives are recalled, remembered, and celebrated.
She was excited to conduct the research to help promote the importance of continuing bonds with the deceased and examine how that practice can assist in the grieving process. Losing a loved one can be one of the most challenging times in our lives, and identifying ways to assist those experiencing grief can help in the healing process.
The Inspiration for the Eterneva – Baylor Partnership
Eterneva was founded in 2016 by Adelle Archer and Garrett Ozar after Archer lost her mentor and hero, Tracy. Archer, saddened by how people tend to stop talking about someone following their death, wanted to memorialize Tracy; however, she found that the memorial options for ashes were underwhelming. Therefore, she partnered with Ozar to develop Eterneva, a company focused on turning ashes into diamonds. This allowed Archer to turn Tracy’s ashes into a black diamond, something that Archer claims allowed her to “capture her sparkling spirit and ensure that her legacy [lived] on.”
Since its inception, the company has grown exponentially, a surge that is attributed to the company’s core belief that having the client involved in the process is critical. From start to finish in a process that can take anywhere from 7 to 10 months, Eterneva ensures that customers feel like they are part of the experience as the team moves toward the final product. Eterneva provides videos and pictures monthly and ensures that someone from the company hand delivers the final product upon completion. During this process, the staff noticed that something was happening. Specifically, they recognized that the process “put joy, the ability to dream about the future, and a renewed sense of wonder at the twists and turns of life back into the lives of [their] customers.” The staff members at Eterneva were inspired by these changes, and they recognized that they needed the help of an expert to further understand them. They sought a quantitative approach and an academic partnership to help them fully understand how the diamond creation process was impacting their clients.
Understanding the Process
Before delving into Dr. Cann’s research, it is important to discuss the process that Eterneva clients go through. From start to finish, they are engaged in and informed of what is happening. The first step starts with Eterneva sending the customer a welcome kit, which includes instructions on what is necessary to get the process started and what steps the customer must take to send Eterneva the ashes. Then, the process of turning the ashes into a diamond begins; the carbon is removed from the ashes and then crystalized on top of a diamond seed, creating a raw diamond. The raw diamond is then quality inspected and cut by a professional. The final touches, including colorizing, grading, engraving, and setting, are completed. Lastly, the diamond is delivered to the customer.
During the powerful, personal handoff, the customer finally holds the diamond that will help them honor their loss and reaches the end of a months-long process that helps bring closure. Archer and her colleagues may not have realized it at first, but when they founded Eterneva and witnessed the impact that they were having, they became the newest bearers of a long tradition. For as long as we have mourned our loved ones, we have sought out tools to memorialize them, establish their legacies, and maintain a relationship with them. As Archer and her colleagues learned when they partnered with Dr. Cann, scholars have been fascinated by this process for decades.
A New Scholarship
The basis of Dr. Cann’s research is on the continuing bonds theory, grief research that was published in 1996. The continuing bonds theory was groundbreaking because it replaced older theories on loss and argued that a continued connection to those we have lost is actually healthy and necessary for continuing on with our lives. It provides those who are grieving with a healthy avenue for adapting to what life looks like following the death of a loved one. However, the early research did not examine concrete modes of connection that are more common today, such as memorial diamonds. It is that gap in understanding that Dr. Cann is interested in, which has prompted her ongoing research on the topic.
The question, then, becomes: What is it about symbolic, concrete objects that help people grieve and maintain a connection to the dead? In the end, Dr. Cann’s research led her to conclude that there are three primary ways that memorial diamonds provide a unique kind of comfort for those who are grieving: mobility; giving loved ones agency in the present, not just the past; and helping those grieving refocus on the lives of their loved ones rather than their deaths.
The Mobility of Diamonds
Since early civilizations, societies have incorporated memorial processes into their lives, finding ways to part more peacefully with loved ones. The most common traditions, notably burial plots and urns, are familiar to most of us. However, they both differ greatly from diamonds because they do not provide the same mobility as diamonds. This difference is a representation of the various ways that we perceive death. For example, according to Dr. Cann’s research, a burial plot, or even the scattering of ashes, restricts one’s ability to move on from grief. People feel that they must remain physically close to the burial site or ashes to maintain a connection, which often results in an inability to move on.
Urns, on the other hand, create a different experience. Although they are portable and thus offer some mobility, researchers have found that cremains serve little function other than as a marker of death. Furthermore, cremains often have no commonly understood, designated place to rest and therefore end up getting moved frequently before winding up in a low-visibility spot. These two traditions of honoring and remembering lost loved ones have been deemed by some researchers as restrictive and can ultimately hinder one’s ability to move through the grieving process.
A diamond, however, provides a new avenue for healing. It is wholly mobile and can be carried with someone on their person throughout the day. It allows someone to move away from a location where a loved one is buried, which can allow them to move on physically and spiritually with their lives – not forgetting their lost one but also remembering them as they move on.
A Diamond Keeps the Relationship in the Present
When we lose someone we love, we often understand their death as the end of our relationship with them. We are told that it is time to say goodbye and learn how to live without them. As time goes by, the relationship with our memory of that person becomes more distant. This, however, is a challenge to many; they are unable to let go because of the deep connection that they felt to their lost one.
Some have argued that this is not a problem with those who are grieving but with the way we culturally frame loss. What if we restructured our understanding of our relationships with our lost loved ones as enduring into the future and created an avenue through which they could remain present in our lives? This is exactly what Eterneva has done – created the opportunity for someone to continue to engage with a lost one and share their life with them in a unique way.
And after all, those who have lost someone who influenced them greatly know that it is wrong to suggest that the relationship has ended. Many who lose a parent, for example, may continue to hear that parent’s guiding voice and mentorship in their heads for the rest of their lives. They want to continue to share their accomplishments, changes, sorrows, and growth with that parent. That lasting influence and desire to share suggests that while we can no longer speak in a conventional sense to our deceased, they are very much still with us; their love lives on when we love others, and their wisdom informs the decisions that we make. Though it is a different relationship than we had with them before, it is a relationship all the same, and physical artifacts like Eterneva’s diamonds honor that reality without removing our sense of closeness the way that traditional memorial tools might.
Dr. Cann explains what this shift in the nature of a relationship means in more technical terms. “The memorial diamonds as both remains and memorial might aid in the transition from acute to integrated grief,” she says. “The incorporation of the memorial diamond into the daily routine of the bereaved is viewed as the deceased’s ongoing participation in the lives of the living… If the cremains represent the deceased individual in a transitional phase of a rite of passage, the memorial diamond represents his/her re-incorporation into society in a new, transformed state.”
The Eterneva process allows individuals to continue to interact with the relationship with their lost one in a different manner. They are able to be a part of the transformation of the ashes becoming a diamond, and then they have the ability to keep that diamond with them. Instead of completely separating from their lost one, they can live on with a tangible connection.
A Diamond Allows Someone to Refocus on Life, Not Death
Grieving is often understood as the process of parting ways with someone and learning to cope with their absence. In many traditions, you host a funeral or memorial service to remember their life and say farewell. These designated times and spaces to connect with friends and family and discuss the impact that the dead have had on our lives are meaningful, but they also fall short of continuing to provide support in the months and years that follow long after they end. These rituals and traditional practices are helpful, but on their own, they suggest an end to grief that few people experience and leave us to our own devices to navigate whatever feelings come next.
Dr. Cann’s research found that by turning someone’s ashes into a diamond, we can extend the process to a more natural one. She reports that “the transformation of the person into a memorial diamond can represent a reintegration of the deceased into the world of the living, and markers of the deceased through color, cut, and other personalization options are sometimes manifested in the object itself.” Eterneva offers the first method in which such personalization is available.
“Similarly, the diamond may serve as a representation of the deceased in life,” says Dr. Cann, “rather than a material reminder of death (as would cremains, or even, perhaps, as a roadside memorial serves as a symbol of the site of death), and its accompaniment in many aspects of life gives agency to the deceased that many other forms of memorialization would not.”
The symbolism of a grave, urn, or roadside marker is limited, final, and somber. A diamond carries with it a more versatile connotation – one of vibrancy, life, beauty, and celebration. That is a cultural understanding that Eterneva has harnessed to celebrate and preserve joy rather than simply contain sadness when a loved one passes.
A New Way to Remember
The fact that our loved ones will die someday is not an easy one to reconcile, and cultures around the world have tried endless ways to make it less painful. Eterneva’s efforts to shift the way we remember our deceased and think about grief are marked moves in the right direction.
The three points that Dr. Cann concluded support the hypothesis that Eterneva is delivering a positive experience to its customers by providing them with a physical object to assist in the grieving process. It is no coincidence that Eterneva clients report a change in themselves during the transformation of the ashes; Eterneva has redefined the ritual of grieving.
According to Dr. Cann, “as the research currently stands, there is concrete reason to believe that anchor items provide a place for the bereaved to direct the complex emotions associated with grief, while also creating a positive association with their life and a physical reminder that those we lose are not lost.”
The belief that death means that we must say goodbye forever is antiquated; the new challenge moving forward will be learning how to engage in these new relationships. Although the person may physically be gone, their influence and love are an indelible energy. They remain by our sides and participate in our lives – and memorial objects that help us celebrate that fact and remember our dead are powerful. In fact, this understanding is catching on in the world of death care professionals, and hopefully, generations to come will take comfort in this newer lens through which we can choose to view death.
Archer commented on her hope for the future: “We have witnessed the reassurance and closure that Eterneva’s diamonds bring its customers, and this research further backs what we’ve always suspected to be true: anchor items impact individuals tremendously, and now, it is undeniable. Immediately, we recognized that this could be part of a larger conversation surrounding the grieving process and look forward to our continued research partnership with Baylor University.”
Grief will never be easy, but the loss of loved ones does not have to have the sense of finality and darkness in which we often find ourselves stuck. That cultural change will happen more quickly and naturally with companies like Eterneva leading the way.
Read about Eterneva’s latest funding expansion here: https://www.statesman.com/business/20200716/austinrsquos-eterneva-which-makes-diamonds-from-cremated-ashes-raises-3-million-for-expansion