The New American Way of Death

By 2017, 1 out of 2 Americans will choose cremation over burial. Our changing attitude toward this final rite of passage says everything about the way we live now

Lars Tunbjörk / Agence Vu for TIME

A body in the fire-based crematory oven of Lakewood Cemetery.

George Alan Thompson II, known as Big Al or the Fish Man, son of Columbus, Ohio, resident of Kennesaw, Ga., onetime bartender, restaurant manager, real estate agent, motorcyclist, owner of aquarium-maintenance business Aquaholics and noted jokester, died May 28, 2010, at age 50. He is now a reef.

Big Al sits at the bottom of the ocean 1½ miles (2.4 km) off Pensacola Beach, Florida. Fish swim through him. Corals will soon grow on him. So will soft sponges--but not yet. After all, Big Al's new life as a reef is still in its infancy. It was three years ago, on...

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