Many of us avoid talking about or planning for our deaths.
Not only is it important to understand the choices available to you long before you need them, but your loved ones may also already have this topic on their minds. In fact, a 2015 survey found that 89% of adults over 40 years of age would find a discussion about their end-of-life options meaningful.
While casket burials have long been the standard in America, cremation has become an increasingly popular alternative. Here are a few things to consider when deciding whether cremation or burial is the best option for you or your loved ones.
The Burial Process
First, let's take a quick look at what the traditional burial process includes.
Burial generally involves embalming (preserving) a deceased person's body soon after their passing. They're then either laid to rest in a casket or wrapped in a burial shroud before being interred. This process keeps the body intact and can be done immediately after death or after a funeral and memorial service takes place.
The casket is often buried in a cemetery plot, but may also be placed in a mausoleum or interred on the family's property. The location is often marked with a customized headstone or grave marker and gives those left behind a place to visit and pay their respects.
The Cremation Process
Cremation is an alternative to burial that involves burning the deceased's body into ash made of bone fragments, known as cremated remains or cremains. The process uses a specialized industrial furnace called a retort and takes 2-3 hours. Embalming the body isn't required unless you're having a viewing service before the cremation takes place.
Some families prefer to attend the cremation. Many crematoriums are willing to oblige if you request ahead of time, though space is often limited. After the process is complete, the remains are placed in a container, often an urn, and given to the deceased's representative.
After cremation, the remains can either be buried, kept at home, scattered, or turned into a memorial object. Check out this post to learn more details about cremation and the process behind it.
Cremation or Burial: Things to Consider
Depending on your circumstances, preferences, and religious or moral beliefs, some end-of-life options will be a better fit than others. Here are a few topics to consider when making your decision.
Many people who choose cremation over burial do so because of the high cost associated with traditional funeral proceedings. There are more expenses than you might think:
• Casket (anywhere from $2,000-$10,000)
• Embalming (not required with direct burial)
• Grave liner or a burial vault
• Cemetery plot or mausoleum and maintenance
• Funeral and graveside services
• Headstone or grave marker
While cremation itself isn't inexpensive, it can be much more cost effective if you select a direct cremation (no embalming) and hold your own private memorial service afterward. When you're planning out a funeral or memorial, be sure to balance what's important to you with what you can afford.
Both traditional burials and cremation release harmful chemicals into the environment. Cremation uses large amounts of gas and electricity to run the furnace. The burning process also releases carbon fumes into the atmosphere.
Even so, traditional burials are generally considered to have a worse ecological impact. Embalming chemicals contain carcinogens that can leak from caskets into the ground when decomposition begins. In addition, the casket industry harvests valuable natural resources like metals and hardwoods and can contribute to pollution during production.
One of the largest ecological advantages of cremation is that it doesn't use up (and potentially contaminate) large plots of land. But there are also more eco-friendly options for burial. You can skip the embalming process and instead opt for a direct burial with a casket made from decomposable materials like wicker.
Tradition and Religious Beliefs
If your family is religious or deeply traditional, you may be met with resistance for suggesting anything other than the orthodox funeral with casket burial. Most modern religions now permit cremation, though they don't always encourage it. One of those is the Catholic church, which recently decided to allow cremation if funeral rites are performed ahead of time with the body present.
In general, people with Catholic, Christian, Jewish, or Muslim faith backgrounds prefer a casket burial due to beliefs surrounding the afterlife. But other religions, such as Buddhism and Hinduism, actually prefer cremation. Even if you or your loved one aren't actively religious, many people prefer to follow a faith-based tradition when it comes to end-of-life proceedings.
Both casket burial and cremation provide options for remembering a loved one long after their passing. If you choose to take advantage of embalming, either one allows for a viewing and funeral service. For those who choose cremation but are still want to have a viewing, many funeral homes will rent out a casket for the service.
Interring remains, whether by casket burial or cremation, provides loved ones with a physical gravesite to visit. But for those who aren't tied to a location or can't afford a cemetery plot, cremation enables you to keep your loved one close at home or scatter their ashes in a meaningful place.
Cremation also creates many opportunities for creative memorials. You can now have your loved one's ashes turned into a gemstone, jewelry, a vinyl record, or an hourglass urn. Or, if they have their heart set on the stars, you can even send a portion of their ashes into space.
Deciding Between Cremation and Burial
The cremation or burial decision isn't one that has a single right answer. It's important to take the time to talk with your loved ones and decide which is right for your circumstances. Both methods have significant pros and cons, so make sure not to rush into your choice.
If you're considering cremation as an option, make sure you check out our other posts on cremation urns and memorial jewelry.