|The death care
industry is undergoing some significant changes at present, and what most
of us thought of, as the ‘traditional American funeral’ is maybe something
of a dying ritual. Although I believe there will always be a place
in American culture for the full-service traditional funeral, it certainly
seems that more options are available for death care now, and people are
making different choices.
To help you understand how
death rituals are changing and what alternative options are now available,
we have outlined here what the various alternatives to a standard burial
are today. A key aspect of these emerging alternatives is both changing
cultural and religious attitudes and costs. A traditional burial
costs around $7,755 (NFDA 2012) and this excludes the cost of the burial
plot. Many of the alternative funeral options we have discussed not
only offer something that is not ‘standard’ but maybe more unique, creative
and personalized. More importantly many funeral alternatives can
work out much more cost effective than a traditional burial.
Perhaps the most significant
change to date is the cremation trend. Cremation is already revolutionizing
the death care industry, and last year (2012) 42% of deaths nationally
resulted in cremation. This figure is forecast to reach around 65%
by 2025, although some industry experts expect it to hit 65% way before
then. Of course there are several states where the cremation rate
is already way above that. Florida, California, Oregon, Colorado,
Nevada, Montana, Hawaii and Washington all have higher cremation rates.
Direct Cremation is perhaps
the more revolutionary way that a new alternative is emerging. A
direct cremation, sometimes called a ‘direct disposal’, simply means that
the deceased is collected from the place of death and a cremation is conducted
immediately with no service. In some states a 48-hour waiting period
has to be complied with. The cremated remains are then returned directly
to the family. In many cases this can be arranged without the family
ever having to visit a funeral home. It can even be arranged all
online these days. Significantly, the whole direct cremation can
be conducted for as little as $495 in some states, but can generally be
arranged for around $1,000 in most states.
Once the direct cremation
has been conducted the family are at liberty to conduct services if they
wish, and/or scatter the ashes. Basically this means that a direct
cremation is the most inexpensive disposition alternative. However,
this in no way makes it any less dignified as you can arrange your own
personalized memorial service with the ashes present.
Direct cremation is the new
alternative that many within the funeral industry are resistive of.
It is dramatically reducing their profit margins. Nevertheless the
American public is embracing this new alternative for cheap death care.
Why pay out thousands of dollars on a funeral when you can arrange a disposition
for hundreds instead? And the reality is that many today are looking
for the cheapest funeral option available.
Home funeral, natural burial
or family-directed funeral
It was only really in the last
century that death care moved into the domain of service professionals.
Before that it was the norm for families to care for their own deceased,
preparing the body, arranging for a simple wooden coffin and taking the
body along to the cemetery to be interred. A natural, organic ritual.
Death, after all, is a natural process and just as we have culturally started
to demand more natural childbirth options, so too are we demanding natural
alternative options for death care.
The ‘home funeral’ or ‘natural
burial’ is seeing something of a revival. This alternative simply
means that the family chooses to not employ the services of a funeral director,
but instead care for the deceased at home. Do note: there are a few states
where a funeral director must be employed, even if it is just to issue
permits or transport the body.
There are advocates for home
death care around the United States and these groups will often assist
family in the basics of how to perform a home funeral. This alternative
to a traditional funeral can also prove more personalized and less expensive.
Obviously you are saving the cost of paying a funeral director for their
services, and a DIY coffin or shroud is often used, with burial in a green
burial site. Green burial sites fees vary but average at around $500.
So this means that a home burial can usually be conducted for less than
$1,000. You can find out more about this alternative by reading our
article on DIY funeral care, from the related articles section at the bottom
of the page.
Resomation or aquamation
This is a more unusual funeral
alternative, and involves alkaline hydrolysis to dispose of the body.
It is heralded by some as a new greener alternative to cremation, but it
is not gaining popularity very fast. The process involves the body
being submerged in a tank of water and lye, and subjected to intense heat.
The body is dissolved, the remaining green-brown liquid is flushed away
and the bones can be crumbled to form remains similar to ashes.
The process is used by the
Mayo Clinic to dispose of donated bodies, but there has been resistance
to the process in the U.S. Currently it is legal in Florida, Maine,
Minnesota, Oregon, and Ohio. It was legal in New Hampshire but they
are undergoing a one-year moratorium whilst the technology is studied before
general public use.
A Funeral Pyre
This is again a somewhat limited
alternative, as the only legal outdoor funeral pyre is in Colorado.
A couple in Arizona recently attempted to open up an outdoor funeral pyre
on their rural land in Southern Arizona but faced resistance. The
Crestone Project in Colorado offers natural outdoor cremation, where the
deceased is wrapped in a linen shroud, placed on the cremation pyre and
surrounded by juniper logs. It serves all faiths and even facilitates
the involvement of family in the cremation pyre process if desired.
A Sea burial
Many people feel drawn by the
ocean. Divers, who have spent hours in their lifetime underwater,
and marine personnel, can all feel that a burial at sea is a more befitting
alternative to a standard funeral. A sea burial can simply mean a
cremation and then a scattering at sea. This is certainly the simplest
and most cost-effective sea burial. However, it is possible to conduct
a full body burial at sea, there are just some specific Environmental Protection
Agency regulations to comply with. (EPA Regulations 21-5.3)
The burial must take place
at least 3 nautical miles from land and in water at least 600 feet deep.
Every effort must be made to ensure the body will sink to the bottom of
the ocean, so a weighted body bag or a casket with holes bored into it
must be used.
Considering that a marine
quality burial shroud that is suitable for full body burials at sea can
cost around $1,750.00 and the charter of a vessel can cost around $8,000
- $10,000, this does not make sea burials a cost effective alternative
to a traditional funeral.
However, a sea burial by
ash scattering can work out much cheaper. A direct cremation can
be performed for between $495 and $1,395, with an unattended sea scattering
costing between $200 - $400. So a sea burial can probably be achieved
for around a $1,000.
A Life Celebration
A ‘life celebration’ is the
noveau alternative to a standard funeral. It simply means that the
ritual is organized more as an uplifting event, as opposed to the traditional
somber funeral. The services of a celebrant may be employed, although
many funeral homes are now adapting by hosting their own life celebrations.
Typically a celebrant is not ordained or affiliated with any faith, although
they often fulfill the role that clergy would conduct.
A life celebration is deemed
a more personalized approach to commemoration. It may involve a special
theme relevant to the deceased, or such niche services as dove or butterfly
releases. It may often not be conducted in a funeral home, but in
some other venue. There are even ‘life celebration event planners'
similar to wedding planners. The celebrant will often charge a fixed
fee for their services, and they will spend some time with the family to
establish how best to commemorate the life of the deceased.
A life celebration can also
conducted as part of a direct cremation memorial service, or as part of
a home burial. In this way a life celebration need not be an elaborate
or expensive affair, it is more about paying tribute in the most befitting
and personalized way.
Ultimately a funeral is a
consumer purchase, and as consumers we all demand choice these days.
Choice and best value. We shop around and expect to get a deal.
We like to think we can personalize or customize our purchases. I
think these consumer trends are starting to impact upon the funeral trade,
and now we are seeking new alternatives to the once ‘standard’ or traditional
||Expert Author: Sara
Sara is the Editor in Chief
for US Funerals Online and has been researching and writing about the death
care industry in the US for the last 5 years.
looks to operate funeral pyre in Elephant Head