Burial or Cremation



Burial or Cremation

Funeral Homes
When it comes to arranging a funeral today, you have two main options to choose between when selecting your disposition method – burial or cremation.  A ‘funeral’ refers to the activity that takes place in arranging the disposition.  A funeral or funeral service can be a burial or a cremation.  Deciding between burial and cremation is a personal choice.  Many choose based upon the traditions and beliefs associated with their faith, but changing religiosity has meant that people tend to be less fixed in which disposition method to select these days. 
Choosing Burial

For those who believe in burial as opposed to cremation, they feel that this ritual demonstrates respect for the human body.  They also believe that the body should be allowed to decay by a normal process instead of the hastening which occurs during cremation.  Although the Catholic Church accepted cremation in the 1960’s, many Christians are still uncomfortable with the notion of cremation and prefer to opt for a burial.   Burial still outweighs cremation in many of the southern and Midwest states where religious views and tradition still underpin much of the funeral ritual.

Choosing a funeral burial service
If you choose burial you will require a casket, a cemetery plot, possibly a burial vault and you may have the option to choose to have the deceased embalmed.  These items alone can cost in the region of $2,000 - $10,000, and therefore make burial a more expensive option than cremation.

The ritual of burial is an opportunity for family and friends to say a last goodbye to their loved one.  After the funeral, they will then often gather at the home of a family member where food and drink is served and a funeral reception is held.   This provides a further opportunity for the sharing of grief and mutual consolation of the bereaved.  However, this same practice can be observed and a cremation conducted as opposed to the burial.  Some people feel uncomfortable with the notion of their body slowly decaying underground.  Likewise there is a concern that the decline in burial will result in a loss of the legacy of history.  That a decline in traditional cemeteries and grave markers may erode the remnants of our culture for future generations.

Having a place to go to visit the departed provides solace to many loved ones.  Does a burial site provide a tangible link to the deceased?  Maybe, but cremated remains can also be interred, either in a gravesite or in a niche or columbarium, providing a dedicated site that family can visit.  Some families even prefer the fact that cremated remains can be kept close by at all times.

What is a ‘Green’ Burial?

‘Green’ burials have grown in popularity in recent years, as society has become more alerted to ecological and environmental concerns.  In some ways a green burial is reverting back to the natural method of burial we employed some hundred of years ago, before we used embalming chemicals and reinforced steel caskets.  For a green burial, the deceased is not embalmed, is placed into a simple shroud or wooden coffin and buried directly into the earth.  No chemicals, steel or concrete should be part of a green burial process. 

Choosing Cremation Choosing Cremation

The practice of cremation dates back to the Pre-Canaanites who used it until about 2,500 BC.  It was not practiced by the Egyptians, Jews, Phoenicians or Carthaginians.  The Greeks and Romans based their practices according to the way they viewed the afterlife.  Those who believed in a life after death buried their dead with food, pets and even servants to smooth the transition from one form of existence to another.  Others who believed that the body decays practiced cremation so that the deceased would have a speedy trip to the afterlife.

Today, cremation is not allowed by the Orthodox Jews, the Islamic religion, Eastern Orthodox religion and some Fundamental Christian sects.  Whereas religions such as Hinduism, Sikhism, Buddhism and Jainism all mandate cremation.

What exactly is cremation?

A cremation is usually conducted at a crematory.  The body of the deceased is placed into a cremation chamber or retort and reduced to fragments of bone and basic chemical compounds through temperatures ranging from 1,500 F to 2,000 F degrees.  The actual cremation process takes from two to three hours with the time depending upon the weight of the individual.   A casket is not required by law for a cremation, a suitable alternative container can be used.  This can be a basic cardboard or plywood box.  To read in more detail about cremation, visit our section on Understanding Cremation and Cremation Laws.

Environmental Impact of Burial and Cremation

There are environmental concerns about both burial and cremation.  As mentioned above burial today can be extremely detrimental to the natural ecology.  We actually bury into our earth more than enough embalming fluid every year to fill more than 8 Olympic-sized swimming pools, and there is concern about how this is affecting our water table as corpses decompose and these chemicals leak into the ground.  In some metro areas we are simply running out of space to bury the dead. 

Cremation has been viewed as a greener alternative as we are not burying so much chemicals, steel and concrete into the ground.  However, the use of energy to power the furnaces can be considered detrimental to the environment, as can some of the gases that are created as a result of cremation and poured into the atmosphere.

Changing funeral trends and options

Natural or ‘green’ options are gaining some popularity in both burial and cremation.  As mentioned above, green burials use just natural products, so they can be friendlier to the environment and also cost less.  Aquamation, Resomation or hydrolysis cremation is the process by which the body is disintegrated or dissolved using water and temperature.  This process is considered kinder on the environment as it does not produce inert gases and the resulting water and organic matter can be flushed safely into our drainage system.  Promession is another alternative method of disposition that involves freeze-drying human remains.

Cremation is certainly a growing trend in the U.S., and a trend that is going to continue.  Currently the cremation rate is at around 41% nationally but due to rise to around 60% by 2025.  Many other countries have cremation rates as high as 80% - 95% such as England, Germany and Japan.

Burial and Cremation Culture - Rituals and Customs

Some cultures have wakes for the departed whereby family and friends come together to pay their last respects.  Traditional Irish wakes are occasions for food, drink and music where grief for the passing of the deceased is mixed with a hearty send-off to the next world. 

In Mexico, the Day of the Dead is a National holiday celebrated on November 1 and 2.   Family reunions are held in cemeteries while coats of paint and structural repairs are made to gravesites.  Fresh flowers, candles, candy, food and drink are put on the graves as gifts to the deceased where a party atmosphere prevails.  Many candles are lit in remembrance and some families even hire mariachi bands. 

Whether you choose cremation or burial can be based upon cultural, religious and cost factors as well as upon the attitudes of the individuals responsible for making the final decision for interring their loved one if no specific instructions were provided in a Will.

Expert Author: Sara J. Marsden

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.

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Last revised: 11/20/2012

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