The topic of death is never an easy thing to discuss with your loved ones. More often than not, it’s a discussion that ends up taking place far later than it should.
Delaying this discussion can force you and your loved ones into high-pressure situations at the most trying time. Uninformed and grieving, your loved ones could be forced to guess at your final wishes.
To cement your wishes and start the discussion with your loved ones, you should first be informed about the options available to you, the most popular of which are cremation and burial. In this post, we’ll examine the differences between these two popular choices, paying particular attention to their traditional and alternative processes, as well as the legacies each could allow you to leave.
*Please note that this article does go into detail regarding the separate processes of cremation and burial, some of which may not be suitable for all readers. If you’re ready to start planning, however, please check out the Cremation Benefits Section.
Cremation, according to Cremation Resource, is the reduction of the body to its basic elements and dried bone fragments. The body is placed into the cremation chamber and exposed to high temperatures (1400 – 1800 degrees Fahrenheit). Over a span of one to three hours, this heat transforms the body into three to seven pounds of cremains, which are carefully transferred to a cremation urn that will be handed over to loved ones to fulfill final wishes.
While burials can be faith-dependent, the typical process begins with the embalming of the body. Embalming, according to the Funeral Consumers Alliance, is a “physically invasive process, in which special devices are implanted and embalming fluids are injected into the body to temporarily slow its decomposition.” Further adjustments are then made to, among other areas, the hair, fingernails and wardrobe before placement in a casket.
Prior to the funeral, the embalmed body is traditionally displayed at the visitation so that friends and family members can view the body, pay their respects and reflect on their memories of the decedent.
The funeral takes place a day or two after the visitation and is more of a formal memorial to the decedent than the visitation is. Funerals tend to be representative of the decedent’s beliefs and can be performed at a funeral home, a place of worship or even someone’s home.
The burial itself is the final goodbye to the decedent and takes place at the grave or tomb. Often the casket is closed and lowered into the ground after final words are said by friends, family and/or religious officials.
Making These Popular Methods Green
Cremation requires intense heat. And, according to SevenPonds, “most crematoriums require the burning of natural gas, and therefore the release of greenhouse gases.” That said, modern crematoriums are very fuel efficient, and are working to become even more so. Because there is such limited land space available in the world today, the flexibility of memorial continues to make cremation a much greener option than burials.
To ensure that cremation is even more environmentally friendly as possible, though, you can first ask prospective crematoriums about their greenhouse gas and mercury emissions. From there, if final wishes include burying a casket or an urn, biodegradable options are available.
Burials include the placement of foreign objects, including the casket and the body, into the ground. Both embalming fluids and the material of the casket, the most harmful of which are lacquered wood and chemical-laden steel, can harm the environment when placed in the ground. Over time, these chemicals mingle with the surrounding soil and can be taken elsewhere with rain and runoff.
But there are ways to ensure that burial is as environmentally friendly as possible. First, you can seek out the three different categories of cemeteries that the Green Burial Council has certified. According to SevenPonds, you can also consider bypassing embalming altogether. Lastly, you can seek out a biodegradable casket.
Placed in an urn, your cremains are portable. Loved ones can take turns housing the urn. At their convenience, loved ones can orchestrate a memorial service or a celebration of your life. Because of this flexibility, a memorial place can be in places other than a cemetery — they can bury the urn in a purchased plot, scatter the cremains in a special location, or keep them in a dedicated place.
The freedom that cremation allows could be the reason why the Cremation Association of North America is able to report that the U.S. cremation rate has nearly doubled in the past 15 years, from 24.8 percent in 1999 to 46.7 percent in 2014.
While cremation seems to embody a nomadic afterlife, burials are rooted not only in tradition, but also in having a place to call home. It is there, potentially in your local cemetery, that you’ll rest forever. In addition, the burial process creates for your loved ones a destination that they can visit individually or as a group for years to come.
Which is a Better Option?
The options don’t end here, but when it comes to choosing burial or cremation, the best option is to use resources like the Neptune Society to help you figure out what’s best for you and your loved ones.
By discussing end-of-life plans with your loved ones, you’re ensuring two things: that your loved ones are set up to make as smooth of a transition as possible, and that death doesn’t have to be a lonely endeavor.