Like many Americans, you’re probably carefully weighing the merits of cremation versus a traditional burial. While in 1958, less than 4 percent of Americans were cremated, the Cremation Association of North America estimates that over 50 percent will be cremated by 2018. This substantial increase in popularity is due to significant changes in the religious expectations, geography, beliefs and families of many Americans. So before you make a decision, consider the ways that cremation makes sense for modern adults making end-of-life plans.
Modern Families Are More Mobile
A hundred years ago, family plots in cemeteries and family graveyards were common because most extended families lived close together for their entire lives. Now, in an era where cross-country moves are common, it makes less sense to make plans to be buried with your extended family. Even if you choose to be buried in the family plot, there’s also no assurance that relatives will be able to visit your gravesite with any regularity.
Cremation also allows greater flexibility when setting the date of a memorial service. An open casket funeral requires that mourners travel within a few days of their loss to attend the ceremony. However, if you plan to be cremated, the person who makes your final arrangements can schedule a memorial at a time when more people can make travel plans to attend.
Cremation May Be More Environmentally Responsible
You may also consider cremation if you’re concerned about the environmental impact of a traditional burial. Many embalming chemicals are known carcinogens, and the metal and wood used to create caskets represents large amounts of embodied energy. There’s also the fear that the United States may run out of burial space. It’s estimated that roughly 76 million Americans will reach their average life expectancy between 2024 and 2042. To bury them all, it would require 130 square miles of land.
However, it is important to know that cremation does have some environmental impact. The energy consumption required to produce cremains is equivalent to the energy you consume for one month. Plus, cremation is a source of mercury air pollution due to the dental fillings found in many bodies.
Religious Expectations Have Changed
Many religions once prescribed a traditional funeral and burial as part of their religious tenets, but many modern churches now allow, or even encourage, cremation as an alternative to a burial. For example, the Catholic Church forbid cremation until 1963, but now many Catholics view cremations as a theologically sound choice. Some churches have even built their own columbariums to serve their congregations, which increases the convenience of cremation while giving people of faith a place to respectfully store cremains. Since there are still some sects that prescribe burials, you might want to discuss any possible religious ramifications with your spiritual leader if you’d prefer cremation.
Atheism and Agnosticism Is More Prevalent
An important corollary to the change in religious beliefs is the increasing popularity of agnosticism and atheism. If you do not have formal religious beliefs, you’ll use other factors to decide if you want to have a traditional burial. The Cremation Association of North America found that states that have the highest number of people choosing cremation also have populations that are less likely to be associated with a formal religion.
Cremation Does Not Preclude Other Traditions
Choosing cremation means that you’ve only decided how you want your body to be treated after death. Cremation still allows you the option of planning an open-casket funeral, or allows you to have a ceremony before your ashes are buried or inurned. Your family can still view your body and say goodbye even if you don’t choose to be embalmed. Selecting cremation is just one small part of the overall planning process.
New Technology Allows for Alternative Cremain Usage
Some relatives may prefer cremation because storing your cremains privately brings them comfort. While you can choose a traditional urn to store your ashes, some companies allow you to dispose of your ashes in increasingly unique ways. You can choose to have your ashes launched into space, compressed into a diamond or planted with a tree.
Cultural Expectations Have Shifted
Because cremation has become more common, many people are more comfortable choosing this option. Fifty years ago, you may not have known many people who preferred cremation over burial. Now, the National Funeral Directors Association projects that 71 percent of Americans will choose cremation by 2030. In other countries, such as the United Kingdom and Canada, a large majority already chooses cremation. Therefore, you should expect that cremation will continue to become the standard way to handle remains.
Cremation Is Often More Economical
Although costs vary, you may find that cremation is far less expensive than other options. Therefore, if you’d prefer to save your money for another purpose, you may want to choose cremation. Prepaying for cremation services can further lower the cost. Your cremation service provider can also help you investigate if you qualify for Veterans Administration reimbursement or other benefits to make this option even more affordable. Of course, before you make any decisions based on any perceived financial benefit, you should discuss actual costs with a trusted prearrangement adviser.
Whether you’re worried about the environmental, financial or familial impact of your prearrangements, cremation offers significant benefits. To discuss cremation and begin the preplanning process of making cremation arrangements, contact the Neptune Society today.