Choosing what happens to your body after you pass on is an important, personal decision. Cremation is increasingly becoming the preferred option for Americans, but there are many misconceptions surrounding the process.
This resource will help you navigate your options, whether you’re life planning or have recently lost a loved one. It will explore the practical and personal benefits of cremation, and considerations for your family. It will also offer advice to those struggling to accept a loved one’s decision to be cremated.
Table of Contents:
- Why Cremation? Practical Considerations
- Why Cremation? Personal Considerations
- Coping with Personal Objections to Cremation
Why Cremation? Practical Considerations
There are myriad reasons a person may prefer cremation over burial. First, we’ll discuss the more practical side: cost, flexibility, and family members who live in different states or countries. It’s no wonder that cremation rates have surpassed those of burial.
The Cost of Cremation
It’s difficult to think about finances following a loss, but cost is an important factor to consider when choosing burial or cremation. Even if your loved one set aside money for final arrangements, the bills add up quickly during memorial planning.
The average cost of a cremation can be one-third less than the average cost of a traditional funeral and burial. This is because burials require additional costs such as embalming and a casket.
Urns and cremation containers are typically far less expensive than caskets. They can be as simple or elaborate as a family prefers — or as their budget allows.
You can click here for a more comprehensive understanding of all the costs associated with choosing cremation, and how they stack up against the many fees incurred for a traditional burial and funeral.
Cremation Allows Flexibility in Memorial Planning
A potential issue with traditional burial is that it must occur soon after the passing. Services must be planned within days, meaning out-of-town family and friends must scramble to travel. This can lead to:
- Expensive plane tickets
- Overnight road trips
- Taking your kids out of school
- Taking time off work
- Paying for hotel stays
- Paying for gas and other travel expenses
This kind of emotional, physical, and financial stress only adds to an already devastating situation. It can be overwhelming to handle all at once, especially when your priority should be grieving with your family.
Cremation removes the strict time constraints. It typically occurs soon after a person has passed, and the ashes are given to a designated family member. Afterward, the loved ones are free to take their time to plan meaningful memorials everyone can attend.
There is also important flexibility with regards to laying your loved one’s cremains to rest. Some families decide to scatter the ashes in special locations. Other families may purchase multiple urns so multiple members may keep their loved one near.
Some families may even choose to incorporate a loved one’s remains into a permanent memorial. Memorial trees and gardens give survivors a beautiful place to “visit” the departed. It’s a meaningful way to both honor your loved one and give back to the environment.
Distant Family Members
Many families prefer traditional burial and memorial services, but consider how much the average American family has shifted in recent years. Instead of staying close to home, people now have the ability to travel all around the world to:
- Attend school
- Find work
- Volunteer or work with global charities
- Live abroad
What has previously been the “family plot” may no longer make sense for families who have spread out. Cremation opens up many options for memorial sites, and provides the opportunity to have multiple memorial locations.
Why Cremation? Personal Considerations
Final arrangements are incredibly personal. For some, it’s an extension of religious beliefs, and people often put much thought into their wishes. It’s important to try to understand the more intimate reasons a person may choose cremation.
Some people see cremation as a spiritual element of their passing — ashes to ashes, dust to dust. They may hope to return to the earth in their new form, no longer burdened by mortal bodies. A person may want their ashes to be scattered:
- Into the wind
- In the ocean
- At a park
- In their backyard
- Somewhere with special significance, like the spot where they were married
This idea of a spirit breaking free is often tied with religious beliefs, though some religions don’t advocate cremation. There’s been a recent decline in organized worship participation, but it’s also a continued evolution of religion. Some feel limited by strict doctrine and instead incorporate modern ideas into their faith — including cremation.
It’s important to keep in mind there may be certain restrictions when traveling with cremated remains. Check to see if you need permission in advance for transporting them.
Burial is rough on the planet for several reasons:
- Bodies are embalmed in harsh chemicals
- Caskets aren’t completely biodegradable
- Cement burial vaults typically surround even eco-friendly caskets
- Harsh embalming chemicals can ultimately end up polluting the water table below
- There simply isn’t enough room to bury the world’s population
We receive so much from Earth in life that many people feel compelled to give back in death. Cremation typically skips burial altogether, and some even request having a tree planted in their honor. For many, it’s simply a matter of not taking up space after passing on.
It’s important to note that cremation is not completely without its own environmental impact. Recent studies have shown a link in cremations and carbon dioxide emissions. Further, it takes a significant amount of energy to cremate someone.
Research continues to solve the cremation pollution issue. Still, there is evidence that it is certainly less hazardous to the environmental in the long run than burial, especially if you choose a green cremation. To date, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) hasn’t placed restrictions on the general process.
Discomfort with Burial
Some people find solace in being literally lain to rest, but others find it an upsetting idea. Claustrophobia can cause someone to feel frightened to think of being buried for eternity, especially with visitors walking over where they are buried. Even someone who hasn’t been diagnosed with claustrophobia may feel overwhelmed at the notion.
There are also those who aren’t comfortable with their body decomposing. Though it’s typically been preserved prior to burial, the chemicals only delay the process. Ultimately, the body breaks down, and no one wants to imagine it for themselves or a loved one.
Another unsettling thought around burial might be eventually getting “dug up.” Some may even worry that a major storm could wash out their grave. Others still might fear grave robbers will disturb their eternal slumber.
Just like anything else, burial isn’t right for everyone. Some feel very strongly about their fears or worries around it, so be as respectful as possible.
Coping with Personal Objections to Cremation
Despite their best efforts, some loved ones will struggle with the idea of cremation. It’s necessary for everyone to show each other compassion and understanding, even amid disagreements.
If you are planning your own final arrangements, be sure to discuss your plans with loved ones. Whether you have a terminal illness or are planning far ahead, your family should learn your preference ahead of time. Be prepared to hear out their concerns and answer questions.
You might need to give some members of the family time to process your decision. They may be reconciling a conflict with their religious or personal beliefs, so allow them space. Be receptive, honest, and empathetic during every discussion.
If there is an objection to cremation surrounding a recent loss in the family, gather everyone for a calm conversation. If your loved one explicitly stated a preference for cremation, there isn’t much room for debate. Still, it’s important to let everyone express their feelings.
If you’re familiar with your loved one’s specific reasoning for wanting a cremation, clue your family in. If you aren’t sure, open the subject up for discussion. Allow yourselves to come up with some kind of understanding, especially for those struggling most.
In the event there’s been a recent loss and the departed left no instruction, the family should decide together. However, spouses will typically speak for spouses, parents for children, and children for elderly parents. Defer as necessary, and support this person completely in their decision — coming together is crucial. It’s not always easy when emotions are high, but there are ways you can compromise to find the best solution for everybody. The most important thing to remember is that you have all the same goal: to respect what your loved one would have wanted.
Should the decision fall to the group, allow everyone to give input. Make sure everyone is respectful of each other’s feelings and opinions. Give yourselves at least overnight to weigh the options and come to a consensus.
There may be members of the family displeased at cremation despite a majority decision. Offer your support to them as a listening ear and shoulder to lean on. Some feel very strongly against it, and showing compassion for their genuine distress can help ease their pain.
There isn’t an easy choice to make when it comes to final arrangements, but cremation can simplify the process. Consider the practical and personal benefits carefully. Make the decision that’s right for you or your loved one — then focus on your grief and your family.
Cremation is the flexible and affordable choice, but it is always difficult to plan final arrangements for a loved one when faced with grief. For guidance, information, resources, and more you can download our free comprehensive planning checklist for those who are trying to handle all the practical matters of planning while struggling with loss.