Deciding how your body will be put to rest after you die is a very personal, very important choice. Some rely on family tradition to guide their decision, while others may decide on an alternate path. Cremation has recently become a more common choice; in 2013, about 45.3% of deceased Americans were cremated (versus only 24% in 1998) and the number is projected to continue growing.
But what happens when you decide cremation is the right path for you, but your family and friends object? How do you convince them to see your side, while respecting the sensitive beliefs they hold? This guide will help you anticipate what objections may arise, provide you with ways to overcome those objections, and empower you to make and hold to the choice that’s right for you.
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Cremation has been shunned for religious reasons for decades, especially in the Christian and Jewish communities. Whether you were raised in a denomination that you no longer practice or have merely adapted your views to a more modern perspective, your family may not be ready to make the same adjustments to their beliefs. Or maybe you’ve never quite shared the same beliefs as your loved ones and hadn’t needed to address it until the topic of cremation arose. In any case, to help your family understand your perspective, it’s important to also understand theirs.
While it is becoming a slightly more neutral topic in the community, cremation has never been prominent in the Christian church. Burial tends to be the favored post-mortem ritual. This is largely due to the belief that God created the human body in his image and that the Holy Spirit dwells within it. Thus, even in death, the body should be treated with the utmost respect. It is also noted that because Jesus Christ was buried and raised bodily from the dead, burial is a way to bear witness to the resurrection yet to come.
Further, in ancient times, cremation was a ritual performed by Pagans, and thus has negative connotations to Christians. When discussed in the Bible, body burning was reserved for witches and heretics. It was also used as punishment for criminal acts or improper behavior.
The fact is: burial is the traditional Christian route. It’s a ritual that’s been performed for hundreds of years, and many modern Christians aren’t comfortable with deviating from that tradition. If your family views cremation as destruction of the body, explain to them why you don’t. Perhaps you view the decomposition that occurs after burial as a similar, but slower, destruction. Maybe the idea of spending eternity underground makes you feel uneasy. Or maybe you believe that there is a spiritual element to cremation: ashes to ashes, dust to dust. Just as every member of your family holds his or her own personal religious beliefs, so do you. Even if they don’t agree, and even if they don’t completely understand, they must respect what you hold in your heart to be true.
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Cremation is also argued against in Judaism. The Talmud specifically addresses cremation more than once, again favoring the traditional route of burial. Ultimately, it concludes that burial is a religious obligation and when cremation occurs, that obligation has not been met. One Talmudic legend depicts Titus ordering his corpse to be cremated and his ashes scattered in order to escape God’s judgment. Thus, it is often inferred that anyone requesting cremation demonstrates a lack of belief in resurrection and in God’s judgment.
However, some disagree with the logic that cremation interferes with God’s abilities and plans of resurrection. This stance argues that if burial is the “correct” method, it implies that God can restore bodies that have decomposed naturally. If He can overcome decomposition, and is in fact all-powerful, why wouldn’t He be able to overcome a body that has been cremated? Cremation doesn’t have to mean disregarding God and His plans; instead, it can serve as a direct correlation to your beliefs and personal relationship with Him.
The use of crematoriums during the Holocaust adds another especially delicate issue to Judaism and cremation. Many, understandably so, view cremation as disrespectful in light of the thousands of Jewish prisoners whose bodies were desecrated by the Nazis in this way. Because this is such a personal, sensitive issue, if a loved one cites this reasoning, tread lightly. Remind him or her that your own cremation will be performed in a controlled environment by a trained, respectful professional. It may even be beneficial to allow your loved one to help choose a funeral home or crematorium; that way, he or she can speak to the director and know exactly who will help put you to rest. Gently remind your family member that while those who perished in the Holocaust weren’t given a traditional burial, you have no doubt that God still welcomed them with open arms and that He will do the same for you.
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Sometimes, it’s the mere idea of discussing your death that troubles loved ones. It seems a morbid, even callous, conversation: how to handle your physical body after you’ve passed on. But establishing a plan can make the process easier once the time does come. Your family and friends will be able to focus more on saying goodbye and less on the logistics.
Though it is certainly an uncomfortable, morose topic, it’s important to discuss your arrangement wishes early. This means not only addressing the fact that you want a cremation, but also what happens before and after. Maybe you want a funeral service before your body is cremated, or maybe you want one afterward with an urn of your ashes replacing the casket. Keep in mind that direct cremation (without any services) can be tough on your loved ones. Many feel that they need a memorial service in order to properly say goodbye. In addition, though the scattering of ashes to you may be a peaceful, graceful way to be put to rest, it can often be traumatizing to those who do the scattering. This is especially true if your family was already uncomfortable with the idea of cremation. That doesn’t mean you have to change your plans or wishes, it just means it’s important to prepare your loved ones so they aren’t blindsided in the midst of the tragedy of losing you.
And it’s not just directly after your death that people may struggle to cope with your cremation. In traditional burials, family and friends have a specific location they can go to memorialize you and once again feel close to you. Make this a part of your arrangements conversation. It might mean establishing a place special to you that you’d like your loved ones to visit when they miss you, or even a burial of some or all of your ashes. If you choose for your remains to be scattered, maybe it means telling your family that by returning to the Earth in this way, you’ll be able to travel anywhere that they need you. Remember, sharing your own beliefs about spirituality and the afterlife could make all the difference in making your loved ones understand and accept your wishes.
The Numbers: Appealing to a Loved One’s Sense of Logic
While it may seem a cold approach, the best way to reach your loved ones may be to crank out statistics. It’s common knowledge that funerals are expensive, but not everyone realizes just how expensive they can actually be. Cremation is often a more economical route, and pointing this out may defeat any remaining reservations.
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Your family will be dealing with a lot in the event of your passing, and finances will make up a great part of their stress. Some have money specifically put aside to help with funeral costs, but what if the death was sudden? And with funeral costs constantly on the rise, what if it wasn’t enough?
The average cost of a funeral falls at about $6,500. Caskets alone can cost about $2,000 and up, depending on their material and embellishments. In comparison, the average cost of a cremation with a basic memorial service costs about $1,600, and direct cremations can even run under $1,000. That’s $5,000 that your loved ones won’t have to fret over, while still being able to put you to rest. Point out to your family that not only will it save them grief at the time, but it will also put your own mind at ease now knowing your passing won’t cause them financial burden.
The topic of cremation is a sensitive one, and there are countless opinions on the matter. If you decide you wish to be cremated, sit your loved ones down when the time is right to discuss it with them. Be understanding and respectful of any objections they may have, but don’t lose sight of your own beliefs. While it may be difficult for them initially, you can help your family accept your wishes so that when the time comes, everyone can feel at peace.
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