Cremation vs. Burial… What’s Right For You?

One of the biggest decisions of your final arrangements is the question of cremation vs. burial. It’s an important choice because it affects every aspect of your arrangements. It’s also an entirely personal choice and in California you have the right to make your own arrangements, to be sure they come out exactly as you wish.

Some primary concerns when making the choice of cremation vs. burial are cost, religious rules, and family traditions. I also hear folks discussing environmental concerns.

Lets start with cremations. Cremation costs less than a funeral right now. Prices vary all over the country but I see basic cremations ranging anywhere from $900 to $1,200 in California. I suspect this will change because there is a growing trend towards cremation. According to the Roseville and Granite Bay Press Tribune the cremation rate for the United States is currently 43.5%. It’s been forecasted that the U.S. will reach a 50% cremation rate by 2018. Here in California the cremation rate is all ready at 50%. Forward thinking funeral directors will increase their cremation pricing in the future to compensate for this, to make up for earnings they would have gotten from burials. Prices always seem to increase for everything, that’s as inevitable as death and taxes.

Your religion or spirituality may have enormous impact on your choice to cremate or bury. Some religions simply forbid cremation like Islam, Eastern Orthodox Christianity and certain fundamental Christian groups. The Roman Catholic Church only recently allowed cremations. If you’re very religious chances are you know your religious position on final disposition. If you’re not religious but your family is, you may want to discuss their feelings before starting your pre-need arrangement. But remember, ultimately the decision is yours.

Family traditions have less impact on your choice to cremate or bury than they once did. Years ago families were buried in family plots. Family cemeteries were kept for generations. Our culture doesn’t promote this anymore. (I believe this is because we are more mobile and also because infant mortality is much lower in the U.S. than it was back in those days.) If your family does have a family plot, you should go check that out before making your decision. But really, even if your family maintains it’s own cemetery you could certainly place your inurned remains there.

Most folks have a misunderstanding about cremation and the environment. People don’t realize that the cremation chamber (retort) will have to be kept around 1800 degrees F, for a couple hours using natural gas. Then there is smoke and ash put into the air. Last is the final disposition of the cremated remains which can end up in water sources or the ocean. (It is absolutely illegal to dispose of remains in a stream, lake etc. in California! Don’t do it!)

Finally, cremations are irreversible. Remains are completely destroyed. Should there be a question in the future about your cause of death or a future way to do important DNA research, say to cure disease in your grandchild for example, that your remains would be needed for… oh well. They’re just ashes now.

On now to burials. They can cost a great deal more. I see burials ranging from $2000 to $12,000 online, and that’s before paying cemetery costs to purchase, open and close a grave, or memorial stone purchase and placement. The difference, though, is that with a burial in a cemetery there is a guaranteed location for your remains. Forever. Friends can come reflect and future generations can come visit or do genealogy research. It also means that your remains are not destroyed, should the need for future research arise.

Some folks find peace of mind knowing their exact resting place for eternity, as opposed to being ashes tossed into the wind. Or maintained well for a few years and then who-knows-what could happen to them.

Aside from Hindu funerals, burials are generally accepted by most of the major religions in the States. If your religious, cultural or family traditions require burial it does become a preferable choice.

Environmentally, I don’t believe burials have an entirely negative effect. Decomposition is a natural, necessary process that occurs to all organic matter sooner or later. If you are deeply concerned about environmental issues you should check out green burials, a new idea in California. Green cemeteries accept un-embalmed remains in caskets that are easily reclaimed by the earth.

In the end, the question of burial vs. cremation is one only you can answer for yourself. I hope this post gives readers a starting point for thought or discussion with their families.