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Deciding between traditional burial or cremation is a very personal and significant decision. Balancing the wishes of your loved one and/or family members, religious beliefs, and potential financial limitations can make the decision more difficult.
However, over the past several decades, there has been a general shift if people’s preference towards cremation from traditional burial. New findings by insurance firm Choice Mutual found that 44% of Americans plan on being cremated, which is a 40% increase from the 1960s. Traditional burials were the second most popular choice, with 35% of Americans preferring the method.
Below is a brief discussion of the two types of disposition as well as some factors to consider which may help your decision.
Please also look at our alternatives to burial and cremation articles, for additional ideas on how you or your loved one can be laid to rest.
Traditional Burial vs. Cremation: Key Points
The main difference between the two lies in the fundamental process of the disposition. When a body is cremated, it is broken down by heat and flames into fragments of bone and basic chemical compounds which are then ground to ash. With a burial, the body remains intact and is oftentimes preserved through the process of embalming.
Both cremation and burial can take place immediately after death, either following a traditional funeral service or before a memorial service. Also, like traditional burial, cremated remains can be buried either in a burial plot or a mausoleum, but they can also be scattered, kept in one’s home, or memorialized in any other number of ways the family chooses.
For both types of dispositions, you can choose whether to have a viewing or a service. If you choose not to, it is called a direct cremation or a direct burial (also referred to as a “simple cremation” or “simple burial”). All funeral homes offer this option and it is the least expensive option.
A key difference between the two is the price and how that affects the overall cost of a funeral. Cremation services tend to be less expensive, as cremation does not require the purchase of a casket, embalming, or a cemetery plot, for example. Cremation costs can range from $500 to $4000, while a traditional burial can range from $2,000 to $10,000. For more information, view average costs of different types of funerals in each state.
In many cultures and faiths, viewing the body is an important part of the funeral ritual. Many people mistakenly believe that choosing cremation as an option makes this impossible. But, in fact, it is not uncommon for a viewing to take place before cremation.
Religion can play a major role in dictating which disposition is chosen. Various religions prohibit cremation and require that the body be buried in the ground; for others, it is becoming more widely accepted; and in the case of Hinduism, for example, it is mandated. It is important to consider the beliefs of your loved one and their family when choosing between burial and cremation.
A traditional funeral usually takes place within 2-3 weeks after the death, which often doesn’t give families much time to plan for the service. A body is usually cremated within a few days of passing and allows the family the ability to plan a memorial service at a later date. These kinds of considerations can also be discussed with both family and friends and the funeral director.
Cremations are generally more environmentally friendly than a burial as there is no need to use chemicals such as formaldehyde and methanol to preserve the body, a casket is not required (an alternative eco-friendly container can be used) and no land resources are used to bury the body.
Whether your loved one will be buried or cremated is a big decision. Take into consideration their faith and their wishes. Both cremation and traditional burial have their pros and cons. In the end, it is important to honor their wishes and make sure their disposition is something they would be comfortable with and happy about.