For those of us considering how we would like to have our final remains handled, cremation has become an increasingly popular option. In fact, a 2015 study by the Cremation Association of North America (CANA) indicated that two-thirds of Americans are at least “somewhat likely” to choose cremation.
A big factor in the increasing popularity of cremation is the rising cost of in-ground burial. In addition, many religions and cultures have come to be more accepting of cremation, and society is much less tied to any one place. But, even though it may seem like “everyone” is getting cremated, the choice is not always easy. It is a very personal decision that must be guided by your cultural and religious views as well as your finances.
Preference for Cremation is on the Rise
Many factors are contributing to the increasing popularity of cremation. Rising costs for in-ground burial, relaxing of certain religious and cultural constraints, awareness of the impact on the environment, and society's mobility, are all elements driving popularity.
Cremation is a Personal Preference
Even though it may seem like "everyone" is turning to cremation, the decision of whether or not it is right for you is very personal and requires careful consideration.
Top States for Cremation
While cremation rates are on the rise nationwide, it is still most popular in the Northwest US.
Cremation Gives You Many Memorialization Options
Many people think that with cremation you are limited in how you or your loved one can be memorialized. On the contrary. With cremation, as you do with in-ground burial, plus many others.
Despite many news reports about unscrupulous providers, most funeral directors and crematoria have your best interest at heart. As with any major purchase, it pays to be a wise shopper and do your homework.
Cremation Means Lots of Options
A common misconception about cremation is that it prevents you from having a traditional funeral. This couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, you have more memorialization options rather than fewer. Here are just a few of the ways you or your loved one can be honored.
- Funeral with a viewing, cremation to be held after.
- Funeral without a viewing, cremation to be held after.
- Memorial service at a traditional funeral home followed by interment of the ashes.
- Memorial service at an outside venue.
- Scattering of ashes at a location with meaning to the deceased.
With so many options, planning in advance becomes all the more important. This is especially true since how much your cremation will cost will be determined in large part by the type of service you have. For example, if you opt for a viewing it will be necessary to have the body embalmed. It will also require some kind of casket.
The point is–when you choose cremation you can have whatever type of service you would like. However, if your loved ones don’t know what you want then they may make a decision that doesn’t take into account your preferences. Preplanning can help you make the decision that’s right for you and take the burden off your loved ones when the time comes.
How to decide if cremation is right for you
Only you can decide if cremation is the way you would like to have your body cared for. The decision depends, on financial considerations, but it should also take into account the practices of your religion and culture. So consider your options and ask yourself the important questions listed below. Remember, there is no right or wrong answer. Only the choice that is right for you.
What does my religion say?
For many people, the tenants of their faith will guide their decision. The positions of the various denominations and sects vary widely. For some, cremation is strictly forbidden. For others, it is the preferred method. A growing number leave it up to the individual to decide.
If you are trying to decide if cremation is right for you and you have questions about your religion’s stance on the practice, we recommend that you consult with your pastor, priest, or spiritual advisor. For information on some individual religions and sects, visit our Funeral Customs pages.
Is cost a factor?
Cremation can be much less expensive than in-ground burial. But be sure that you take into account all of the costs associated with the type of service you would like when comparing prices. Many factors go into the exact cost and prices can vary widely from state-to-state and city-to-city. Even within your own local area prices will vary depending on the provider. It definitely pays to shop around. The exact portfolio of services you choose will play a big part in determining the overall price for the cremation you have in mind.
Am I comfortable with the process?
Both cremation and in-ground burial involve processes that work on the body. In cremation, heat is the process. In burial, the process is decomposition. For more information on the technical aspects of cremation scroll down to our section on How Cremation Works.
Do I need to consider family customs and traditions?
Perhaps your family has a history of using one or the other process. If this is the case, you should consider how important it is to you to carry on family traditions.
How does my family feel?
For many of us, the decision is entirely our own. For others, it is important to take into account the opinions of other family members. If the way your family feels is important to you, talk with them to get their feedback.
What to do with the ashes
Ashes can be buried, scattered or kept in an urn. The crematory will deliver the remains either in a temporary container or in a permanent container, such as an urn, that you provide. Cemeteries provide several options for interring cremated remains including plots for burial and “niches” in a columbarium. They also offer gardens for scattering. See Cemeteries for more on this. Tiny containers, designed to be worn as jewelry, are also available to hold only a small portion of ashes.
State and local laws govern the scattering of ashes in public and private lands, and at sea but private companies offer many scattering options. One can choose to be scattered over a favorite area or onto a tranquil body of water. A loved one’s cremated remains can also become an artificial reef that’s placed in the ocean. It’s even possible to scatter ashes into outer space.
Cremation and the Environment
Cremation is generally considered to be less damaging to the environment than traditional burial. But even cremation is far from perfect in terms of sustainability.
A key criticism of traditional burial is the use of embalming. Burial leaves behind more than 800,000 gallons of formaldehyde each year. It also leaves behind tons of steel and other metals, concrete, and wood. While cremation doesn’t leave behind the vast stores of materials that burial does, cremation facilities consume a large amount of energy and release greenhouse gasses and other harmful elements such as mercury into the atmosphere.
Choosing “green” options such as a renewable, non-toxic container for the body and selecting a biodegradable urn can lessen the impact on the environment.
If you are concerned about releases from the crematorium, check with your facility to see what measures they are taking to minimize this impact. You can also request that they purchase carbon credits to offset the impact of your cremation.
If leaving little or no ecological impact is important to you, then you may want to consider some of the newer options such as natural forest burials.
As society becomes more aware of the impact of all types of body handling on the environment, new methods that are considered less harmful to the environment are being introduced. Alkaline Hydrolysis, for example, uses a process of water, heat, and lye to treat the remains. While the process is not currently legal in all states, it is gaining traction as an environmentally responsible alternative.
Your Rights as a Consumer
Each state has somewhat different regulations concerning specific funerary practices such as embalming and use of a funeral director, but the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) offers protection against sales practices that make it difficult to shop for funeral products.
Under The Funeral Rule you are entitled to get pricing up front, buy caskets and urns from third-party sellers, and use an alternate container for cremation. You should never be pressured to buy certain items and you are always entitled to get pricing upfront and over the telephone.
Unfortunately, some funeral cemetery providers have been known to be less than transparent with their pricing. While the industry is working to eliminate these types of practices, there are things you can do to protect yourself.
- Shop around: Prices can vary widely so be sure to get quotes from more than one provider.
- Know what you are buying: Ask for specifics on what is included in the prices you are quoted. In particular, does the price include the cremation itself or is it just for items such as the container and handling of the body.
- Know your options: Make sure that the pricing you receive is comprehensive. For example, does the list include pricing for a “simple” no-frills cremation or is it a bundled package that includes add-ons.
- Confirm unbundled prices: If you are only provided with package prices, request a list of unbundled pricing. You may be able to eliminate certain elements and lower your cost.
- Check prices for use of an outside container: You are entitled to use containers that are not purchased directly from the funeral home or crematorium. Be sure you inquire about this option.
How Cremation Works
It can be difficult to make a big decision about a process you don’t understand. While you may not know the exact details of how a traditional burial works, it is easy to visualize what happens. That’s not necessarily true for cremation. Despite how long the practice has been around (some 2,000 years!), it can be a bit of a mystery. In reality, the process of cremation is relatively straightforward.
- Scientists generally believe that cremation dates back as far back as the Stone Age. It was common practice in the ancient world but began to diminish as the world became Christianized. While the practice never completely died out, its use diminished with modern cremation resurfacing again in the late 1800s.Today the practice is becoming increasingly more popular wand widespread.
- Cremation reduces the body to its basic elements through a process that exposes it to open flames, intense heat and evaporation. This is done in a specially designed furnace called a cremation chamber or retort. Many crematories require a container for the body such as a casket appropriate for cremation or a rigid cardboard container.
- Cremated remains are commonly referred to as “ashes,” however, in reality, they consist primarily of bone fragments. It is important to recognize that the cremated remains of the body are commingled with any remains of the container as well as any other incidental by-products of the incineration. Cremation produces 3 to 9 pounds of remains, depending on the size of the body and the process used by the crematory.