How To Decide Between a Traditional Burial vs Cremation?

Making end-of-life arrangements is a deeply personal decision. Some individuals prefer to handle their funeral arrangements while they are alive. Others leave the decision to the family.

The choice of what type of service a person would like to have can be an emotional one for the family of the deceased. There are many different options for a funeral service. Cremation and burial are the two most popular choices.

Choosing between a traditional burial and cremation is not a decision to be taken lightly. It’s important to consider several factors when weighing these two options.

The first step is to understand the difference between cremation and burial.

Understand the Burial Process

A burial is the traditional way to dispose of a body, and the process starts with bathing and disinfecting the deceased.

From here, the body is either:

  • Embalmed, or
  • Placed in refrigeration if being relocated

If the body needs to be transported to a different city or state for its final resting place, the funeral home will make the arrangements. These professionals understand the complexities of transporting bodies.

If the family chooses an immediate burial, embalming won’t be required.

Many traditional burials also have a viewing as part of the service. Prior to the viewing, the body will be dressed in clothing of the family’s choosing. Cosmetics will also be applied, and hair will be styled according to the family’s wishes.

The next steps after the service will depend on the type of funeral. In most cases, the body is transported to the cemetery or gravesite in a hearse. The family and mourners will follow closely behind, and a service will be performed at the gravesite. The casket is then lowered into the ground, and the family says their last good-byes.

Prior to a burial, a plot must be purchased. A plot is the piece of land within the cemetery where the casket will be placed underground.

The Advantages of Traditional Burials

  • A burial is an option that allows a family to say goodbye to their loved one in a traditional way. The family can visit the grave site and pay their respects to the deceased.
  • Families can also choose a headstone and the location of the gravesite.
  • Parents and other family members can also choose to be buried together, which can bring the family comfort.

The Disadvantages of Burials

  • Traditional burials and funerals are expensive.
  • Environmental concerns may make burials unsuitable for some individuals or in some locations.
  • Cemeteries have rules, which can be limiting.


Understand the Cremation Process

Each state has its own cremation laws, but the process is generally the same everywhere. In most cases, bodies can’t be cremated immediately after death. Funeral directors must wait at least two days (48 hours) before cremating a body. This time is used to complete necessary paperwork and obtain permits.

Like a traditional burial, the family can choose to have a viewing prior to the cremation. The body may or may not be embalmed, depending on the family’s wishes and the funeral home’s rules. Viewings give family members an opportunity to say their good-byes. After the service, the family can gather personal mementos and objects.

When you choose cremation, the body is placed in a cremation chamber. The chamber is then heated to a high temperature (1,400-1,800 degrees Fahrenheit) that reduces the body to ashes. This process takes anywhere from one to three hours. Afterward, the chamber is cooled, and the ashes are removed.

The ashes are then placed in a As the rise in popularity has continued, the options and availability of different cremation urn or a container of choice. These ashes can be buried at a later date, placed in the home as a memorial, or they can be spread in a place of the family's choosing.

The Advantages of Cremation

  • Cremation eliminates many of the expenses associated with a traditional burial, such as a casket, gravestone and transportation rental to the cemetery.
  • Families have many options when choosing a final resting place for their loved one, whether it be scattering the ashes, burying an urn in a family plot, placing the urn in a mausoleum or keeping the ashes in the home.
  • Cremation is generally the more affordable option.
  • The family isn’t limited by time. Services can be held at any time after the body is cremated.

The Disadvantages of Cremation

  • Some families prefer to have a gravesite to visit their deceased loved ones.
  • Cremation may not be available in some locations.


Consider the Costs

In a perfect world, costs wouldn’t be a consideration when making funeral arrangements. However, the reality is that most families will have a limit on how much they can spend on a funeral and services.

For some families, cost is the deciding factor in choosing between cremation and burial. Let’s take a closer look at the average cost of each option.

Keep in mind that the following figures are just averages. Costs can vary greatly, depending on the family’s wishes and the extent of the services.

  • Standalone cremation (without additional services): $2,000
  • Cremation urn: $280+

For a more complex cremation with services, costs will be higher.

  • Embalming and body preparation: $700+
  • Casket: $2,000-$5,000
  • Use of funeral home for viewing and service: $900+
  • Cremation urn: $280+

Even with a more elaborate cremation service, embalming may not be required.

Average Burial Costs

A traditional burial is typically more expensive than cremation. Average expenses include:

  • Burial plot: $1,000
  • Embalming and body preparation: $700+
  • Use of funeral home for viewing and service: $900+
  • Casket: $2,000-$5,000
  • Vault: $1,000+
  • Headstone: $2,000+
  • Hearse rental: $275
  • Sedan or limousine rental for family: $100-$500


Environmental Impact

Traditional burials and cremation both have an environmental impact. The jury is still out on whether one is greener than the other, but understanding how each process affects the environment may help with your decision.

The Environmental Impact of Burials

There are two primary environmental concerns with burials:

  • Embalming: In the U.S. alone, more than 800,000 gallons of embalming fluid are buried in cemeteries each year. Embalming fluids are typically formaldehyde-based.
  • Land use: A 10-acre cemetery can have upwards of 20,000 tons of concrete, 1,000 tons of steel and enough wood to construct dozens of homes. The space needed for burial plots leaves little room for wildlife and plants.

Green alternatives are available, so there are solutions if you decide that a burial is the ideal option.

The Environmental Impact of Cremation

Although cremation is largely believed to be a more environmentally friendly option compared to burials, it’s not without its concerns.

  • Cremation requires the burning of fuels, such as natural gas, which also releases greenhouse gases.
  • Chemicals in the cremated body may also be released into the air, such as mercury from dental fillings. The amount of mercury vaporized through cremation is still a controversial subject. Clothing is optional when being cremated, but if chosen, the clothing will also be turned to ash.

Like with burials, there are many crematoriums that are taking steps to reduce their environmental impact and vaporization of chemicals released from the body.



Religious Considerations

For many families, religious considerations will play a role in or at least influence funeral decisions.

Until recently, a traditional funeral was the only option for members of the Catholic Church. The church has since lifted the ban, but many Christian denominations still do not allow cremation.

Eastern religions, such as Hinduism or Buddhism, require cremation.

Family traditions and religious practices should be taken into consideration when deciding whether a burial or cremation is the right option.



Time Constraints

Time is another important consideration when choosing between cremation and burial. Time constraints apply to both options if a viewing is involved. However, cremation generally allows the family to honor the deceased or hold a memorial service at the time of their choosing.

Burials, on the other hand, must be carried out relatively quickly. Viewings, services and the burial itself are usually held within a week of the death. Family members have a limited time to gather, although other memorial services may be held after the burial.

Cremation provides a little more freedom with time. If the family chooses to forgo a viewing, the body can be directly cremated, and a service can be held sometime in the future. This option may work well if families are scattered across the country and need time to gather. Services can be planned weeks or even months later.



Final Arrangements are a Personal Decision

Planning your final arrangements is a personal process, and it’s one that requires a great deal of thought and consideration. Having all the facts can help you arrive at a decision that you feel comfortable with. Keep these points in mind when making your decision. While it’s perfectly normal and acceptable to include your family in these decisions, it’s also important to remember that these are yourfinal wishes.

For families having to make these decisions on behalf of their loved ones, the process can be a difficult one. Consider your loved one’s wishes as well as costs and cultural and religious beliefs.

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