Choosing between cremation and casket burial is a very personal decision. When making this choice for yourself or a loved one, there are several factors to consider. , family traditions, budget and personal wishes are all things to keep in mind.
Our compassionate associates can help you with your decision. We’ll guide you through the cremation versus burial debate, so you can make the best choice for yourself, your loved one and your family.
Cost of cremation vs. burial
The cost of most everything is on the rise, and for many people, money is a concern. Without a in place, the cost of final arrangements catches many families off guard. Cremation can cost less than burial, but that's not always the case. The can be dramatic or negligible, depending on the options a family chooses.
The median cremation cost in 2021 was around $6,970 in the United States, including cremation casket and urn. The median cost of a traditional funeral with a viewing was $7,848. Prices vary from city to city and even among providers in the same city.
A direct cremation is the least expensive type of cremation, and it can cost thousands less than a funeral with traditional burial. However, many families don't realize they can have a visitation and funeral prior to cremation, but they can. These services add to the total cost, but they allow friends and family to say goodbye and participate in familiar rituals. Things like and add to the cost of both cremation and burial. Either option can be as simple or elaborate as a family wishes.
Plan a beautiful, personal remembrance
Each life is like no other. Particular passions, milestone moments and legacies created weave together to tell a story that is completely unique. The Insider’s Guide to Funeral & Cremation Planning will walk you through inspirational ideas and the simple steps to planning an unforgettable memorial of a loved one’s life—or your own when you plan in advance. Get started today.
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Religious beliefs and traditions are important to many people. When deciding on burial or cremation, consider these guiding principles:
- . The Catholic Church instructs that the deceased be laid to rest in a cemetery. If cremation is selected, ashes are to be buried or placed into a mausoleum or columbarium, rather than scattered or kept at home. In some areas, the Catholic Church provides cemetery gardens or mausoleums that have been consecrated and are considered sacred ground. In other areas, a priest can perform a service and bless the gravesite.
- . Just as Protestants have many funeral service options, they also have many choices for final disposition. The deceased may be interred in the ground or entombed in a mausoleum. Cremated remains may be scattered, buried in a cemetery or placed in a church columbarium.
- Greek Orthodoxy. The Greek Orthodox Church considers cremation a desecration of the body. The deceased must be buried in the ground; embalming is a common practice. Organ donations and autopsies are allowed.
- . The Jewish faith prioritizes returning the full body to earth promptly. Although cremation is contrary to Jewish tradition, contemporary Jewish families are becoming more open to the practice. Traditional Jewish funeral tradition calls for a simple wood casket, sometimes with holes in the bottom. If a vault is used, it may have holes in the bottom or no bottom at all (depending on cemetery regulations and community customs).
- . Islamic law is very specific about the way a member of the Muslim faith is to be prepared for burial, beginning with a ritual washing. Islam does not allow cremation, and Islamic law is very specific in its directions for burial. Muslims are to be buried in a Muslim cemetery or a special Muslim section of a community cemetery.
- . Buddhists often choose cremation, although some families select full-body burial.
- . Hindus believe cremation liberates the soul of the deceased, who may linger if the physical body remains. The sooner the body is cremated (often within 24 hours of death), the sooner the person can begin his or her next journey.
Many families today are blended, and they may choose a blend of final arrangements. There may be multiple faiths represented in a family, and there may be members who aren't religious at all. These families sometimes find a compromise by holding a visitation, mass or full funeral so certain traditions can be honored prior to cremation.
Pros and cons of cremation
Cremation has advantages and disadvantages. The pros generally outweigh the cons, however, as evidenced by the fact that more and more families are choosing cremation. In fact, the estimates that by 2025, the cremation rate in the United States will be 64.1%. It's predicted to be 81.8% by the same year in Canada.
- Flexible timing: When you choose cremation, you have as much time as you need to plan a funeral, memorial or celebration of life. Cremation allows families time to focus on their immediate grief and decide on the details of a service when the shock of death subsides a bit. Families who choose cremation often wait weeks or months before holding a service.
- More memorialization options: Cremation allows for a nearly endless array of , including a permanent memorial in a cemetery. A glass-front niche, for example, allows a family to create a beautiful display with the loved one's urn and a few cherished mementos. Because ashes can be divided, families can choose more than one option.
- Mobility: Today's families are more likely to be scattered across the country than families in the past. Because ashes can be divided and easily transported, multiple family members can keep ashes if they'd like. And if a family moves, a cremated loved one's ashes can go with them.
- Environmental concerns: Many people see cremation as a more eco-friendly option than burial because it preserves land that would otherwise be used for burial.
- Religious prohibitions: As noted above, there are a few religions that prohibit cremation for its followers. Other religions simply discourage it.
- Discomfort with the process: Most people don't know , and it may be a tough choice for some family members to accept. With only a general idea about the process, the prospect of "burning" a loved one can bring up feelings of dread or fear. Though most cremations today do involve extreme heat, are on the rise.
- Lack of closure: In families who opt for simple cremation, or cremation without a service of any kind, there may be those who struggle without a formal opportunity to say goodbye. That's why many who choose cremation also opt to hold a viewing, memorial service or celebration of life before or after the cremation.
- Permanence. Cremation is irreversible. The body of a loved one who has been buried could be exhumed if need be for DNA testing, a police investigation, a cultural practice or other reason. That is not an option if a loved one has been cremated.
Pros and cons of burial
Like cremation, casket burial also has advantages and disadvantages. But there are no right or wrong choices here; there's only the choice that best suits you and your family. The two things that one might think give casket burial an advantage over cremation—a funeral service and a cemetery memorial—are also available to families who choose cremation.
- Familiarity: For centuries and until recently in the United States, traditional burial was the more common choice. Most people have attended a viewing or funeral and are familiar with—and thus less afraid of—the process.
- Greater family support: Some people have a level of comfort with casket burial they don't have with cremation. In addition, more religions are agreeable to burial, which would be important in families with a range of beliefs.
- Inclusion of cherished mementos: Whether in-ground or aboveground, casket burial allows for special items to be included with a loved one. Placing objects such as photos, jewelry, notes, toys, books, even booze inside a loved one's casket is a very old tradition. Mourners often find this greatly comforting.
- Time pressure: Most burials take place within a few days of death. Families who choose traditional burial may feel rushed to make important decisions, especially if the loved one who has died didn't have a prepaid funeral plan in place.
- Higher cost: Traditional burial can be more costly than cremation, though that's not always the case. If a family chooses cremation with a viewing and a service, the cost can be very comparable.
- Geographic limitations: By its very nature, burial has a fixed location. Having a permanent place to remember is incredibly important to many families, but that can mean some family members won't be able to visit the gravesite. It can also mean traveling to visit a grave if the family moves.
Plan a burial or cremation ahead of time
Did your loved one record what he or she wanted for a funeral or memorial? Be sure to follow their wishes if they took the time to let you know the best way to honor their life. Also consider planning your own service ahead of time.
When you , your family won’t have to wonder if you’d have preferred a traditional burial or a cremation, a simple service or more elaborate celebration of life. A Dignity Memorial® advisor can walk you through the details of traditional burial or cremation and help you decide what best suits you. That way, when the time comes, family and friends can focus on what is really important—remembering you.