Choosing between a burial or cremation is a deeply personal choice, often based on culture, religion, and personal preference. Whether you know what kind of disposition is right for your loved one or you are just starting your funeral planning journey, it’s essential to know your options and make a choice that’s right for you.
What are the differences between burial and cremation?
The disposition of a body is how the body is taken care of immediately after death. There are a few options. Your loved one may have specified their desires in their final wishes, or you might be in a position where you are making that decision for them.
There are two primary methods of disposition: burial and cremation. Some religious beliefs, such as fundamental Christianity and Islam, require a grave. However, many people also prefer burials over cremation because it allows people to visit their loved one’s final resting place for years to come.
Let’s look at the process for both burials and cremation to get a better understanding of what each requires.
The Burial Process
Burials are what we traditionally think of when discussing funerals. The body is laid to rest in a casket, along with any clothes, jewelry, or souvenirs for burials.
Some of the components of burial will also apply to cremation. For instance, many choose to hold a memorial service and a viewing and have the remains cremated after. The following are just some of the essential elements to understand what the burial process looks like in many instances.
Funeral Home: One of the first things you will need to do is select a funeral home. You will connect with a funeral director at the funeral home who will walk you through their home’s specific offerings and services. It’s important to remember you’re not obligated to accept any service you don’t want as part of your funeral package.
Casket Selection: Casket selection is essential for a traditional funeral service. Even with a direct burial, which means your deceased loved one’s remains are buried directly into the ground, you will need to select a casket.
Cemetery Plot Selection: When you opt for a burial, you must select a burial plot. Maybe there is a family plot already decided, but if not, you will want to choose a cemetery and location for the burial. This final resting place is most often a place that is local to the family and is easy to visit.
Embalming: If you choose a viewing as part of your funeral arrangements, you must have your body embalmed. It is also necessary to embalm the body if you don’t plan to have the funeral immediately. We will go into further detail later on about what embalming is.
Other Services: Some funeral homes may require you to pay for a burial vault, which protects the casket from outside elements. Others may require a grave liner, and some may require nothing – depending on your area and their local policy.
The Cremation Process
Direct cremation is an alternative to traditional burials. Some families opt for direct cremation and hold a memorial service instead of a funeral.
Like a traditional burial, cremation begins at a funeral home. However, you can also work with a crematorium for direct cremation.
The cremation process typically takes between 1-3 hours. First, the body is heated to 1800º F to guarantee total disintegration. Next, any metal pieces remaining from the cremated remains and the ashes are sealed and placed into an airtight container.
Unless otherwise specified, you will receive the deceased’s remains in a plastic bag within a small nondescript box and then must choose a cremation urn. The ashes can weigh between 3-10 pounds, depending on the deceased’s size.
Understanding Final Arrangement Costs
Cremation and burial costs vary slightly – but not as much as you think. It all depends on what components you choose. As we noted above, there are various ways to conduct both a burial and a cremation, and average costs.
According to the National Funeral Directors Association, the average funeral cost in 2021 was just under $8,000. With funeral costs on the rise, it’s essential to shop around and do your due diligence to minimize the costs of the funeral bill.
Let’s look at a cost comparison for various components of both burials and cremation services.
- Funeral Director Expenses: These professionals can plan several aspects of a funeral for you, including the less pleasant tasks of handling the deceased’s remains and preparing them for burial and viewing. Expect to pay $1500 for the most basic services fees and upwards of $6000 if you allow the funeral director to take care of these details. When working with a funeral home, you will pay a funeral director fee for burials and cremations.
- Preparation of Loved One: The national median for direct cremation with no funeral ceremony or memorial service is $775. However, many spend more on services to honor their loved one’s life. If you are holding a viewing, you may be required to embalm the body, which costs $1000.
- Casket Selection: Casket prices range from $1500 to “the sky’s the limit.” If you opt for cremation and wish to hold a viewing, you must rent a coffin, which can cost between $700-$1,200. An excellent way to save on caskets is to compare prices between funeral homes and online. Online retailers offer a myriad of coffins, including fully customizable caskets.
- Cremation Urn: Cremation urns can range in price from $75 for the most straightforward designs to $2,000 for more complex cremation vessels made of fine materials.
- Transportation: You will also need to consider transport to the site if you plan to have graveside services. These fees can average $2000 to 3000 and are typically not included in estimated funeral expenses.
- Memorial Services: Some funeral homes include the cost of memorial services in their funeral director expenses. If not, expect to pay fees for the viewing service and body preparation, about $1200. In addition, staff can hand out memorial printings, direct guests, and dispense tissues, which can add another $500 to 600.
- Cemetery and Burial Expenses: The median cost for a burial plot varies depending on where you live. Some burial plots exist for as low as $250, and some as high as $50,000. Locations with high land costs will, on average, have higher burial costs. Some states require a burial vault that can add between $2000 and $3000 more.
- Flowers and Wreaths: Flowers and wreaths range in price from $500-700. You can also ask that family members send flowers in place of a gift. Flowers are typically included in all services regardless of disposition.
- Headstone or Grave Marker: Headstones can cost anywhere between $2000 to $5000. Gravemarkers are flat plaques laid directly into the ground and cost around $1000. In the United States, you do not have to accept a headstone or grave marker from the funeral home and can shop for different prices.
What is Embalming?
Embalming is the chemical process of preserving the human body to delay decomposition. People may choose embalming for a variety of reasons, including:
- Hosting an open casket funeral so family members can view the body
- In the event that the body needs to be repatriated
- If it is requested by the deceased
- If there is a delay between the time of death and the final arrangements
Some choose embalming before cremation to host a viewing and provide closure to family members and loved ones.
Families and people making funeral arrangements may have different goals regarding quality and environmental impact. Let’s look at the difference between casket materials and their environmental impact, as well as the environmental impact of cremation.
Wooden caskets are built to last, but since they are made of the natural resources of a tree, they will decompose over time. In addition, the wood is not coated with any chemicals, so it will eventually decompose into its base elements like water, carbon dioxide, oxygen, and organic matter.
Metal takes much longer to break down and return to ecological basics than wood. The metal casket is the obvious choice if you want protection from the outside elements. It can be coated with various chemicals to prevent rust and corrosion. Some coffins are hermetically sealed with a rubber gasket to provide maximum environmental protection for your loved one.
While, in recent years, cremation has been lauded as the more environmentally friendly route, some studies show that cremation releases certain toxins into the air. Cremation also requires using fossil fuels and depending on the cremation services offered. Therefore, this process could be more or less environmentally friendly.
How to decide what is right for you
When deciding how to honor the life of your loved one, you must do what’s suitable for your family and traditions. Whether you decide to have a traditional funeral with a burial or choose cremated remains, the decision should give you and your family a sense of ease.
If you are interested in learning more about burial options and cost-effective ways to save on caskets, we are here to help.