When a loved one passes away, one of the major decisions to be made is whether to bury the remains or choose cremation. Whether governed by religious reasons, a budget, the personal decision of a loved one (before dying), or the wish of his or her family, the final send-off needs to be done.
If one is unhindered by religious concerns, they would usually have to make a decision between burial and cremation. We’ll discuss both options below in order to ensure an informed decision in this tough time:
Slow or Fast Disintegration
Choosing between cremation and burial can come down to how fast you want the body to disintegrate. Some people might want to let the natural process of disintegration and decomposition take its toll on the body. Others might want the quick, clean, and cheaper alternative of cremation.
A traditional burial follows the process of slow and natural decomposition of the body. Cremation, on the other hand, speeds the disintegration of the remains in a matter of hours by burning it at a very high temperature, reducing it into ashes.
Cremation merely hurries the process by burning the remains. While some people dismiss cremation as somewhat blasphemous, others consider it as a gesture of reverence. Some might even view natural decomposition in a grave as disgusting.
A traditional burial requires embalming the remains, the use of caskets, and the buying of a cemetery plot. All this adds up to some very high funeral and burial expenses. Direct cremation, on the other hand, does not require embalming. This makes it a more economical burial option. The ashes only require an urn instead of a whole coffin.
Space and Flexibility
In traditional burial, quite a lot of space is required to bury the remains. Cremation is more flexible, as the ashes can be stored in an urn and carried everywhere. They can be kept in a columbarium, scattered in the air from a plane, or released into a body of water.
Inurned ashes can also be buried, but that doesn’t require a full-sized plot. The urn containing the remains can also be entombed in a crypt within a family mausoleum, carried in lockets, or even compressed into a diamond-like form and worn as jewelry.
Religion can be a big factor in deciding whether the remains should be buried or cremated. In Eastern religions, cremation is common. Some traditions might even see the body as an enemy to be battled with, as spirituality involves the separation from the physical form.
In some practices of the Zoroastrian faith, one might not even want the body to come into contact with any of the four main elements. This is because the bodies are considered unclean and the four elements, especially fire, are considered sacred. The solution they have is to let the bodies be picked apart by vultures, dousing acid over the remains. The alternative is to bury the body in graves lined with concrete.
For Hindus, cremation is actually the preferred way to go. A funeral pyre in constructed for the funeral, with the next of kin (usually make) being the ones to set fire to the structure with the corpse inside.
In Roman Catholicism, Judaism, and Islam, cremation is strictly forbidden (especially in Islam). However, some followers of each religion might open their minds to cremation in certain circumstances.
Many people argue about the environmental impact of traditional burial and cremation. Some attest that traditional burial produces land wastage and pollution, therefore seeing cremation as an environmentally sound alternative. However, others are of the view that cremation is never an environmentally-friendly choice, as it uses huge amounts of fossil fuel and releases toxins into the air (such as mercury).
If you are environmentally conscious, there are some eco-friendly alternatives to both traditional burial and cremation. There are “green burials”, which use a bio-degradable casket and require no embalming. If you choose cremation, there is also a “bio-cremation” option which uses a combination of water and chemicals (e.g. alkali hydrolysis) instead of fossil fuels to reduce the body to almost nothing. This might reduce the use of fossil fuels involved, but certain harmful gases might still be released into the environment.
Burial usually means that the body stays put in one place. Moving it can be a lengthy, expensive, and disturbing process, so we should assume that the body will stay where it’s buried unless moving is absolutely necessary. Having the burial plot could be a sort of comfort for family members. They can pay a visit, leave flowers, and even sit by the headstone and ‘talk’ to the departed person.
However, more and more people are now straying away from their family roots. This might be one of the reasons why so many are now opting for cremation instead of burial. Apart from it being less trouble, cremation gives you some portable ashes as the remains.
One can then put the ashes in an urn and scatter them on the ground or at sea. This is a final farewell that will also give them some assurance that their loved one is all around them, in a way. Others might choose to put this urn on their mantelpiece or shelf, packing it up whenever they change their residence.
However, one should keep in mind that cremation cannot be reversed, so it’s best to completely make up your mind before going for this option.
The Psychological Effect
Some might prefer cremation because of the relatively smaller carbon and psychological footprint. Scattering ashes leave no physical symbol of the deceased, which might make it easier for the survivors to let go. Even if the ashes are in an urn on the mantelpiece, the space it takes up is relatively much smaller than a whole grave. The grave also requires tending and maintenance, which might slow down the grieving process for some.
On the other hand, some might argue that ashes don’t give that level of closure to those who need it. Plus, forgetting the dead so quickly might not be the best idea, as we might also forget their wishes in the process. Many religions also respect the body as something to be taken care of, so cremation is definitely not an option in this case. In fact, cremation might result in some very negative psychological reactions if certain family members do not agree to it.
Reading Up on Both Choices
If someone is still confused about their own last rites or have to make a decision for their loved ones, investing in some more research might be the next step. The book called ‘Cremate or Bury, What saith the Bible?’ is mostly geared towards Christians, but it might actually be an eye-opener for anyone struggling with this decision. Take a look at it here:
Authored by Piet Wilsenach, this guide might make it easier to make the decision between cremating and burying. Before we make a final choice, we need to have all the required information on hand. This work goes into the issue with a lot of detail, giving is both biblical and secular answers to some important questions.
You’ll also get to know some shocking secrets of the cremation industry, which might sway your decision. This might be disturbing to know, but it’s important in order to make the best deacon possible. Even non-Christians can make use of this guide in order to know more about this serious subject.
Choosing a burial or cremation of any kind is a tough option, but keep in mind that the cremation process is absolutely irreversible. If you’ve ever placed in the difficult position of making this decision, make sure that your decision is clear, final, and taken after consulting the whole family if possible. A funeral service after cremation is possible if you want that type of closure, while the ash scattering ceremony could be a sufficient farewell too.