Cremation vs Burial: Pros and Cons [No-BS Guide]

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    cremation vs. burial is a difficult decision

    Cremation versus burial?  I have a tough time making this decision myself.  While cremation is far more affordable, environmentally-conscious, and less taxing on grieving family members, I can’t deny that I have a gut preference for being buried and allowing my loved ones to have a dedicated, tangible location to remember me.

    In most cases, the “cremation or burial?” decision is difficult and emotional, and one that can trigger significant family tension.

    So we created this guide to help you better understand each option and pinpoint exactly why you prefer one over the other.

    We’ll end by discussing why this decision is a luxury that most Americans do not have, and what they can do about it.

    Let’s dive in.

    A Funeral And Burial: The All-American Option

    Knowing the ins and outs of each process is critical for the family member making the cremation vs burial decision.

    So we’ll begin by describing precisely what a “traditional burial” entails.

    The Four Parts Of A Traditional Burial

    The first part is the pre-planning portion, which will look similar for both burial and cremation.  This process usually begins with choosing a funeral home and meeting with its funeral director to discuss your options for final arrangements (cremation vs burial).

    If you choose a traditional funeral service, you will also have to discuss your options for a casket, memorial service, burial vault, and more.  You will also have to arrange things like transport and embalming.  Finally, you will need to consider these in light of whether a traditional funeral is affordable for you and potentially look beyond the funeral home for ways to save money (e.g., opting for casket rental and purchasing items online when possible).  

    Part two involves preparing the body, including embalming and choosing how to dress and adorn your loved one for their final rest — for example, dressing them in clothing that reflects their personality and potentially choosing mementos to place within their casket.

    Once done, the body is placed in a casket (also known as a coffin) and ready to be viewed.

    The memorial service (also known as the “wake” or the “viewing”) is the third part.  Here, friends and family gather to pay their respects to the deceased and support each other in their grief.

    The service is typically held at a church or funeral home.  In either case, it can be a religious or non-religious affair.  The image below shows you what this can look like for Catholics, whose service is typically a funeral mass held at the Catholic Church they attend.

    Religious Funeral Service (Catholic Funeral Mass)
    After the body is prepared, mourners gather in a funeral home or church to pay their respects to the deceased

    The service will either be “open casket” or “closed casket,” reflecting whether mourners can see the body during the service.  This is a deeply personal decision and can also depend on the condition of the body.

    After the funeral service, pallbearers carry the casket to the hearse, which transports the body to the cemetery.  Mourners traditionally follow behind the hearse, on foot or by car, holding flowers or other mementos.

    Family mourning in cemetery during burial
    The final step is the burial itself, where family members gather to watch their loved one be laid to rest

    The fourth and final part takes place at the cemetery and involves the physical interment of the body.  At the gravesite, there is often another short service, during which a priest (or non-religious ceremonial leader) leads the group in prayer and bidding farewell to the deceased.  At the end, your loved one is lowered into the ground and will have arrived at their final resting place.

    Traditional Burial Pros & Cons

    Having understood what the traditional burial and funeral service entails, let’s now go through what leads people to choose or decide against burial, starting with the pros:

    I. Burial Pros

    II. Burial Cons

    While there are many attractive benefits to choosing burial, there is at least one, if not more, major drawbacks:  

    The Cremation Process

    Cremation is the new kid on the block, and the details of the cremation process are still a mystery to many people.

    Cremation is the process of reducing a dead body to small bone fragments (that resemble ash) by exposing it to flames and intense heat. The word comes from the Latin “cremare,” meaning “to burn until only ashes remain.”

    Cremation symbolizes many things, such as reincarnation, purification from sin, freedom from worldly desires, and in Eastern religions (namely, Hinduism and Buddhism), reaching Nirvana.

    Cremation also ensures that one’s remains do not pollute the Earth after they have passed.

    Cremation urn and white roses
    Cremation urns can be simple and portable, keeping your loved one close at all times (even if you move)

    What Is Direct Cremation?

    Most cremations are what the funeral industry calls “direct cremation.”

    A direct cremation is the most basic cremation service offered, with a correspondingly low price tag.  It does not involve transporting the body in a hearse or limousine and uses a very simple coffin.  (By the way, make sure your local funeral home offers cremation services, as some funeral homes do not.)

    With this manner of cremation, there is no ceremony.  It takes place without the presence of extended family and friends.  Therefore, choosing cremation may make it more difficult for extended family and friends to receive the closure they typically receive from a group service.

    Your Options For Handling Cremated Remains

    There are a variety of ways that people handle their family member’s ashes.  Here are four of the most common:

    1. Cremation urn.  Storing the ashes in an urn is the most common choice.  It allows you to keep your loved one somewhere personally meaningful (often within the home) instead of a communal cemetery.
    2. Scattering ashes.  This option is the preferred method in India, where cremation originated.
    3. BurialCatholics who are cremated often have their cremated remains buried, as this is what the Catholic Church recommends.
    4. Cremation jewelry.  While this will seem revolting to some, a recent trend has been to store the ashes within jewelry that can be worn.
    Cremation Ring
    An example of a cremation ring
    Cremation Necklace Holding Ashes
    An example of a cremation necklace

    Cremation Pros & Cons

    Now let’s go through the pros and cons of cremation.  First, the pros:

    I. Cremation Pros

    II. Cremation Cons

    Now, let’s go through the drawbacks of cremation:

    Conclusion & Key Takeaways

    Whether to choose cremation services or a more traditional funeral  for your loved one’s final arrangements is rarely an easy decision.

    Depending on your religious and personal beliefs, the two options can have vastly different appeals and emotional consequences for you and your family.

    This can be especially hard on a family if they strongly prefer a traditional burial, but struggle to see how they can afford the high burial costs we’re seeing in 2021.

    Sadly, they then have to weigh their desired method for honoring the deceased against the financial responsibility of that choice.

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    Two Keys To Protecting Your Family and Your Legacy

    Beyond the choice at hand here, two things seem clear.  First, pre-planning your own funeral or cremation can be one of the kindest things you do for your family while they are in the midst of one of the most challenging times in their lives (mourning your loss). 

    At a minimum, this should include your wish to be cremated versus buried and a plan for financing your chosen arrangement.

    Second, given the emotional consequences of this choice on your family and friends, if at all possible, money should not decide how you are remembered.

    Check out our guide to burial insurance to understand how you can save your family significant heartache down the road.

    Warms Regards,
    The GetSure Team

    Rikin Shah

    Rikin Shah

    Rikin is the Founder & Head of Content at GetSure. He is a licensed life, accident & health insurance agent, with over 10 years of experience in the financial services industry. He holds a B.S. in Applied Mathematics from Columbia University and an MBA from The Stanford Graduate School of Business.

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