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The Pros and Cons of a Mausoleum

Wikimedia Commons / Richie Diesterheft

How to decide if a mausoleum is the right choice for you and your loved ones.

Want to know if a mausoleum is the right choice for you and your loved ones? Here are some pros and cons of mausoleums to help you decide.

What is a mausoleum?

A mausoleum is a building that holds the remains of one or more deceased people above ground. Some mausoleums are built for just one or two bodies, while others are large structures that house many.

After funeral services, the body is placed in a small room within the mausoleum, just large enough for the casket. The room is called a crypt, and the process of placing the casket in the crypt is called entombment.

Some crypts are designed to hold just one casket, while others are double, allowing spouses or other relatives to be entombed together. 

Some mausoleums include an indoor room for visitors, sometimes with chairs and benches. Some are even climate controlled. Other mausoleums don't have this option and visitors can only access the outside of the structure.

Mausoleums have been used for thousands of years. Notable mausoleums you might be familiar with include the pyramids of Egypt, the Taj Mahal, and Grant's Tomb.

Pros of a mausoleum

Privacy and protection from the weather

If a mausoleum includes an indoor visiting area—which many do—you can spend time with a deceased loved one even on a day when you might not want to sit outside. You also have more privacy from others who may be at the cemetery.

Elevation from areas prone to flooding

In places where the water table is high, a mausoleum is a popular solution to frequent cemetery floods. The remains of loved ones are high and dry in a mausoleum even when the ground is wet. This has made mausoleums a common choice in cities like the below-sea-level New Orleans, where underground burial comes with too many flood hazards.

Efficient use of space

Some mausoleums hold dozens or hundreds of caskets in multi-story structures. Using the cemetery's vertical space means that many bodies can rest in a comparatively small area versus ground burial, where only the horizontal space is used.

Year-round accessibility

In areas where the ground freezes solid in winter, it may be impossible to have a ground burial at certain times of the year. Burials are often delayed until spring in northern climates, as bodies wait in cemetery vaults. Some families find it upsetting to have to go through the funeral ritual all over again when graveside services might take place weeks or months after the funeral. This isn't an issue if a mausoleum is chosen — entombment can take place any time, even when the earth is frozen.

Good for people who feel uncomfortable with ground burial

For some people, the idea of being buried in the ground is a deal-breaker. If this is something that gives you anxiety or discomfort, you can opt for a mausoleum.

Learn how funeral pre-planning can ensure your final wishes are carried out.

Cons of a mausoleum

Potentially more expensive than other options

In some cases, choosing a mausoleum means you'll pay more—sometimes a lot more—than you would if you chose burial or cremation. Mausoleums designed for just one or two bodies can be extremely expensive, and often are best suited for people for whom price is no object. Entombment in a public mausoleum can be more reasonable, though purchasing space in a mausoleum may still be more expensive than buying a burial plot. There are some situations where the cost of entombment in a mausoleum is comparable to the cost of burial — though it'll still be more than cremation typically costs. 

Possibility of odors

In a mausoleum, the decomposition process is occurring above ground (note that even if a body is embalmed, it will decompose eventually). And as unpleasant as it is to think about, decomposition involves bad odors and leaking fluids. When a body is buried, the odors of decomposition are hidden away where they generally can't be smelled, but this is not necessarily the case in a mausoleum. 

A well maintained mausoleum will be properly constructed and ventilated so that visitors won't smell much, if anything. But if a mausoleum is not constructed as well and/or poorly maintained, you may notice that it smells unpleasant, or that lots of air fresheners are competing with the odor. In some cases, fluids from decomposition can leak out of the crypt and be seen from the outside. 

If you're considering a public mausoleum, it's a good idea to visit it first so you can assess whether it'll be a pleasant place for loved ones to visit. And if it's a private mausoleum you have in mind, you may want to make plans for how it will be maintained.

Exploding caskets

That's right — exploding caskets. Another unpleasant truth about decomposition is that a body produces gases as it decays. If it's sealed in an airtight casket, sometimes the gases can build up to the point that the casket bursts. The lid can be dislodged and it can even knock the marble front off of the crypt. 

This leads to a conundrum for anyone maintaining a mausoleum. If you seal a casket tightly, which is the standard for many, the odors of decomposition are less likely to make it to the noses of visitors — but the casket is more likely to explode. If a casket in a crypt is propped open a bit, it won't explode, and the decomposition process will happen faster due to air being allowed to desiccate the body. But a propped open casket may release odors that upset visitors. There's a happy medium available, "burping" caskets that let some gas escape to prevent explosion. This doesn't prevent smells from escaping the crypt, though.

Not available in all cemeteries

Not all cemeteries have public mausoleums, so if you have your heart set on both mausoleum entombment and a particular cemetery, you may be disappointed. If you can afford the higher cost of a private mausoleum, though, you can generally find a space even in a cemetery that doesn't have a public one.

Deterioration over time

Like any structure, a mausoleum is victim to time and the elements. It can be damaged in a storm or earthquake, or it can simply deteriorate as it gets older. This can compromise the caskets inside as well as the building itself. Of course, a gravestone marking a ground burial can also suffer damage from weather and time, but it's a much smaller undertaking to restore or replace a gravestone than to do the same for a mausoleum. 

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