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Burial vs. Cremation: Pros, Cons, and How to Decide the Best Option

by Legacy Staff

“Do I want to be buried or cremated?” is a decision we all must face in the end. 

“Do I want to be buried or cremated?” It’s a decision we all must face in the end. 

With traditional burial, the body is embalmed and laid to rest in a casket. Before or after the funeral or memorial service, the casket is placed in a vault, either below ground or in a mausoleum. The gravesite offers loved ones a place to visit and reflect.  

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While burial has long been the standard in the United States, cremation has become much more popular in recent years. With cremation, heat is used to convert the body to ash. Cremated remains can be kept by the family, scattered in a favorite place, interred above-ground in a ;mausoleum, or buried in a cemetery. As with burial, cremation can happen either before or after the funeral or memorial service.

It might initially seem like an easy choice for you as you plan your final send-off. Perhaps you prefer the flexibility of cremation, or maybe you’ve always known you’d be buried in the family plot. But deciding between burial and cremation can be a complex issue with many factors to consider. Here are things to keep in mind as you decide whether cremation or burial is right for you.

The comfort of tradition.

For many, especially in the United States, the tradition of burying the dead provides comfort after loss. The act of burial carries special meaning as loved ones say goodbye to the departed. The burial site also provides a permanent place to memorialize a loved one. While you may have your heart set on your ashes being scattered to the wind, family members and friends who will carry on after you’re gone may wish to have a burial place as a physical focus for their remembrances of you. On the other hand, a place to visit and reflect need not necessarily be a burial plot in a cemetery.  


Alternatives to Traditional Burial and Cremation


Cultural & religious considerations.

Your religion or cultural heritage may impact your choice. For example, Buddhists and Hindus are traditionally cremated, while Orthodox Judaism and Islam ban the practice. While the Roman Catholic ban on cremations was lifted several decades ago, cremated remains must still be buried. Even if these sorts of religious customs are not important to you personally, they may be to members of your family and are worth considering. 

Cost.

Many choose cremation because it a more inexpensive option. This is especially true for “direct cremation,” wherein the body is cremated right away without embalming and before any funeral services. In this case, the costs associated with your death can be an order of magnitude less expensive than a traditional funeral and burial. However, if you prefer a traditional visitation or wake with the body present and that your cremated remains be buried, the difference in cost may become much less dramatic. 

Environmental concerns.

While cremation need not involve any land use, it may involve significant carbon emissions. On the other hand, chemical methods of cremation have been developed recently that eliminate any emissions. Similarly, burial can involve disturbing the land with objects and chemicals that may not break down for a long time, or it can be done in a natural, biodegradable way. The bottom line: if you’re concerned about the environmental impact of your final disposition, those concerns can be ameliorated regardless of whether you choose burial or cremation. 

Space concerns.

With the limited space on the British Isles, the motto “save the land for the living” has long made cremation a popular choice in the U.K. In the U.S., we have historically thought of land as almost unlimited. But space limitations can be a valid concern no matter the country, especially for those who live in a densely populated city.

Practical considerations for scattering ashes.

Will it require an arduous hike to get to the mountaintop you’d like your remains scattered from? Is it legal to do so there? Will these considerations matter to the loved ones you’ll ask to carry out your wishes? These are all questions that can—and should—be answered in advance. 

Convenience and flexibility.

Cremation can be a more flexible option, in several ways. If family members live around the country or around the world, direct cremation takes away the pressure to gather very quickly for a traditional viewing. And cremated remains can travel for services and scattering in more than one place, may be divided among more than one household, and if kept in an urn, need not be left behind if loved ones move far away in the future. 

Whatever your thoughts on the issue, be sure to share them with those you love, and ask for their input to help you come to this very personal decision. 


 

Related to Burial

Coffin vs. Casket, What’s the Difference?
Should You Pre-Plan Your Funeral?
How the Embalming Process Works
What to Know About the Interment of Ashes
How Much Does Cremation Cost

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