When it comes to planning final arrangements, either for yourself or a loved one, there are of course a number of personal decisions that will need to be made. But perhaps none are more important or more personal than choosing between cremation vs. burial.
There is no "right" way in regards to memorialization arrangements. It ultimately depends entirely on personal preference. However, there are details to both that may go into such a decision. That's why we've put together this guide for the differences and advantages of cremation vs. burial.
The Primary Differences Between Cremation and Burial
Before proceeding, let's make sure we're all talking about the same things when it comes to cremation vs. burial. We're in essence talking about the final treatment of the body. Cremation involves the body being incinerated, then stored in an urn or scattered. Burial, on the other hand, keeps the body intact, and may even involve embalming fluid to preserve the body as much as possible. The body is then typically interred within a casket, either in a below-ground burial plot, or above ground in a mausoleum or lawn crypt.
When it comes to the differences, one important factor to consider is that the memorialization does not have to be all that different for either choice. Your choice of burial or cremation does not necessarily change aspects such as how memorial services are handled. For example, you may prefer the benefits of cremation vs. burial (which we'll get to a little later) but still want to have what is considered a typical memorial service. That is absolutely fine. You could have a viewing of the body and a service, and then perform the cremation later, or have a typical service with the cremated remains in an urn instead of the deceased in a casket. In other words, the differences aren't necessarily inherent in the options for the service itself, it is what comes after.
Cremation Vs. Burial: Interment Benefits
As the name suggests, the differences between a burial and cremation is in what happens with the body, in that for a burial, it is typically interred still intact. This is where the perceived benefits of cremation over burial become most evident. Namely, if you want to be interred anywhere other than a cemetery, you may have to choose cremation. This is the only option that allows ashes to be scattered in, for example, a beloved spot of the deceased, or for the urn to be kept with remaining loved ones. Keep in mind, however, that there are laws for where remains can be scattered, so be sure to research this before determining the final resting place.
Beyond that, many people choose cremation in order to be scattered in a cemetery scattering garden, or to have an urn placed in a cremation niche at a cemetery. Another important factor when considering the advantages of cremation vs. burial is that a cremation can also, in fact, be a burial. While we commonly think of bodies being placed in caskets and buried in plots, it is entirely possible to cremate a body and place the urn within a casket, to be placed in a family plot, or even in a mausoleum or crypt. In this way, if a loved one for whatever reason chooses to be cremated, he or she can still be buried.
Cremation vs Burial: Relative Costs
While it can feel insensitive to think about financial matters when saying goodbye to a beloved family member, the truth is that cost is often a factor during final arrangements. This is partly why so many choose to pre-pay their burial in advance, to pay the costs now, instead of years or decades of inflation. It is also why many families are beginning to see an advantage to cremation vs. burial, as it is perceived to be lower cost. This perception can be true — if the body is cremated and placed it an urn, that could certainly be less costly than also purchasing a casket and burial plot. However, if the intention is to be memorialized in a cemetery, with an identifying marker to visit and perhaps leave flowers or other meaningful objects, the costs begin to reach parity, meaning it is once again mostly about personal preference.
The Most Common Concerns - Respect, Religion, and the Environment
For most of us, we don't spend too much time thinking about the benefits of cremation vs burial. Naturally, this can lead to some concerns when it finally is time to discuss such matters. One of the largest and most universal factors is which choice will be most respectful of the deceased. This is another reason so many are choosing to plan their burial in advance, to remove stress from their loved ones and decide for themselves how they would like to be memorialized. It is an opportunity for someone to tell their life story their way.
Of course, there are other factors as well, one prominent factor being religion. Many devout Catholics believe that the body must not be cremated, unless the cremated remains are buried in a casket. Other religions such as Hinduism, on the other hand, prefer cremation. This may very well be the deciding factor.
Another common debate regarding the advantages of cremation or burial is related to the environment. Many want to be as environmentally conscious as possible, and choose their memorialization based on that. The consensus is still out on which option is actually "greenest." Some say cremation, as placement within an urn or scattering takes up less physical land and requires less chemicals such as embalming fluid. Others claim the actual process of cremation can be more harmful to the environment than a simple burial, especially in a well-maintained cemetery with plenty of trees and other plant life. This again, therefore, comes down to personal preference, though there is also a third option gaining popularity lately — "natural burial" avoids any chemicals and either makes use of a biodegradable coffin, or the deceased is placed within no coffin at all, simply buried within the ground, to become one with nature.
Choosing Cremation vs. Burial
So, which method is better? As should be clear by now, there is no overall best answer. There is only what is best for you or your loved one. Do you want a burial plot with a memorial where people can visit and reflect? Does your particular religious background necessitate one or the other? Do you have a strong opinion regarding one option's impact on the environment? These factors and more will allow you to determine the right choice, and whether you perceive an advantage for cremation or for burial.
If you still can't decide, it may be worth asking family members their opinions, or to consult with a funeral planning expert. You can also download a free burial planning kit here to learn more about options.
The key is to remember that there is no wrong answer: it is all about what feels the most right.