Cremation vs. The Choice Not to Cremate
by Jerri Haaven, Grief Recovery Specialist and Celebrant
Image: Skerryvore Memorial Gardens*
I have not come to terms with being wholly buried beneath the ground. It seems cold, dark and lonely. So when I finally sat down and thought about it, the choice to be cremated when I die was an easy decision. It led me to wonder, then, why would people choose not to be cremated?
Religious Objections Towards Cremation
A few faiths today continue to forbid the practice of cremation, notably Islam, Baha’I, and Zoroastrianism. For followers of these faiths, cremation isn’t an option.
By and large, cremation has become an accepted practice. In fact, the National Funeral Directors Association reported last year that the number of cremations surpassed burials in the United States for the first time in 2015. What once may have been taboo in the majority of religions is now openly accepted.
Myths Concerning Cremation
Several years ago, I went through the process of making arrangements to have my dad cremated. I had the mistaken visual of flames being used. How else could a body be reduced to ashes? But the thought of my dad being burned away in a flame was almost enough to make me decide against the process.
The reality is that cremation does not involve fire. Rather, the body is exposed to very high temperatures, which reduces it to bone fragments and particles. A very good resource on understanding the process of cremation is “Cremation: What Is It?", a planning guide published by OneWorld Memorials.
Fortunately for me, I was made aware of what actually happens during the planning process, so that my dad’s cremation was not traumatic. That said, the notion of a loved one’s body being burned could turn one away from cremation toward other options.
Need for a Permanent Memorial
Last year, Tim Lott of The Guardian, wrote about his very private journey of deciding to be buried as opposed to being cremated. His story of the wind-swept ashes of his mother who had died and was cremated 25 years previously, left him without a permanent place to go to memorialize her. He feels cheated, and has made the decision not to put his family through the same experience by being buried. In the article, Lott explains:
The possibility of honouring [sic] the dead is why I wish to be planted rather than immolated – ideally in my local Victorian necropolis of Kensal Green, in the heart of my beloved west London. This is not for my benefit, obviously – I will not know anything about it. But that my children and grandchildren, and perhaps great-grandchildren, can come to this site and remember one branch of the root from which they sprang seems to me to be doing them a service.
Experiencing a secondary loss of not knowing where to honor my loved one’s ashes would continue a grief process. However, the advancement of cremation rituals and ceremonies has evolved in the last quarter century. Life celebrations and other memorial services are common practices and take the place of, or expand upon, traditional funerals.
Today there is a plethora of memorial urns, cremation jewelry and keepsakes to select from. A memorial urn in the home creates a permanent place to memorialize a loved one. A keepsake urn can be used to share ashes with family. A companion urn for a couple that chooses to be side by side for all of eternity is another option.
Green Burials as a Memorial Site
There are other alternatives to traditional burials and reasons people do not choose cremation. Our blog “Human Recycling – The New Green” highlights the Urban Death Project based in Seattle. Instead of a body being cremated, the body is turned into compost. The Green Burial movement ensures that a burial site remains as natural as possible. The belief that our bodies will decompose if let alone allows nature to assimilate our bodies back to the earth without waste, without byproduct, without harm to the environment. It is an “earth friendly” alternative.
It’s possible cremation just isn’t the right choice for you. Do your research, talk to others who have gone through the process. Ensure that your loved ones are onboard with whatever decision you make.
Jerri Haaven is a freelance writer, and a certified Grief Recovery Specialist and Celebrant. When caring for her dad, who suffered from dementia and COPD, Jerri struggled with the negative side effects of his illness. She developed positive outlets to express herself and recover from her loss. Today as a certified Grief Recovery Specialist and Celebrant, she uses her skills to help people who are in the midst of their own personal story of grief and loss.