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Cremation vs. Burial: Which is Right For You?

Every day, someone makes the difficult choice between burial and cremation. These two post-death methods of handling someone's remains have remained common choices for millennia, and to this day, it is still a difficult choice to make while writing one's will or planning for the future. At OneWorld Memorials, we're here to walk you through some of the factors involved in each of these very personal methods, as well as how they are conducted. You may learn something that will surprise you, or help you make up your mind for your future decision. Let's begin by discussing what burials and cremations are.

What Happens During a Burial?

Between the two methods, more of us may be familiar with the burial process than cremation. While the events leading up to the burial may differ, the result generally involves a body in a casket being lowered into a gravesite, where it will be preserved for relatives, loved ones and friends to come and visit. Before the burial, many different events may occur.

Most burials begin with an embalming. This is not a mandatory step, but an embalming preserves the body so that a wake or funeral service can be conducted - allowing loved ones, friends and relatives to view their lost loved one a final time. Embalming is generally conducted at a funeral home. Following this, many families choose to hold a wake or funeral service, whereupon friends and family will gather to grieve a lost loved one, share stories and celebrate religious rites. Shortly after these memorial services, the burial occurs: a small number of friends and family gather to watch the casket be lowered into the ground at a gravesite that has been marked with a gravestone. Burials involve variations of this, sometimes involving vaults or excluding cemeteries, but this is the most common method.

What Happens During Cremation?

Cremation is handled quite differently compared to burials. Cremation is the process of reducing the body to ashes by using a cremation chamber that exposes it to high heat. The ashes are then collected in an urn which is then delivered to the family. Following the retrieval of cremated remains, the family is free to pursue any religious ceremonies or actions that honor their lost loved one. Unlike burial, cremation can be performed within a larger time scale. Burial requires a body to be embalmed and displayed at a wake within a couple of weeks, but cremation can occur at any point and does not generally involve embalming.

Cremation is generally handled by licensed professionals at crematoriums, which may be located at funeral homes but are generally found elsewhere. For an in-depth guide on the process of cremation, consider reading our article "How Does the Cremation Process Work?" which walks you through the individual steps and things to know.

Burial vs. Cremation: Cost

A major factor for many in deciding between cremation and burial is the cost difference. It may be unsurprising to know that burial can cost quite a bit more than cremation, depending on which services are rendered. On average, a burial can cost around $10,000 if a funeral and wake are conducted. Typical expenses include the burial cost, casket price, service fees, transportation fees, the vault or burial plot, embalming services, a gravestone, funeral services and the burial itself. A direct burial, which is a burial done without a funeral ceremony or wake, can still cost over $5,000.

By contrast, a direct cremation costs between $1,800 and $2,300 on average. Similar to a direct funeral, a direct cremation is accomplished without a funeral or a wake. If a ceremony is performed, the price of a cremation can rise, but certain expenses like embalming and transportation are reduced or eliminated. One cost-benefit of cremation over a burial is that funeral services can be performed at any time following cremation, so if one chooses to hold a memorial service a month or even a year later, there is no cost difference.

Burial vs. Cremation: Religious Considerations

Another important thing to consider when choosing between cremation and burial is the religious significance. While many religions do not favor one method over the other, certain religions may consider one option to be preferred. One such example of this is Judaism which prefers burial over cremation and Buddhism which prefers cremation over burial. Religious considerations for burial vs. cremation have been changing over recent generations, but certain churches, temples or synagogues may hold particular views. If you are of a religious faith, it may be important to research how your faith views burial and cremation and discuss your choices with your local religious guide.

After the Burial or Cremation

But what happens after burial and cremation? For burial, this is quite simple. A body remains in the grave it was buried in or the vault it was placed in unless it is necessary to move that body at some point. These gravesites allow visitors to pay respects to their loved ones. For cremation, a range of things can happen after the body has been cremated.

  • Dividing or displaying ashes: Cremated ashes, or cremains as they are commonly called, are often divided among family members and loved ones and displayed using decorative urns or cremation jewelry. These urns can be placed within one's home or a private location.
  • Scattering ashes: Ashes can be placed in a scattering urn and brought to a significant location where they are scattered. This can be a mountain, an ocean or even a favorite tree.
  • Burying ashes: Ashes can even be buried using a burial urn. These urns can be biodegradable or designed to withstand natural degradation.

Which is the Right Choice?

When it comes to burial vs. cremation, there is no right choice. It is an important personal matter that many take an entire lifetime to decide their preferences on. It is important to consider many factors when making your decision, but no matter which choice you make, it will be the right one for you.