Burial or Cremation

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Although it’s certainly not a pleasant topic to contemplate, if you’re thinking of making a Will – or perhaps entering into some form of funeral plan – then you’ll naturally need to give some consideration as to whether you’d prefer to be buried or cremated when the time comes.

Of course, for some religions there are very certain practices which are very rarely dismissed.  However, with the main exception of Orthodox Jews and Muslims, most other religions now accept the process and method of cremation.  Indeed, it’s very much endorsed and practised in Himduism since they believe that the cremation process helps the departed soul on its journey into the next world.  Burial, on the other hand, is more specifically seen to symbolize the burial and resurrection of the Christ and is still widely practised by Catholics.

Religious considerations aside, in this article we take a look at the pro’s, con’s and facts of each option so that you can more readily decide for yourself which might be the better option for you.

More about burials …

Humans have been burying their dead for at least the past 100,000 years and in essence, this is a process intended to show respect for the dead.  Most of the key people referred to in the Old Testament were buried and in fact, it was actually considered a dishonour to the people of Israel not to receive a proper burial.

Many people choose to opt for a burial so that their body may be placed with other loved ones in the same grave; usually other members of family.  Of course, the whole process of burial enables the body to slowly decompose naturally, which some feel is a much more respectful process than cremation.  Indeed, some Christians object to the practice of cremation on the grounds that those bodies destroyed by fire can’t then be resurrected and reunited with the soul and spirit.

Whilst all graves must be backfilled and made tidy (in order to comply with ICCM Guiding Principles for Burial Services), family and friends are permitted to stay whilst the grave is filled in and many cultures even require that the family watch or assist with this final farewell to their loved one.

By law, graves can’t be sold for more than 100 years, although ownership can be extended and this process is typically done every 5 years.  Even if families aren’t offered the option to ‘top-up’ the lease by their local authority they can still apply to do so independently.

More about cremation …

Since 1968, when the number of cremations first exceeded the number of burials, this option has now increased considerably.  In fact, current figures show that around 70% of all funerals are cremations.  Here’s why:

  • Cremation reduces the body to cremated remains within a matter of hours, which some people feel denotes a sense of reverence.
  • During the course of cremation (a word derived from the Latin word “crematus”, meaning “to burn up”), the human remains are heated to temperatures between 870-908 Celsius; or 1,600 – 2,000 Fahrenheit. The bones fragments are then processed in a special machine until they resemble coarse, light grey, sand.
  • Unlike burials, cremations don’t require the body to be embalmed. This therefore tends to make for a slightly more cost-effective process.
  • Some people who choose cremation do so with a view to having their ashes scattered at a certain location – perhaps in a favourite spot they enjoyed whilst still alive, or even out at sea. Ashes, of course, can also be kept in a family’s home and don’t necessarily have to be placed in the ground, unlike a coffin.
  • Cremation is also considered to be much more environmentally friendly since it saves on ground space. The coffin will always be cremated with the body too.
  • On a purely historical point, most of the people who were burned to death in the Bible were actually considered to be receiving punishment. What’s more, unlike the Christian belief that burnt bodies can’t be resurrected with Christ, others strongly deny this theory on the basis that God can still bring newness of life.  After all, if God were unable to do this then all believers who die during fires are without hope of receiving their heavenly body!

Do the types of service depend on whether I’m buried or cremated?

No.  The type of service either you, or your family, choose can be conducted regardless of whether you’re being buried or cremated.  The service itself can take place at your chosen place of worship (with a short committal service in the crematorium chapel), you can elect to have a civil ceremony, a ‘celebration of life’ or even no service at all.

Will I be able to have a headstone?

Unless you opt for cremation with no actual resting place (for example, if you choose to have your ashes scattered somewhere) then there’s no reason why you can’t have a headstone; regardless of whether you’re buried or cremated.

All headstones must be erected in accordance with the National Association of Memorial Masons (NAMM) Recommended Code of Practice and you’ll be given further information about this by your funeral director or local authority.

Who can I discuss my options with?

If you’re considering whether you’d prefer to be buried or cremated then it’s advisable to speak with your local funeral director for advice.  You might, for example, want to be buried with other family members (in which case, it’s likely that you’ll need permission).  Remember, there are certain legal requirements as to who much earth must be left on top of the last coffin and sometimes it’s not physically possible to place an extra coffin into the grave without breaking the law.  Consequently, if this is something you’re particularly adamant on, it’s important to ensure that your request will be approved.

Suffice it to say, when it comes to making this very important decision there are certainly many factors to take into account and these certainly shouldn’t be underestimated.

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