Cremation is gaining popularity in the United States. Every year, more and more people choose cremation and this year, for the first time, more than half of all deaths in the United States ended in cremation at 50.2 percent.
Why the change? Why are more people than ever choosing cremation over burial? There are many reasons for the changing trend, but the biggest shifts can be tied to changing attitudes toward memorial services, religion and costs.
Changing Views Toward Cremation
Many families are moving away from traditional funeral services and moving toward more joyous events celebrating the life of the deceased, often called a “celebration of life”. A recent CNN story reported that the number of people wanting a complete funeral with visitation has declined from 26.6 percent to 14.1 percent in just the last 3 years. Families who once mourned the loss of a loved one in a religious ceremony now may opt to honor their family members with a small private ceremony at a favorite restaurant or in their own home. Not to mention, families aren’t as tied to an area as they once were, so the family burial plot seems to have lost favor and been replaced with an urn as a better way to keep family members close by.
Religious Acceptance of Cremation
Many religions have long found cremation to be an acceptable, and even preferred practice. Several eastern religions have long cremated their dead. But for many, cremation has only recently been accepted into their religion; and with that acceptance, the increase in cremations. The Catholic church has seen a steady increase since it was given the cremation green light in 1963.
Cremation can be a much simpler, more cost-effective choice. There are less costs involved than with a burial that requires a casket, embalming, the plot of land and other services as well. While you can add to the costs of a cremation when you purchase additional items such as a niche, which is like an indoor vault for an urn, at its simplest, cremation is typically the lowest cost approach.
Other Cremation Considerations
Geography also plays into the equation when choosing cremation. The top three states to choose cremation in 2016 all favor this choice by more than 70 percent — Washington (76.4%), Nevada (75.6%) and Hawaii (74.3%). Why western states? According to the National Funeral Association, it goes back to looser religious ties, higher education rates and the transient populations in the region. The three states at the bottom of the cremation list hail from the south, with Mississippi taking the bottom position with only 20.9 percent of their population choosing cremation. Alabama and Kentucky follow with 25.7 percent and 27.3 percent of their populations choosing cremation. These southern states may be choosing burial because of tradition, deeper heritage tied to their states and the land being less expensive to buy a burial plot.
Whatever the reason — religion, geography, cost or simply a change in personal beliefs — cremation is on the rise. Despite cremation’s growing popularity, there is still a high level of misconception and lack of understanding around the cremation process.
The Cremation Process
In the end, when you take out all the reasons why cremations have gained popularity, the decision will ultimately come down to what is the right decision for you and your family. Sometimes, it’s simply logistics or being more at peace with one process over the other.
Cremation tends to happen quicker than a burial, logistically speaking. The body doesn’t need to be embalmed and preparation is minimal. Cremation can happen within 48 hours of death, while preparing a body for burial will typically take between three and seven days. As the cremation process is irreversible, some states require a 24-48 waiting period before cremation can occur. And of course, certain paperwork must be in place before either option can proceed.
When considering cremation, you may choose to have some different options, such as visitation or a viewing prior to cremation (which would require embalming), dressing the deceased or even arranging to witness the cremation itself.
To break the cremation process down at a high level, it’s basically reducing the remains to bone fragments by heating the body to between 1,400 and 1,600 degrees Fahrenheit. The body is first placed in a sealed cremation container before it is put into the cremation chamber. For an average sized adult body, the process takes about two hours and when complete, the ashes will be white to gray in color and weigh between four to six pounds.
After the cremation, the ashes are placed in an urn or container and delivered to the family with several options for handling the remains. The cremated remains are often scattered or may be otherwise memorialized through burial or other means. You can also place the remains in a cremation niche, which is like a mausoleum. Inside the cremation niche there is usually a wall with a recess for an urn.
Losing a loved one and having to make final arrangements is challenging in an already trying time. This is when having a preplan in place that details your end of life wishes becomes the most beneficial because these decisions are already made by the deceased, making this a non-issue for family.
The benefits of cremation seem to outweigh burial for so many people, as the trends show that this option is only on the rise; but the decision comes down to your beliefs and what you are comfortable with. In the end, this may be an option at least worth considering as you begin making end-of-life decisions for yourself or a loved one.