Funeral directors often meet with families who find themselves facing unexpected and challenging decisions. Perhaps death has been sudden or unexpected. Maybe a loved one’s final wishes only included instructions about where to hold a funeral or celebration of life service but didn’t identify further details, or perhaps loved ones simply never talked about their final wishes. In any of these cases, families find themselves wondering about whether their loved one would have preferred cremation or burial.
Cremation or burial are highly personal decisions that are not simply about the budget.
If a pre-arranged funeral was not planned, surviving family members might look to their religious or family traditions to help them decide what their loved one might have wanted. Or they may be guided by considering what is most comforting for those left behind. Is it important to know exactly where their loved one’s remains are? Would they find comfort in visiting a graveside where their loved one is laid to rest? Are there other family members buried in the same cemetery? Had the deceased purchased plots for themselves and their spouse?
In the past, religious traditions and cultural influences meant that more Americans were buried than cremated. But recent years have seen a growing shift – so that now about 40 percent of Americans choose cremation. As more families choose cremation, there are other choices to be made. For instance, where will the cremains be placed? Will they be in a columbarium or niche in a cemetery? Will they be scattered? Will you and your family hold a committal service at the time of scattering or placement? Just as with burial, family members can consider what will be comforting and meaningful?
When pre-arranging your funeral, you can document how you want to be remembered, honored, and celebrated by your loved ones. A funeral, memorial, or celebration of life service – whether with a casket or cremated remains present – is an important way to finding meaning in loss. Rituals in the form of music, poetry or scripture, and a eulogy offered by a minister or funeral celebrant (or the collaboration of both minister and celebrant), shared stories provided by family and friends are all aspects of honoring their loved one. Funeral directors can help families determine what’s needed in bringing together all these elements. Funeral directors can support you in making personal decisions that will honor your life and bring peace and closure to your loved ones.
Many people are reluctant to have conversations with their family members about their end-of-life wishes. Yet, having a conversation – even an informal one around the dining room table – can help your loved ones know in advance what is most important to you. Sharing your thoughts about burial or cremation, the location of your final resting place, and what you would like in the way of ceremony can create a sense of peace when your loved ones arrive at the funeral home to begin the process of saying goodbye.