The Differences Between Cremation and Burial


If you’ve ever taken a moment to consider whether you’d like to be cremated or buried after you die, you’ve probably weighed the differences between these options. Depending on your culture or personal beliefs, you may not have had to give this much thought at all! Although both cremation and burial are age-old traditions and will most often include some type of ceremony, their differences vary in just about every way– even down to cost. Whether you’re pre-planning for your own funeral or are responsible for someone else’s, learning about the major differences between cremation and burial can help you make the best decisions and plan the most meaningful service for yourself or for your loved one.


The main difference between cremation and burial is, of course, the handling of the body. In cremation, bodies are incinerated so that ashes are the only remains. With burial, the body is buried underground in a casket or above ground in a mausoleum. Cremated remains can also be buried, scattered, or entombed in a columbarium.


In terms of flexibility and timing, cremation and burial offer largely different options surrounding the funeral service itself. When a person chooses to be buried, he or she must be buried rather quickly after passing (within two weeks). The ceremony must also usually happen before the deceased is laid to rest. With cremation, a service can occur at any reasonable point around the time of death. This often makes it easier to schedule travel for long-distance friends and relatives.


The options for disposition (or the manner in which bodily remains are handled) between cremation and burial are also very different. When someone chooses to be buried, their body’s final resting place will either be in a dedicated burial plot or in a mausoleum. With cremation, the loved ones of the deceased can hold onto their remains indefinitely, or they can be scattered on privately owned land or in places where it is legally allowed to do so (click here to read about where cremated remains can and cannot be scattered). Cremated remains can also be buried in many cemeteries. Some cemeteries even have urn gardens or columbariums where cremated remains can be safely memorialized. 


There have been questions about whether or not cremation has a negative impact on the grieving process. Some believe that having a permanent place where you can pay your respects to the deceased is very comforting, and others believe the opposite. Regardless of the location, the processes of grief and remembrance are unique to each of the bereaved, and loved ones can grieve wherever they feel most at peace with doing so.


For many people, cost is the leading factor when it comes to decision-making about funeral arrangements. Pricing varies greatly from state to state, and certain accommodations and customizations have an impact on the final cost of each service. However, According to the National Funeral Directors Association (NFDA), the median cost for a burial (not including a monument or marker costs, flowers or an obituary, or the cost of a burial vault) in 2017 was $7,360. With the same exclusions, the median cost for a cremation was $6,260. Additional personalizations will of course have an impact on the final cost, and pricing may be different in your state.


Whichever you choose for yourself or help to plan for your loved one, the decision between cremation and burial is a deeply personal one that should be considered with great thought. Customs, cultures, and personal beliefs all play an important role in the decision and will help you to weigh your options. Friends, family, and even funeral directors can help you make the right choice for you.

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