Burial or cremation? Things to consider

Posted by AK Lander | On December 12, 2013 11:39

Here we present a guide to burial and cremation, with information that could help make this decision a little easier.

One of the most difficult decisions to make in our lifetime is whether we want to be buried or cremated. It is an important choice to make before we pass on, taking this pressure away from our loved ones, and is something that requires information and research beforehand. Here, we present a guide to burial and cremation, with information that could help make this decision a little easier.



Burial has long been the traditional method of handling a body after death and was considered the only option until the late 19th century, when Sir Henry Thompson brought the idea of cremation to the UK from Italy. Burial is still thought of today as the traditional choice, even though cremations have now become more popular.

As burial has been such a long tradition, a number of families have plots dedicated to them in graveyards, allowing them to be buried adjacent to each other. Because burials are normally marked by a large headstone they provide a significant space to return to and care for - a place to leave flowers and remember a loved one.

Cremations provide this to a lesser extent as remains from this process are either more closely packed together and sometimes all of the ashes are scattered, making mourning less personal for some.

A burial tends to be more expensive than a cremation due to the cost of land fees, embalming and caskets, although natural burial can be quite economical. ‘Green’ burials have become quite popular of late, with caskets made from materials such as seagrass or rattan.



Cremation is currently the most popular resolution to the important question of whether to opt for a burial or cremation in the UK, with 425,784 cremations carried out in the UK in 2012, which accounted for almost 75 per cent of deaths.

Many people choose to be cremated due to the relatively little amount of space that their plot will take up in comparison to a burial; ashes tend to be buried in a small container or are scattered according to the wishes of the deceased. A burial or cremation can be marked with a memorial, but gravestones for a cremation tend to be smaller than those for a burial, taking up less space. Whilst smaller, these memorial stones can be just as touching and beautiful as headstones.

Those who feel strongly about the environment will want to know how damaging cremation is to the world they leave behind; burning inevitably involves using fossil fuels. Each cremation takes around 75 minutes at temperatures of 760-1150°C, which equates to 285kWh of gas and 15kWh of electricity. This is around the same amount as the domestic energy consumption of a single person over a month, which is quite a large amount in total considering that roughly 74 per cent of all deaths in the UK are followed by cremation. Letting the body slowly and naturally break down is less immediately damaging to the environment, although concerns are sometimes raised about public hygiene if a body is buried too close to the surface of the earth.

Others choose to be cremated because the idea of decomposition does not appeal to them, or due to fears of being buried alive, which is in any case highly unlikely.



Religion – burial or cremation?

Different religions are quite specific as to whether they welcome or forbid burial or cremation. In general, a Christian funeral involves burial of the body, but many denominations are now happy with cremation, with no specific rules set out in the Bible.

Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism and Jainism all consider cremation to be the preferred choice, if not obligatory. Some will practise other funeral rites that require more in-depth research; for instance, Balinese Hindu bury their relatives until an auspicious day of the calendar, when the body will be cremated as part of a large and expensive ceremony.

Islam is strongly against cremation, as Muslims believe that the human body should be treated respectfully during and after life, therefore finding the act of cremation disrespectful. Judaism is also against cremation, although Liberal Jews are more open to the idea.