Experiencing death in the family causes great pain and emotional distress. And planning a loved one’s funeral can only add to the turmoil and anxiety the family may already be going through. Often, the decision of how to lay the deceased to rest is made easier if they have indicated their preference before passing away. However, if this was not done, the family needs to decide between a traditional burial, flame-based cremation, or aquamation.
Flame-based cremation uses heat to convert the body to ash. The deceased’s body is placed in a coffin or casket before being put into a chamber and exposing it to open flames, intense heat, and evaporation. After the process is complete, the remaining bone fragments are removed, ground, and placed in a temporary container or an urn provided by the family.
Although flame-based cremation has a long history in Eastern death rites, it is much more recent in Western societies and has only really been considered as an option from the early 1900s. Figures show that in Great Britain, for instance, close to 80% choose to be cremated, from almost 35% in 1960. And in the United States, it has grown from about 4% in 1960 to 53% in 2018 and is predicted to reach just short of 60% by 2023. In South Africa, traditional burials have always been the standard, but flame-based cremations have grown in popularity in recent years. Reasons for the increased acceptance of flame-based cremations include economic factors, fewer religious prohibitions, a general move away from the more traditional approach to a more open-minded view, and a lack of space for traditional burials.
Cremated remains (ashes) have the benefit that they can be kept by the family and can travel with them if they were to move. Many family members also choose to scatter the ashes in a place which holds special memories of the deceased. The family can also decide to have the ashes interred in an above-ground columbarium (construction made up of small compartments to hold urns containing ashes), which is often found in a mausoleum, a chapel or sometimes even on its own either inside a building or outdoors.
Compared to a standard burial, the costs are more or less the same because the body requires the same preparation services. Furthermore, in both cases, a coffin or casket is required. However, the costs of doing a funeral increase quite considerably as extras (transport for mourners, catering, gazebo and tent rentals, etc.) are added. Hence, the average cost of a cremation is lower than the average cost of laying a loved one to rest which, according to the FinMark Trust, is about R40 000. Family members must remember that most crematoriums are situated in the bigger cities, meaning that there could be extra costs involved if the deceased’s body needs to be transported.
Before deciding on an option, it is crucial to weigh up the alternatives in order to decide which solution would suit your family best. Therefore, it is important to discuss this with your funeral undertaker, as they understand how difficult this choice may be and are in the best position to assist you.