Friday, March 16, 2012

The Cost of Dying – Cremation

Last week, we looked at the various costs associated with dying in the United States.  All told, death is a $12 to $15-billion industry in this country. According to the 2010 Funeral Price Survey by the National Funeral Directors Association (NFDA), Americans spent, on average, $7,775.00 for a traditional adult funeral.  (This does NOT include the burial plot and cemetery expenses.)

But not everyone wants a funeral that includes embalming, a viewing, a religious ceremony, and a graveside service.  Not to mention a state-of-the-art casket with burial vault, obituary notices, flowers, music, prayer cards, memorial cards, acknowledgement cards, hearse, and limousine for transportation to the cemetery for the interment.  National trends show that we are moving away from these traditional religious funerals.  For those seeking less pomp and circumstance, there are options.

Cremation is the alternative that more people are deciding on.  In 1985, only 15% of the deceased were cremated.  According to the Cremation Association of North America, (CANA) today, 36% of deceased are cremated.  And projections show that by 2025, almost 56% will be cremated.  (The revenue on cremations alone has increased almost 1-billion dollars in just five years.) 

Cremation in the U.S.
The acceptance of cremation varies widely across the country as shown on this 2006 map.  Western states favor cremation more than other states, with almost 67% of Hawaiian residents, along with 65% of residents in Oregon and Nevada opting for cremation.  Southern states such as Alabama and Mississippi only show 11% of those deceased being cremated.  Studies indicate that the drastic difference of acceptance for cremation in this country may be due to religion and religious beliefs.

With that in mind, cremation is growing in acceptance as our ties to tradition diminish.  According to the funeral industry-sponsored 2006 Wirthlin Report, the top five reasons why a person selects cremation are:

• Cremation saves money (30%)
• Cremation saves land (13%)
• Cremation is simpler (8%)
• The body is not in the earth (6%)
• Personal Preference (6%)

Questions to Ask
When considering cremation, the Cremation Association of North America suggests you ask the following questions before deciding on a funeral home or crematory:

  Do they have their own crematory or do they work with a cremation firm? 
If the latter, which crematory do they use?
  Who owns the crematory facility?
  How often do they inspect that facility?
  Are licenses and permits current?
 How many operators do they have and what type of training 
do they require? 
Are they CANA certified?
 Does the crematory have refrigeration?
 How long does the crematory hold the body prior to cremation?
 Does the crematory have liability insurance?
• Does the crematory facility allow witnessing by family members?

Cremation Box
Remains Box
When selecting cremation you do not have to purchase a casket.  Check with your local funeral home about renting a casket if you would like to hold a public viewing.  If you decide on direct cremation, (having the remains cremated immediately after death,) you can choose an unfinished wooden coffin or a heavy cardboard enclosure for the cremation.  You are also not required to purchase an urn for the remains. You may keep them in the box provided by the crematory.

What is Cremation?
Cremated Remains
Cremation is a process that reduces the body to ashes, known as cremains.  But the cremains are more than just ashes.  They also contain bone fragments that are pulverized and resemble gravel or broken seashells.

Cremation, like a traditional funeral, will vary in cost depending on what you decide on.  Basic cremation can cost as little as $300.  Or it can run several thousands if you decide on an Urn Committal Service, (similar to a traditional funeral service with cremation.)

Cremation Options
Private Viewing
You may choose to hold a private family viewing, without embalming, before the cremation. Embalming is never required for the first 24 after death. You also have a set amount of time to arrange for the body to be cremated before embalming may be required according to your state law.

Memorial Service
You may decide on direct (immediate) cremation and then hold a memorial service for the deceased at a later time when all of the family and friends can gather together.

Memorial Bench for Urns
Urn Committal Service
Or you could choose to have a more traditional ceremony, known as an Urn Committal Service. The deceased is embalmed and casketed for a public viewing and a funeral service is held before the cremation.  You can also purchase a burial spot for the receptacle to be buried in.

A typical cremation with memorial service and urn can cost between $1,500 and $2,000.

The Remains
Earthen Urn

Outside Columbarium
Once the body is cremated you may elect to keep the remains in a container at home, place them in a columbarium, or have them buried.

Cowboy Urn
Fingerprint Heart Jewelry
Urns and receptacles come in many options including biodegradable, hardwood, granite, marble and metal.  Urns can be very simple or as unique as you would like.  Jewelry is also offered which holds a small amount of ashes, keeping your loved one close to you.

Casting Ashes to the Wind
Cremation Garden
The ashes may also be scattered or cast at a Cremation Garden or a location that was special to the deceased.  Just make sure this is in compliance with the local health department’s regulations.  It is legal in all states to scatter or bury cremated remains on private property, as long as you have the landowner’s permission.  You may also consider scattering ashes at sea.

The most important thing to remember is that no amount of money can express how we feel about those we have lost, so we owe it to them to handle their remains in the manner that they would have wanted – with love and respect for the life they lived.

~ Joy