Whether we like or not, at some point in our lives we need to broach the topic (whether with ourselves, family or friends, or drafted in a Will) of death and what we would like to happen when our inevitable time comes. Some will know exactly what they would like included at their own funeral service and for whom their possessions will go to. Some may not. An aspect that comes up a lot with people i’ve conversed with though is whether i’d like to be buried or cremated when I finally (cliché alert!) kick the bucket. And for some, this can be a cause for tension between family members if a loved one hasn’t specified what they wanted done. So let’s talk about it now.
What happens to your body once you’ve died is a very personal decision. Although my focus in this blog post is burial vs cremation, these are not, by all means, the only options available to us. My grandfather on my father’s side for example, decided to donate his body to science; a selfless act, enabling aspiring scientists and doctors alike, to learn skills pertinent to the advancement of science and medicine. Here in New Zealand, this is a very dignified process with many student scientists and doctors conducting their own ‘memorial services’ for the cadaver at the end of their study tenure. For some students, this is an emotional and poignant event.
There is also the option of being buried at sea. A process that requires (at least here in NZ) permission from local councillors, you or loved one to be buried at only certain coastal areas (so your favourite beach might be out), and to have a specially made, weighted casket for a graceful decent to the sea floor slash preventing you floating back to the land of the living.
Before I continue I should probably mention that I write from the perspective of mainly Western traditions that i’ve observed here in New Zealand, but I may also draw from Maaori and Pacific traditions from which I am familiar with. Of course other cultures may have their own customs surrounding the finality of one’s remains and should be taken into account when reading this post. If you know of different traditions surrounding this topic, please comment on this post as I would love to know.
That being said, what of the two most common options: Burial or Cremation?
The number of people choosing cremation over burial is growing for a number of reasons. The more obvious reason is cost. Families can expect to pay around $5000 to $10,000 on a burial which doesn’t include the cost to buy a plot. These costs go toward pre-burial expenses such as embalmment, the coffin and travel expenses. On the other hand, you could expect to pay around $1000 to $6000 for a cremation. A fraction of the cost of a burial and the added bonus, you can have your ashes spread pretty much anywhere (within reason of course!). On top of a mountain overlooking the Pacific Ocean anyone? Just ensure the wind is blowing opposite to your face eeekkkk.
In some cultures, burials are the only option. In the Cook Islands for example, all Cook Islanders are buried. This is not so much, I believe, because there’s no crematorium on the island, but rather deeply engrained customs surrounding burials. They are also almost always buried on family land and their graves, regularly attended too and respected. This I feel may pose problems in the future for those tiny islands as population increases and more land is used for burials. In Māori culture, although they have the option of cremation, like Cook Islands culture, Māori have their own particular traditions relating to burials (‘nehua’) which are an inherent part of the grieving process (if not one of the most important!). Cremations are therefore uncommon and at times, frowned upon.
Whether you’re wanting to buried or cremated, there are a number of factors that can influence your decision making. Whether it be financial, cultural or whatever’s easiest, the decision to be buried or cremated when your time comes is an integral aspect of the mourning process, for you and your family and shouldn’t be taken lightly. For me, I’d like to be cremated, put in a nice eco-friendly bio-degrable box and buried on my family land in Rarotonga with a gardenia bush planted on top. What about you?