In addition to deciding what kind of funeral service is most suitable, if the deceased has not left instructions, you will need to decide on the final disposition of your loved one. Regardless of which option you choose, you can still have a funeral and/or a meaningful memorial service.
What is Embalming and is it Required?
Embalming is a process that preserves the deceased for several days following the death, allowing the family to view their loved one and hold the funeral service at the convenience of out-of-town friends and relatives. Embalming is not required by law in most states except in certain situations such as shipping across state lines, shipment by common carrier, or sometimes when the death is the result of a contagious disease.
Earth or Above Ground Burial
Earth burial or aboveground “burial” in a tomb, mausoleum, crypt or columbarium is the traditional choice for final disposition in the United States. People choose burial for many of the same reasons they choose a traditional funeral service–they find comfort in the traditions, or they are bound by cultural or religious customs.
A direct or immediate burial is one that takes place shortly after death, and without a funeral service. There is no viewing or visitation, so there is no need for embalming, however a casket is required. You may still choose to hold a memorial service. Direct burials can be a cost-effective alternative to full-service funerals.
Cremation is a process that reduces the body to ashes by exposing it to extreme heat and flames. Today, more and more families are choosing cremation as an alternative to traditional earth or aboveground burial for a variety of reasons including lower cost. Some consider cremation a “greener” alternative, although fossil fuels are burned.
If you choose cremation, you can still bury the remains, place them in a crypt or niche in a cemetery, or choose to keep them at home in an urn. Visitation beforehand, a memorial service, committal service or a scattering ritual often accompany cremation to add meaning and provide closure for survivors.
A direct cremation also takes place shortly after death. No viewing or visitation occurs, eliminating the need for embalming.
Scattering the ashes of the deceased can be a meaningful ritual. Many people choose to have the ashes scattered by a boat over water or by an airplane over land or sea. You can choose any location (with proper authorization) that was meaningful to the person who died. You can even scatter ashes by fireworks or balloons.
Are Direct Burial or Direct Cremation an Option?
Direct burial and direct cremation are both time sensitive options. Their availability is dependent on how quickly the deceased’s attending physician or coroner record the cause(s) of death.
Organ Donations and Anatomical Gifts
Today, most major religions approve of organ donations and anatomical gifts. In most cases, arrangements must be made before death. If the deceased has indicated they want their organs to be donated for transplant, or their bodies to be donated to a medical school for research and education, you should contact the agency of choice as soon as death occurs.
Whole Body Donation
Whole body donation can be an economical as well as thoughtful and generous choice. Many institutions cremate the body at their own expense at the end of the study. Some will return the body or ashes if requested. If that’s the case, you are then responsible for costs associated with final disposition.