Politics and religion have long been banned at many dinner parties along with the guilt or innocence of Lindy Chamberlain and more recently whether Barnaby Joyce was a good or bad guy. There are some subjects guests will never agree on, with a good chance of the evening ending, not with cheese and biscuits, but with a lot of grumbling, frowns and even shouting. Finding a “neutral” subject where the exchange of opinions remains calm, controlled and friendly can be difficult. So here’s a suggestion. Whether you want to be buried or cremated when the time comes and why?
A recent dinner party at my place went down this track and ended with an admission that we all needed more information so we could resume the discussion at the next get-together. To begin with, the number of cremations in Australia officially overtook burials in 2015 with cremations now accounting for approximately 70 plus percent of metropolitan area funerals. The pros and cons of the what will be our last journey on earth are many, including the actual process, cost, religion, environmental and practical, according to Gather Here, a leading Australian funeral comparison website.
Most people are familiar with the burial process, where the body is cleaned, dressed and sealed in a coffin or casket before being interred, usually below ground in a cemetery. However, not everyone is familiar with the cremation process. How does cremation work? During a cremation, the body is delivered to a crematorium either in a coffin or a cremation capsule (a cardboard container designed specifically for cremation). Staff remove any metal parts from the coffin or container before placing it into the cremator.
Modern cremators use natural gas or propane and burn at temperatures between 870–980°C. The full cremation process can take anywhere between 1-2 hours. After the cremation, any remaining metallic objects (such as coffin nails and prostheses) are removed from the cremated remains which are then transferred to a processor to reduce the bone fragments to a fine, granular consistency. The “ashes” are then placed in a sealed container and dealt with according to the funeral director’s instructions.
The cost of burials has been steadily increasing over the past decade as the available space in cemeteries continues to fill up. Currently in Australia, the average cost of a burial including the grave plot and headstone is approximately $19,000. In contrast, the average cost of a cremation is $7,420, which is significantly cheaper. Cheaper still, a direct cremation (i.e. a cremation without a service) can be arranged for as little as $1,250 – $1,995 depending on which state you live in.
One of the key concerns for people deciding between burial or cremation is whether they are permitted by their religion. While the practice of Eastern Orthodox (including Greek Orthodox) and Fundamental Christianity prohibits cremations, the Bible itself does not have any specific teachings in relation to cremation. As a result, Christians have been required to interpret the text. The main argument of Christians who oppose cremation stems from the teaching that the bodies of those who have died will be resurrected and reunited with their spirits. Accordingly, under this belief, if a body has been cremated, and only the ashes remain, it cannot be reconnected with its spirit. Under the Islamic faith, cremation is considered “haram”, meaning it is forbidden. According to the faith, all dead are required to be shrouded and buried in the earth, which is why Muslims are given exceptions under state laws and cemetery rules to be buried in shrouds rather than coffins.
Similarly, in Judaism, cremation is strictly prohibited. The source for this comes from the Torah, in Genesis 3:19, where Adam is told by God that “You will return to the ground for it was from the ground that you were taken.” Cremated remains cannot be interred in a Jewish cemetery and the customary laws of mourning are not allowed for those who have been cremated.
Hinduism and Buddhism
Finally, there are a number of religions where only cremation is permitted, such as Hinduism and Buddhism. Under both of these religions, it is believed that the soul is reincarnated. They also believe that the soul is attached to the body, so if the body is buried and not cremated, the soul will be made to linger in this life unable to move on to the next rightful place.
There have been numerous studies into whether burial or cremation is better for the environment. Most studies show that cremation is more sustainable and eco-friendly, but not always by as much as you might think. While approximately 160kg of carbon dioxide is created by a cremation, almost four times more than a burial, when you factor in that graves in cemeteries need to be maintained, watered, and fertilised in perpetuity, they actually have a larger carbon footprint. Studies estimate cremations to be anywhere between 10-50% better for the environment. If you are environmentally conscious, by far the best option for the environment is a green funeral, where bodies are interred in a green burial site without embalming in a 100% natural and biodegradable shroud or coffin. For more information, see our complete Guide to Green Funerals in Australia.
Lastly, there are a number of practical arguments to be made for both burial and cremation that you should consider when making your decision.
For families who live long distances apart or in different countries, cremation offers a more straightforward way to return remains home, rather than a full and expensive repatriation process. A direct cremation (i.e. a cremation without a service) can be coupled with a memorial service held at a later date, not only saving money but also giving families greater flexibility as to timing. Cremation allows remains to be scattered at a place of significance in accordance with a loved one’s wishes. Assuming the cremated remains aren’t interred in a cemetery, they can be taken by the family should they ever wish to relocate or move overseas.
A grave in a cemetery is permanent place that can be visited to honour and remember your loved one for generations to come. Without a permanent resting place, cremated remains can easily be lost, broken, or stolen. However, keep in mind that it’s also an option to bury ashes in a cemetery, which offers cremation the same benefits of a permanent resting place.
A Personal Choice
Choosing between a burial or cremation is a very personal decision. In addition to all of the considerations above, many people simply have a strong gut instinct for one or the other. For example, some people have taphophobia – the irrational fear of being buried alive – or baulk at the thought of decaying over time.
While it can be a difficult subject to think about, it’s necessary. You should make time to discuss your preference with your family so that they’re able to confidently carry out your wishes without the stress of having to guess what you would have wanted.
So as you can see, it was a very interesting dinner party. Not sure what we resolved but it definitely had us all thinking about our final destination.
By Ashley Shoreham
SheSociety is a site for the women of Australia to share our stories, our experiences, shared learnings and opportunities to connect.