Interment Explained: Definition, Process & Purpose

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What does interment mean? The Oxford Dictionary defines interment as "the burial of a corpse in a grave or tomb, typically with funeral rites." You can use it this way: "his interment took place in the cemetery." Despite being an established resource, Oxford lacks a complete definition of this word. In the funeral industry, interment means "burial in the ground… or entombment." Interment does not expressly refer to a buried body.

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Interment is often confused with the similar-sounding word internment. Internment means "the state of being confined as a prisoner, especially for political or military reasons." It is used in this way: "he was threatened with internment in a military prison."

You can see why these two words are often confused. And some grammar check programs don't include interment in their built-in dictionaries! You may be using the word correctly. But when Grammarly or a similar service says it’s incorrectly spelled you might second guess yourself.

Let's take a closer look at the word interment and its meaning. Included below is an explanation of burial alternatives, where some are considered interment while others are not.  

What is Interment?

Contained within the word interment is the Latin word "terra." "Terra" means "Earth" or "ground." This Latin word is also found in the words terrestrial, terrarium, and the phrase "terra firma."

Even with this basic knowledge, it can still be difficult to use the word interment correctly. It's not used exclusively to reference the burial of a dead body. It's proper to use the word when a body is in an above-ground sarcophagus. You can also use it to say, "the body is interred in a mausoleum." Oddly enough, you can use the word whether the body is cremated or buried. 

Difference between interment and burial

All burials are interments, but not all interments are burials. Clear as mud?  Interments involve placing a body in one of three places: a grave, an urn, or an above-ground burial site. A burial is a type of interment.

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Types of Interment

The definitions and usages of the word" interment" can be confusing. The different types of interment you can choose from when planning your end-of-life services are below. This is not meant to be an exhaustive list, but these are the most common options.

  • Burial: Most Americans are familiar with the traditional burial option. In this type of interment, the body goes in a casket, and the casket is buried underground. Usually, the burial takes place in a cemetery, but some states allow bodies to be buried on private land. 
  • Natural or green burial:  Natural burial options are growing in popularity. Examples of green burials include biodegradable urns or burial without a coffin. Others choose to forgo embalming or not to have their caskets placed in a vault for a "greener" burial option.
  • Cremation: More Americans than ever are choosing cremation. During this process, the deceased body is burned. The ashes and small bits of bone are given to the family or friends of the deceased. 
  • Entombment in a mausoleum: Mausoleums are structures that hold dead bodies. They are often used in places where burials aren't an option. Mausoleums can be massive structures holding many families or small single-family structures. Mausoleums are common in New Orleans and other southern cities.
  • Entombment in a columbarium niche: When a person is cremated, their family may choose to scatter their ashes. Others place the ashes in urns and seal the urns inside a columbarium niche. This niche is part of a larger columbarium and will contain the remains of many people. A columbarium niche provides a place for mourners to visit when mourning a loved one.
  • Entombment in a lawn crypt: Rarely used in the U.S., a lawn crypt is a heavy-duty modular unit buried underground. They protect the body from the elements.

How Interment Usually Works

What is the most popular interment choice for most Americans? For years, most Americans chose to bury their dead, but began to change pretty recently. According to the National Funeral Directors Association, about 53.5 percent of people chose to be cremated in 2015. And, 40 percent of people chose burial. 

Before choosing between cremation or burial, it might be helpful to learn more about these processes. While these are the two most common forms of interment, there are even a lot of options within these two choices. 

Where will your remains rest? How will they be preserved? These are just two of the questions that need an answer once you decide between cremation or burial. Granted, many of these options are dictated by your state's laws. So, when you’re considering your end of life plan make sure you research the options available in your area. 

Cremation

Before cremation, the crematorium takes great care to ensure that the body is correctly identified. Crematories also make sure they have the proper authorization in place. That confirmation ensures the correct burial process occurs. All medical devices and jewelry are removed from the body.

Of note, the removal of metal fillings before cremation is a hotly debated topic. The burned fillings release mercury into the atmosphere. No decision regarding best practice exists. 

Once prepared, a cremation container is used to hold the body. The container may be a casket or a large cardboard box designed specifically for this use. The ashes from the container are mixed in with the remains of the body.

From there, the container goes inside the retort or cremation chamber. The retort is between 1,400 and 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit. The body stays in the cremation chamber for 1.5 to 2 hours. 

A magnet is run over the remains of the body to remove any remaining metal. The remains are then ground up slightly to remove any large particles. Usually, these larger pieces contain more recognizable remains that may be disturbing to the deceased’s loved ones.

Finally, the remains go into an urn or some other temporary container. The weight of the remains is usually between three to nine pounds. The weight depends on the process the crematory used and the size of the body.

Burial

Cleaning and sanitizing the body is the first step. This is a necessary part of the process if the service involves an open casket. 

Once cleaning is complete the body may be embalmed. Embalming involves the removal of the blood. In the blood's place, chemicals get pumped into the body, which helps preserve the body. It's usually done when the family requests an open casket service.

After embalming is complete, the body is dressed in the clothing provided by the family. Funeral home employees take care of styling the hair of the deceased. Makeup is used on the deceased to make them appear more life-like.

Once the body is ready for viewing, it's stored in a giant refrigerator. Cooling the body keeps it from decomposing before burial.

Understanding Interment

No matter what type of interment you prefer, take care when discussing the options with others. Many older people are still coming to grips with the interment process. They have likely been to dozens of funerals. And might have made these difficult decisions for their deceased family members. This repetition brings a certain comfort to the process. Many older people have already decided how they will be buried. 

Keep in mind that others may not be comfortable talking about the process, so take care when making decisions with those individuals. You may be more practical in your decision making, but others may be more emotional.


Sources

  1. "Interment." Lexicowww.lexico.com/en/definition/interment
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