If you’re working on your end-of-life plan or helping a loved one do so, the question of cremation might have come up.
Jump ahead to these sections:
- Main Types of Cremation
- Main Types of Cremation Services
- How to Choose Which Cremation Type is Right for You or a Loved One
When most people think of cremation, they assume only one type exists. However, did you know that you can choose between different types of cremation? Knowing the different types just might help you make your decision.
Post-planning tip: If you are the executor for a deceased loved one, you have more than just the type of interment to think about. Handling their unfinished business can be overwhelming without a way to organize your process. We have a post-loss checklist that will help you ensure that your loved one's family, estate, and other affairs are taken care of.
Main Types of Cremation
Several popular types of cremation exist. Traditional cremation only offers one option among a few that you might be able to choose, depending on where you live. You also have options with services that come with each type of cremation.
1. Traditional cremation
To understand how traditional cremation works, you only need to understand several steps.
In traditional cremation, a state-mandated waiting period of 24 to 48 hours occurs between the time when a person dies and when cremation can occur. Unless an autopsy or other reason necessitates waiting longer, the deceased can get cremated immediately after the waiting period.
Traditional cremation uses extremely high heat to break down soft tissue. A person’s cremains, or ashes, remain after the process completes. A family member will receive the cremains in a thick, strong plastic bag in an urn (if previously purchased) or a temporary container from the crematorium.
2. Liquid cremation
Though liquid cremation is a relatively new concept, it is quickly gaining popularity in the United States. As opposed to the traditional cremation that uses a flame to reduce a body to bone, liquid cremation uses a process called alkaline hydrolysis. The process uses a combination of alkaline chemicals, water, heat, and pressure to speed up the natural decomposition of the body. When complete, bone and a sterile liquid remain.
This type of cremation is referred to by several names including “flameless cremation,” “aqua cremation,” “liquid cremation,” “bio cremation,” and “green cremation.” It is currently available in only 18 states and some provinces in Canada, while the remaining provinces and 32 states work to pass legislation to make it legal. The safe process most closely mimics the natural process of decomposition in nature.
3. Green cremation
When it comes to choosing the “greenest” type of cremation, the answer is an easy one. While regular flame-based cremation is certainly greener than embalming and burial, liquid cremation is a far better choice altogether. Why? Because of the process itself.
In flame-based cremation, a body still has an extensive carbon footprint. The process itself consumes large amounts of energy. Mercury emissions, the use of fossil fuels, and the release of greenhouse gases also occur.
The sterile liquid gets recycled and the family receives the deceased's bones in the form of ashes.
If you or your eco-conscious loved one wants a unique burial alternative, consider a green burial.
Main Types of Cremation Services
You can tap into several types of cremation services with either traditional flame-based or liquid cremation. Each type of service comes with a different price tag. Compare options if you can't spend a lot.
4. Cremation with a traditional service
Some families want the ability to have a traditional service — such as a funeral service with a viewing — before cremating their loved one. For a traditional service with cremation, several things will take place, including:
- Embalming of the deceased
- A full funeral service
- Transportation to the crematorium after the service
The cost for this type of service goes up accordingly. You can expect to budget for items not traditionally needed with a cremation, including:
- Embalming fee
- Body preparation for viewing
- Casket rental
- Transportation of body for funeral service
- Transportation of the body to the crematorium
- Fees associated with memorial or funeral service including the officiant and the funeral home or chapel fee
When you consider the extra costs for the fees listed above, you can expect to budget around $4,000 to $5,000 total. This cost includes all the fees associated with cremation in addition to the costlier fees that come with preparing the body, staff services, rentals, and transportation.
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5. Cremation with a memorial service
If you still want a service for yourself or your loved one but need something more budget-friendly, choosing to cremate with a memorial service instead of a traditional funeral service can save a bit of money. With a memorial service, you won't pay for:
- Body preparation for viewing
- Casket rental
- Transportation of the body
You can choose where you want a memorial service, pick the elements you desire, and decide how simple or extravagant you want it. In general, you should expect to budget around $2,000 to $4,000 for the cremation and memorial costs.
Of course, this number can go up depending on how elaborate you choose to make the memorial. If you’re trying to be cost-conscious while still giving people an opportunity to gather and remember your life or the life of someone you love, you could choose this budget-friendly option.
6. Direct cremation
Direct cremation offers the least expensive option when it comes to cremation services because you won't pay for related funeral or memorial services. After a person passes away, his or her body goes directly to the crematorium.
Because you only pay for the cremation itself and an urn for ashes to hold the cremains, you pay less for expenses. Expect to budget around $1,500 for direct cremation and an urn. Of course, as with anything, depending on how fancy an urn you purchase, your total cost can rise or fall.
7. Cremation and donation to science
Donating your body to science offers a great way to benefit science and get a free cremation. If you wanted to be an organ donor but you don’t qualify for some reason, you can still donate your body to science.
Most programs give a loved one’s ashes to the designated recipient in around four weeks. The program completely covers the cost of cremation and body transportation. By opting for this service, the only cost to you involves the purchase of an urn or a memorial service if you decide to hold one.
How to Choose Which Cremation Type Is Right for You or a Loved One
Those closest to you can help you decide on a specific type of cremation, but ultimately, it's your decision. Once you’ve made a decision, let your next of kin know about the type of burial and funeral arrangements you want as part of your end-of-life plan. Consider a few questions as you make this important decision.
What is the budget?
As much as we may not want a budget to be a deciding factor in what our end-of-life services look like, you do need to consider it. Keep in mind that you don’t have to rule out everything you want but different services may need to pare down. Consider the following options:
- Donate your body to science and hold a memorial instead of having direct cremation and a funeral.
- Keep it simple with a direct cremation and small DIY memorial at your home or a local park.
- Pool resources for a traditional service and split the cost among family members.
Are there religious considerations?
Most religions "allow" cremation, so know your options before you make decisions. Is your family uncomfortable with the idea? Do religious reasons prevent you from choosing one option over another? Discuss this with your family if you decide to break with tradition and communicate the reasons why you feel cremation makes sense for you.
How eco-friendly are you/they?
If you or your loved one is especially eco-conscious, this could help answer the question regarding the specific type of cremation you choose. If you want your cremation to be as eco-friendly as possible, water-based cremation offers the most eco-friendly option.
Is there a way to keep a portion of your loved one's cremains?
Perhaps you would like a piece of cremation jewelry or memorial diamond that holds a portion of the cremated remains or use the ashes to create a beautiful stone that can be used in a piece of jewelry or decor. Eterneva is one company that makes this possible, transforming cremated ashes into real diamonds in a matter of months. You can also solidify your loved one's cremains into 40 to 60 cremation stones, which you can divvy up however you'd like, with Parting Stone.
Making End-of-Life Choices
As cremation grows increasingly popular, it becomes the preference for many when choosing end-of-life arrangements. Shop around and consider all of your options before making a choice, then tell those closest to you about your wishes.
- Bromwich, Jonah. “An Alternative to Burial and Cremation Gains Popularity.” Business, The New York Times, 19 October 2017. nytimes.com/2017/10/19/business/flameless-cremation.html