Ashes are for Ash Trays Part One: Taking an Honest Look into the Perceptions and Realities of Cremation By Neil Fogarty
This is the first blog in a three-part discussion concerning how we understand, discuss, and properly view the cremation process.
Cremation is now the norm in our society. As of 2018, more than 50 percent of deaths lead to a decision to cremate the body. People and their families choose cremation for a variety of reasons including saving money, allowing for scattering, preferring cremation as a green option, and believing that cremation is easier or more convenient for their family. However, when making the decision to cremate, do families truly get the chance to make an educated and informed cremation decision? By taking an honest look into the myths, methods and motivations associated with cremation, I hope to educate and inform, not to discourage people, but give them the facts to help make their ultimate decisions.
Myth Busting Cremation
Most of us know the popular TV show MythBusters where two guys go around trying to disprove urban legends or Hollywood tricks, usually through destruction and mayhem. The popular show aired for 16 seasons and fed the public’s curiosity about many of the things we question. Ironically, this critical curiosity seldom finds its way to considering cremation. Whether it is an unwillingness to touch a sensitive topic, or just an apathy of accepting what we hear, most of us don’t have a clue about the facts. Let’s bust some cremation myths!
1) Taking a cremated body home is an option for final disposition – Myth!
Not trying to step on toes here, but cremated bodies at home will never stay permanently at home. Some folks choose to keep their loved ones close by keeping an urn in the house, or a temporary cremation box in the closet. Talk to any auctioneer about estate sales and you will quickly find out that, tragically, an urn at home is not a permanent solution. Countless cremated bodies are left behind simply because those caring for them die; this leaves others (often strangers) to deal with the orphaned urns. If not being scattered; made into jewelry; or made into an ocean reef, cremated bodies deserve the dignity of some final resting place and grandma’s closet just isn’t it!
2)Those who cremate don’t have memorials at cemeteries – Myth!
There is an amazing variety of options to permanently memorialize a cremated body. Burial at a cemetery, entombment in a public or private columbarium, entombment within a granite memorial itself, and garden memorial entombment at home are just a few options. Even for those who choose scattering; subdividing the cremated body; or water burial, a cenotaph (a lasting memorial for someone buried elsewhere) can be created and placed for permanent record.
3) Cremation is a “green” or environmentally friendly option. – Myth!
While cremation may prevent the internment of an embalmed body housed in wood, steel, and concrete it is far from environmentally friendly. In fact, the carbon footprint of an average cremation is 540 pounds of carbon dioxide going into the atmosphere. According to a Huffpost article, “that’s about 250,000 tons of CO2 each year” just in the U.S. (Spade, Katrina. “How Your Death Affects Climate Change.” Huffpost, Huffpost, 2 Feb. 2015) Those extremely sensitive to environmental concerns should research methods, like natural burial, to move toward a method that is truly environmentally friendly.
4) Cremation results in ashes – Myth!
Whether someone labels cremated bodies as ashes is truly in the “eye of the beholder.” If someone expects cremated bodies to resemble what they find in an ashtray or fireplace, they would be sorely mistaken. According to Cremation Institute, “contrary to common belief, [cremated bodies] are not ashes at all. For the most part, they are dry calcium phosphates together with some other minerals, including potassium and sodium, which in simpler terms means bone matter.” (Taylor, Sylvia, et al. “10 Things You Don’t Know About Cremation: Our Experts Explain..” Cremation Institute, Cremation Institute, 17 June 2019) Ashes are in ashtrays and fireplaces, they are not what comes home after cremation.
5) Cremation is the final disposition of the body – Myth!
Ironically state legislators, like those in Ohio, have helped perpetuate this myth by writing it into laws! Cremation, by its nature, cannot be final disposition. Just like embalming or alkaline hydrolysis, cremation prepares the body for final disposition; it is preparation. The term final disposition has its roots in legal definitions, meaning the final settlement of a legal matter. In the world of death, it means the final resting place for a body, cremated or otherwise. Unless we plan to leave cremated bodies at the crematory (which sadly happens,) cremation is preparation; it is not final disposition.
6) If cremated, you can’t have any of the services available with a traditional funeral – Myth!
There are so many options available to families choosing cremation that are just not known. While a person can choose a direct cremation (having a body cremated and returned with no other service,) families can also have some or all the traditional aspects of a funeral as well. With cremation you can still:
• Have an open casket and viewing
• Have a funeral service
• Have a graveside service
• Transport in a Hearse or Carriage with a procession
Now that we have busted some of the myths concerning cremation, I hope your curiosity leads you to make an informed decision when choosing how you want to be prepared at the end of life.
In the next part of this series, we will discuss the actual process of cremating.