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August 12, 2019 Beyond The Dash

What is Direct Cremation?

Choosing the right cremation option for you and your family

What is Direct Cremation?
Simple cremation is the most affordable way to handle remains. Without all the bells and whistles, this service leaves the memorialization of the deceased to those who were closest to them. (Getty Images)

In the United States, less than 20% of people have pre-arranged any of their funeral arrangements. More often than not, those who were closest to the deceased person are suddenly thrown into the role of event planner. The first decision to be made is the final disposition of the body.

Direct cremation

Values surrounding death vary depending on the wishes of the deceased, their family, culture, religion and place of death. Depending on the circumstances, a full traditional burial or cremation might not be feasible, or desired. 

Direct cremation is also referred to as simple cremation, or low-cost cremation. All refer to the same process of cremating a body immediately following death. 

What are the options for final disposition?

Generally, there are two options available for laying a body to final rest: burial and cremation. Other options may be available to you depending on your state of residence, including water cremation and human composting—but these methods are not yet mainstream.

  • Burial 

Those who are to be buried generally expect to pay more for their funeral arrangements than those hoping to be cremated. A traditional burial typically costs between $7,000 and $10,000. A full burial package usually includes the following services:

  • Transportation of the body to the funeral home

  • Paperwork pertaining to the death certificate

  • Arranging the services of a notary

  • Assisting families in planning a memorial

  • Cleaning and dressing the body

  • Embalming

  • Help families make decisions about burial and cremation

  • Grief support for the bereaved

  • Assisting with selection of burial plots

  • Permanent memorialization

  • Officiating funeral ceremonies

  • Creating funeral programs and memorial cards

  • Comforting and assisting grieving family members

  • Cremation

Those wishing to be cremated can purchase a full cremation package in the ballpark of $5,000, but can cost more depending on the services required. A cremation package will include most of the same services as a full burial package, as well as the cremation itself, or transportation to a crematory if the funeral home does not have its own on-site facility. 

Cremation packages can include all of the traditional funeral services of a burial package—the only substantial difference is the remains handling techniques and final disposition. Embalming, viewing, and a funeral with the body present are all possible with a full cremation. 

  • Direct cremation

Direct cremation is a no- or low-frills cremation option in which the body is cremated before any funeral or memorial service will be held. While direct cremation packages may vary depending on the funeral home, most will include the following services:

  • Transportation of the body to the crematory

  • Cremation

  • Arranging the services of a notary

  • Paperwork pertaining to the death certificate

  • Return of cremains to the family in a simple container

Although no memorial is held before a simple cremation, the family may choose to host a service or reception at any point after receiving the cremains of their loved one.

Benefits of a simple cremation

This process offers many practical benefits to families planning a funeral:

  • Cost

The main reason families choose direct cremation is to save money on funeral costs. A direct cremation generally costs between $500 and $2,000. It is the most affordable way to handle the body of a loved one, making it a popular option for families on a budget.

  • Flexibility

If your family intends to spread the cremains somewhere meaningful in nature, there may be no need to purchase a full cremation package and decorative urn. If the funeral service is to be held at home, at a venue, or at the location where the ashes are to be spread, the family may find that a direct cremation is the way to go. Because this method of cremation is so flexible, it allows greater creativity in the funeral planning process.

  • Efficiency

Although a typical cremation only takes 1 to 3 hours to complete, a body cannot be cremated before the official death certificate is issued. Because of this, it generally takes between 7 and 10 days for cremated remains to be returned to the family. Choosing a direct cremation package may expedite the return of the deceased's remains if timing is urgent. This may be more relevant when the person who has died was overseas or away from home when they passed. 

  • No funeral

According to a recent survey, over 13% of Northeasterners don't want a funeral held in their honor when they die. When someone requests no funeral, that wish should be honored. A direct cremation is a simple and affordable way to pay your respects in this way, as it will not include a funeral home service.

Criticism of direct cremation

Because direct cremation is a low-cost option for handling remains, it carries the connotation of a no-frills goodbye that some might consider disrespectful. 

Religion also plays into how direct cremation is viewed. In some faiths, cremation is considered desecration. In others, cremation is considered the best way to hande remains. Here is a handy breakdown of 13 religions' stances on cremation

Embalming and visitation services are not possible with a direct cremation. For those who want to view their loved one a final time, or have their body present at the funeral, direct cremation is likely not an option.

If the deceased person made their wishes for final disposition known, those planning the funeral should honor those wishes as much as possible.  

The takeaway

Direct cremation is a simple form of remains handling that offers families several benefits. Low-cost remains handling can free up financial resources that would be better used elsewhere in the aftermath of a death. This technique also offers greater flexibility to plan a more meaningful service outside of a funeral home environment. 

If you find yourself lost in a sea of funeral service options, know that direct cremation is an affordable way to lay your loved one to rest. Once the cremains are returned from the funeral home, there's no limit to the ways your family can privately honor the life of your loved one.

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