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Sharon Hunter - September 2021

Myth: Instructions for burial or cremation are clear

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Following death, the decision to cremate or bury is one of the earliest the family will face. It can be confronting. If instructions have been made clear, the decision is relatively simple. If no instructions were left, there can be uncertainty about what to do, which can be tough on a family.

This decision influences what kind of service you hold – graveside committal, funeral home followed by cremation, an alternative venue with the ashes present, a delayed memorial service. There are more options than ever, and it can be overwhelming.

Time to chat?

If death hasn’t yet happened, it’s a good time for a talk. These aren’t easy subjects to tackle, but it can save a lot of anxiety and heartache. Try broaching the subject by referring to someone else – “I wonder what it was about China Beach that meant so much to Sue that she wanted her ashes scattered there?”

Once you get started, you might discover any number of strongly held thoughts on matters ranging from music, to who takes the eulogies. If you get a response like, “I don’t care, I’ll be dead”, hang in there. As hard as it is, saying nothing at this point might elicit the nugget you’re looking for – “But since we’re talking, I always wanted to be buried in that place with all the trees.” or “Have my ashes scattered on that stretch of coast” or “Go out with a wonderful party at the local theatre.”

If there are no instructions or opportunity to talk, family will need to decide what’s best. Sometimes the decision is self-evident. There might be a family history of burial in a certain cemetery, or perhaps cultural or religious guidelines come into play. The decision could be guided by cost, or whether family live close or are geographically spread. What other family members have previously done may also influence things.

"If death hasn’t yet happened, it’s a good time for a talk. Once you get started, you might discover any number of strongly held thoughts."

Cremation is more popular.

In recent years, cremation has become more popular than burial. Without the expense of a burial plot and headstone, it’s more affordable, especially if the ashes are scattered or buried at home rather than interred at a cemetery.

If selecting burial, you’ll need to choose a cemetery, and eventually a headstone. If your loved one was ecologically earth-friendly, a natural burial or biocremation could be great options.

Look at some of the stories on Great Goodbyes and see if other end-of-life celebrations resonate with you. You might find an approach that opens discussions on what you could do.

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