By Marilyn Lewis

Green burials, cremation, funeral pyres and family preparation of a body. Here’s help and information on the new ways of mourning loss and saying goodbye

Americans increasingly are choosing alternatives to the modern tradition of a mortuary embalming and cemetery burial. Green burials, cremation, home funerals and even family preparation of a loved one’s body once were on the fringe but now find acceptance.

An AARP survey reveals a new attitude of acceptance. In 2007, pollsters found that, among 1,087 people aged 50 and up:s

  • 75% had considered not using a funeral home.
  • 54% had considered cremation.
  • 12% had heard of green burials.
  • 21% were interested in a more environmentally friendly burial without embalming.

Some alternatives are rituals reclaimed from the past. What’s a “green” funeral, after all, but burial as our great grandparents knew it, with no embalming, no crypt and a simple wooden casket or a body buried only in a linen shroud.


Green Burial

Green (or natural) burials dispense with expensive caskets, cement vaults (grave liners) and embalming. The body is buried wrapped in a simple cloth shroud or in a casket of biodegradable pine or wicker and interred in ground approved legally for the use. Eco-friendly green burials catching on in the U.S., Reuters writes.



Cremation (48.5%) and burial (45.6%) are about equally popular today. Cremation, though, is growing in acceptance and soon could surpass burial in popularity:



















*Source: Rates of burial and cremation in the U.S., from the National Funeral Directors’ Association (numbers for 2015-2030 are projections).

After cremation, a body’s remains are cremains (ashes). What to do with cremains? The options include:

  • Burial in family plots.
  • (Huffington Post’s Ashes to Ashes reportdescribes rules and restrictions for scattering ashes.)
  • Urns and columbarium niches. Many cemeteries and memorial parks have special sites for the preservation of ashes.
  • Kept at home. Catalogs of urns, boxes and other keepsakes offer ways to keep a loved one’s ashes at your home. You’ll also find jewelry for containing ashes and memorial diamonds made from cremains.
  • Coral reefs. Money Talks News says you can pay to have cremains made into a “reef ball” and placed in the sea to become a home for fish, coral and other marine life.


The Natural Care Movement

The New Yorker profiles Caitlin Doughty, a young mortician. She is a leader in the “natural care” movement that includes hands-on care of bodies by family members, at-home wakes and visitations and open-air funeral pyres at the Crestone End-of-Life Project in rural Colorado.


Looking for Lower Costs

The search for meaning and environmentally safe practices drive much of the interest in funeral alternatives. Many people also are looking for ways to lower their costs.

  • FuneralWise lists10 sources of financial help with funeral costs, including pensions and retirement funds, workers’ compensation (for work-related deaths), benefits from railroad and teachers’ retirement funds, trade unions, public assistance and others.
  • The Funeral Consumers Alliance tells what to do if you can’t afford a funeral.
  • Social Security pays $255 in death benefits to a qualified surviving child or spouse. The Social Security Administration gives details online. Or call (800) 772-1213 or visit a local Social Security office.
  • The Department of Veterans Affairs pays burial and funeral allowances for service-related deaths and some non-service deaths of eligible veterans. Click herefor eligibility and rules.
  • 15 Ways to Have a Memorable Funeral on the Cheap at Money Talks News has cost-cutting ideas.

Story Categories: ,