About a third of the U.S. population currently opts for cremation, and that percentage is climbing. Cremains don’t need to be buried in a cemetery, and scattering options abound. Still, more than 50% of those who die in the U.S. are going to be buried.
Do you have plans for your body’s final resting place? If burial is the way you want to go, this is something you don’t want to leave up in the air.
Those with a religious affiliation can opt to be buried in “consecrated ground,” a cemetery operated by their church or synagogue. There are many commercial cemeteries with no religious affiliation where anyone can purchase a plot. Military veterans, their spouses and minor-age children can obtain free burial plots in national cemeteries. And there are a handful of green burial grounds becoming established around the country. These resting places are left in a natural state, where memorial markers are native stone chiseled with inscriptions, and burial services celebrate life and death within the cycles of nature.
Cemeteries usually operate separate from funeral homes, although there are funeral directors who are also cemeterians who can handle both funeral and burial arrangements. More often, costs for grave opening and closing, grave liners, memorial markers, and vaults are separate and in addition to goods and services provided by the funeral home.
With a casket, vault, and grave liner, some burials can resemble those Russian stacking dolls, with a body in a box, within a box, within a box. A burial vault, which can be made of concrete, plastic or metal, serves as a complete outer enclosure for the casket. A burial liner, made of concrete or plastic, protects only the top and sides of a casket. Liners keep the ground level and prevent the grave from sinking over the course of time. The use of grave liners is typical only in America where heavy equipment is used in cemeteries. In Europe, they simply pile more earth up on the grave or fill depressions as the ground settles.
You don’t have to be put in the ground. Mausoleums, buildings with crypts that entomb the casket, keep the remains above ground. Cremated remains can be parked in a columbarium, an above ground monument with niches for the entombment of cremains, or placed in cemetery gardens created specifically for scattering ashes.
One caution about buying a plot in today’s mobile society: If you move, you can’t take it with you. You’ll either need to sell the plot or have your body shipped back for burial when the time comes. Think your kids who are now living in towns across the country will want to be buried in a family plot? Better talk it over before investing in cemetery spaces on the assumption that your children will want to return to the fold. You may be in for a rude awakening. (see the Dear Abby posting from September 8 – Dear Abby on Burial Options)
Selling commercial cemetery plots can be difficult, as many for-profit cemeteries won’t buy the site back. However, church or synagogue-owned cemeteries may be a bit more lenient. My husband’s parents had bought an extra plot from our congregation for his brother Steven. There was no problem returning the unused plot and getting most of their money back when Steven got married and decided he would be buried elsewhere with his wife. Our congregation charges a 10% transaction fee on returned plots.
Another cemetery consideration is what’s allowed regarding memorial markers. While some cemeteries continue to allow upright blocks of stone engraved with information, many now require memorial plaques that lie flat on the ground. By eliminating raised memorial stones, cemeteries can reduce the amount of time and money spent cutting the grass by driving one large mower across the graves and their markers. If you want an upright obelisk to mark your final resting place, make sure it’s not against cemetery rules before you buy a plot.