The choice between a burial and a cremation is a very personal one and should ideally be decided on and communicated to your loved ones before your passing. This can be a difficult decision, as it needs to take into consideration your and your family’s personal and religious beliefs, as well as financial situation.
The major difference between a burial and a cremation is that cremation is a method of final disposition of a dead body through burning (combustion). The bones are then reduced to ashes, whilst with a burial, the body remains intact and the natural process of decomposition takes place. Both religious and personal choices obviously play a strong part in the decision-making process.
People differ greatly in their views about how to respect the deceased’s memory and while some may feel horrified at the thought of allowing the remains to decay underground, others cannot bear the thought of the body being destroyed through flames.
Choosing a burial means that the body will be interred in the ground at a cemetery or placed in a mausoleum, which can be visited by loved ones, whereas, after a cremation takes place, the remains are interred into a vessel specifically made for this purpose and can either be kept by the family, scattered or entombed.
Should the loved ones wish to view the body prior to the funeral or memorial service, or opt for an open casket during the service, this is possible prior to both a burial and a cremation. COVID-19 Regulations must however be adhered to.
Cremation from a Religious Perspective
Religious beliefs differ greatly when it comes to considering a cremation or a burial. The controversy surrounding a cremation can be attributed to many people feeling that resurrection may not be possible if the body is not intact. However, even with a burial, the body will eventually decompose.
Studies of the practices of various religions, reveal that cremation is forbidden for Muslims and up until the 1960’s, was also forbidden by the Catholic church. Hindus and Buddhists are required to cremate the remains. There are certain Christian denominations that forbid cremation, while it is allowed by the Methodists, Seventh Day Adventists and Lutheran churches. Although traditionally rejected by Judaism, some Jews are now more accepting of cremations.
Choosing an environmentally-friendly option is also growing in popularity, as more people desire to lessen their impact on the planet. The Sonja Smith Funeral Group introduced Green Funerals to the South African Funeral Industry and has included natural woven products as part of their range of coffins.
In a natural or eco-friendly burial, the remains are buried in such a way as to promote natural decomposition with as little as possible negative impact on the surrounding environment. Traditional burials use formaldehyde, a strong chemical, in case of embalming for the embalming process to preserve the remains and long-lasting coffins made of steel, wood, copper and sometimes even includes a thick concrete lid is included.
Traditional Burials in South Africa
Conventional burials are still the most common and preferred practice in South Africa as, in the African culture, both the funeral and later unveiling of the gravestone play a significant role. The unveiling may be held up to a year after the deceased has passed and although practices may differ, these ceremonies provide a major source of comfort to the loved ones left behind.
Benefits of a Cremation
• No embalming preparations are required
• It is less costly than a burial as there is no need for a tombstone
• A cremation can be less time-consuming ordeal
• A viewing of the body can take place before the cremation
• It takes up less space in overcrowded cemeteries
• Cemeteries are not always safe to visit
• Some cemeteries are not well looked after/maintained
• The ashes can be kept, transported or scattered at a favourite location with/without a ceremony
Benefits of a Burial
• Some people prefer it as a more natural method
• Certain religions insist on burials
• Loved ones can visit the gravesite
• The body can be exhumed, if required, at a later stage
• It may provide better closure for family and friends
As a result of land pressure in South Africa and the resulting diminishing space for cemeteries, various alternate options are now being considered by city authorities. Some of these options include;
• The building of mausoleums for above-ground burials.
• The recycling of graves to extend a cemetery’s lifetime.
• A second and third interment which encourages family members to share a grave.
• Encouraging cremation, especially within metropolitan areas.
• Aquamation, which is still a very new concept in South Africa.
Burials in South Africa are subject to local regulations, as well as availability, and choices are usually between a new or existing grave. If a cremation is chosen, then there is choice between a full cremation service or a memorial service (no coffin present at the service). The ashes may or may not be present at the service.
The above options all offer solutions but may not be culturally acceptable. Those who are left behind, especially without knowledge of the deceased’s wishes, will have to make the final decision of whether to bury or cremate their loved one.
Leaving behind a Will or a folder, “My Funeral Wishes”, which specifies what should happen to your remains on your passing, will help your family members to feel more comfortable about making decisions to honour your life in a manner which would be acceptable to you. It also plays a significant role in minimising some of the chaos over this very traumatic period. Costs of the funeral can also be better controlled to avoid any additional anxiety for your family.
Sonja Smith Funeral Group, an elite Funeral Service Group, provides a number of professional funeral services which can be tailored around either a burial or a cremation. They also offer specialised funerals which include personalised funerals, evening funerals and even living funerals. A living funeral is an interesting concept which involves a gathering around a loved one who may soon pass due to ill health.
To ensure a tasteful farewell according to your wishes, make contact with your nearest Sonja Smith Funeral Group office to arrange for an appointment. This is a highly experienced funeral group that will ensure all your wishes are met and can provide helpful suggestions that you may not have considered to make the process easier. They have experience in arranging funerals across all religions and cultures. To locate your nearest SSFG office, please see https://sonjasmith-funerals.co.za/branch-locator/ or contact us on 079 895 4414.