As one of the only independent funeral home owners left in Houston, something I hear often is, “I just want to be cremated.” To which I always reply, and usually in my mind only, “No, you don’t.”
People want all sorts of things: a new car, more vacation time, a better job, or good health, perhaps. All of these suggest a benefit of some kind that can be enjoyed or at least utilized once received. Cremation, though?
In modern America, people have a hard enough time having a mature, responsible discussion about actually dying, especially their own death, which is probably why, for many people, “I just want to be cremated,” is often the extent of the conversation. So, why do people say it? After 25 years in funeral service, assisting families from every conceivable walk of life, I have seen that the reason almost always leads to the same place: cost. Yet, we will give all sorts of other reasons to soften this fact. “It’s what they would have wanted,” “We want something simple,” or “We just want to remember them as they were,” are the more commonly given explanations. But in reality, it almost always boils down to cost (even for those with disposable income). And who can blame them?
Funeral homes, for decades, have charged entirely too much just to say a simple good-bye to someone, and many still do. But, imagine if cost weren’t an issue? I don’t mean everything is free, just not prohibitively expensive. If priced comfortably, would people still prefer to send a loved one straight to a crematory after they’ve died? No, they wouldn’t, and the statistics prove it. When the financial incentive to cremate FIRST is removed, most people opt for, at the very least, a chance to say good-bye to the actual person who died, which is then followed by cremation. Why? Because saying good-bye is instinctive. It’s natural, and it’s what we need.
A few things most of us think we know, but don’t… cremation is an alternative to burying a casket in a cemetery, not an alternative to a funeral. A funeral can be followed by cremation. Funerals don’t require viewing the deceased, cosmetics, nor any embalming or other chemical application. Reverence in the presence of a deceased body is instinctive and universal (even if the casket is closed). Cremating first, followed by a memorial service, does not help to “get it over with” quickly. In fact, cremating first tends to complicate things more.
Lastly, there are lots of ways to add a more festive element to celebrating and coming together to honor a person who has died. Allow yourself the opportunity to say good-bye, first.
It really is that simple.