It might seem that one day soon, every cemetery in the United States will be full. Cemeteries in densely populated urban areas across the country are near capacity and available land is quickly gobbled up by residential neighborhoods and commercial sites. As a result, the combination of limited burial space and higher cost of property is steadily driving up the price of a traditional burial. After adding a casket, headstone and various services and products often associated with a full-service funeral, families can find themselves paying $8,000 or more to bury their loved one.
In South Jersey 10,379 people died in the tri-county area in 2013. At that pace, more than 300,000 people will need a final resting place in the next 30 years. There are currently about 1,000 cemeteries across the state but in the past three decades only three new regulated cemeteries (cemeteries not operated by a religious organization) have been created. But despite centuries of interments, limits on land and an aging population, many cemetery managers are not worried about running out of graves any time soon.
Walter Curry, superintendent of Bay View Cemetery in Middletown, New Jersey estimates it will take more than 150 years before the 121 year old cemetery will run out of burial space. At present, about 3,000 people are buried there and a recent economic upturn is causing a surge in burials, but he’s convinced that cremation will extend the lifespan of the cemetery. Land needed for burial of an urn is about one-fourth that of a traditional plot and the demand for cremation continues to grow.
Others agree with Walter. William Franchi, superintendent of Calvary Cemetery in Cherry Hill feels they have plenty of room for 15 to 20 more years. Eglington Cemetery in Clarksboro also has room to spare. President Linda Lacey has seen a 60% surge in cremation. And Eglington, the oldest continuously operated private cemetery in the U.S. occupies 68 acres with about 1,000 plots each and still has more than 80 undeveloped acres.
Barbara Kemmis, executive director of the Cremation Association of North America (CANA) says that more than 43% of Americans who died in 2012 were cremated. But just what is driving this trend toward cremation? One major factor is cost. Tommy Southern, funeral director at Bunch-Johnson Funeral Home in Statesville, North Carolina says, “Cost can play into it, since there is quite a difference in price and people are more conscious of what they are spending their money on.”
CANA statistics indicate that an average cremation costs around $2,250 compared to $8,350 for the average funeral. Note the following examples: A gravesite in New Jersey can cost from $900 to $3,000 while cremation is offered for as little as $800 to $1,300. For an adult gravesite in a town-operated cemetery in Mooresville, North Carolina the cost is $700 plus the grave opening fee of $600 for a town resident or $1,400 plus a $1,200 fee for a non-resident. Contrast that with a resident’s cremation fee of $350 plus a $275 urn fee, or $700 with a $550 fee if you live outside the city limits.
Steve Cook of Nicholson Funeral Home in Statesville, North Carolina feels that people tend to put less value on tradition than they used to. “It’s possible to have a cremation with a traditional service, though, and families can rent a casket for a visitation them cremate afterwards so friends and family have an opportunity to say goodbye. About 30% of our clients choose to do that.” Mike Cook, owner of Cavin-Cook Funeral Home & Crematory in Mooresville, North Carolina feels a transient population and a “much faster-paced world” play into people’s decisions as well. “We serve families who have members spread out throughout the country and cremation allows for the family to decide on a time that is convenient for everyone to come and pay their respects,” he says. “For example, say the grandfather passes on and the grandmother is still living, the family will often cremate because they already bought a plot for the two of them up north. That way they can be together until it’s time to move both of them to the plot.”
Corin DeSantis of Toms River, New Jersey has an interesting opinion. “The funeral industry is expensive. I think that cemeteries are kind of a waste of space. After so many years, there will be no one left to visit me there anyway. I’d rather my ashes be spread somewhere I love.” Her opinion seems to be in line with CANA statistics. Barbara Kemmis says, “What’s interesting is that cremation seems to be becoming the new tradition for many families. Cremation just allows an incredible level of personalization.” Fewer Florida families are burying their loved ones in the ground. Rather, they are choosing to scatter cremated remains in the Gulf of Mexico, seal them in a coral reef, scatter them with fireworks or shotgun shells, shoot them into outer space or wear a tiny portion enclosed in jewelry. Families can buy an urn with their college team logo or one disguised as a lamp. They can have the cremated remains incorporated into a blown-glass piece of art, mixed with paint for a portrait of their loved one or have carbon extracted to create a diamond.
Baby Boomers – those born between 1946 and 1964 – are more likely than any previous generation to break with tradition and often choose to mark their own deaths in a unique way. Jeff Friedman owns Distinctive Life Funeral Homes in Texas. He observes that Baby Boomers are all about celebrating life, leaving a smaller footprint and getting customized service. “We totally reflect that in our philosophy and practice. We customize farewells and celebrations of life in many different settings.” He and his wife Tammy have seen quite a few unique services in their day, including Chinese lantern liftoffs, fishing trips that include scattering cremated remains over water, butterfly releases, a farewell service at the Art Car Museum, a ceremony with a Mariachi band, and a memorial at a pub featuring the deceased’s favorite drinks. Some of the items Jeff has on display are keepsake jewelry, picture frames that can house cremated remains and urns with themes that range from cowboy boots, swimming dolphins and Major League Baseball teams to Harley Davison motorcycles, sailboats and urns for scattering that disintegrate at sea.
Another deciding factor for many is the ecological footprint and belief that cremation is environmentally friendly. After all, a cremator burns cleaner than a school bus driving down the street. For those concerned about our earth, a natural next step might be to have their ashes planted with a tree. Some cemeteries even include special scattering gardens or scattering ponds for cremated remains.
Some religions have become more lenient regarding cremation, allowing people the freedom to choose it as an option. The Catholic Church once absolutely banned the practice of cremation, but now consents as long as the remains are interred rather than scattered. As information becomes readily available, the process is no longer taboo and people simply want to observe what’s happening to their loved one from beginning to end. Cremation centers and funeral homes are now providing families with a “viewing room” with a large window so family members can watch as their loved one enters the cremation chamber. This comfortable space allows the family to meditate, relax and reminisce during the roughly two-hour long cremation process.
All things considered, cremation is widely viewed as a simpler and better option. State of the art cremation equipment is user-friendly and less expensive than traditional funeral home burial equipment. As a result, the business of running a funeral home with a crematory is more cost effective for the business owner as well as the consumer.
U.S. Cremation Equipment is a leading global supplier of crematory retorts for both human and animals. Contact us today and speak to a member of our staff. We can help you determine which model will best serve your business.