Learn Before You Burn – What I Like About Cremation

| Grief Expert and Counselor

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So you have decided you want to be burned up when you die.  Cremation is a “hot” topic!.  There are a couple of things I like about cremation, so let me give you some fuel for your fire.


My father died some years ago at the age of 70—heart failure.  He knew he was dying and leaned on my mother throughout the ordeal.    My Mother is of German descent and a very strong, independent woman.  She did not cry at my father’s funeral and seemed to be a “tower of strength”.  At one point, she came to me and said, “Son, I know I’m supposed to cry, but I don’t feel I need to.  Your father and I discussed his death, and I have accepted it.”  There was not much I could say, but I did have my doubts.   Sure enough, 6 weeks after my dad’s death my mother called my office one afternoon and asked the receptionist to interrupt my counseling session—she needed to talk to me NOW!  When I picked up the phone she was crying uncontrollably and said, “John you are going to have to admit me to the hospital.  I can’t stop crying.  I want to go over to the cemetery and dig your father up and hug him one more time.”  My heart was in my throat!  I spent the next 30 minutes calming her down, normalizing her feelings, giving her permission to cry, and assisting her in developing a plan of action to accept my father’s death.

But here is the deal.  My mother said something in that conversation that troubled me.  She told me that my father looked so natural in the casket that she wondered if he was really dead!  While this was a compliment to the funeral director that prepared my father’s body it was very unsettling to my mother.  Later, when she was beginning to heal emotionally, she said she has struggled with seeing  (in her mind) my father “in the casket, underground, alone, and trying to breathe.”  For my mother, an open casket funeral had contributed very little toward her acceptance of my father’s death.  Would her acceptance have been easier if my father had been cremated?  I’m not sure, except to say, the chances of a mourner accepting the finality of death within a few days after the loss seems to be greater with the destructive nature of fire than with a natural-looking prepared body in a casket.


Ed was 72 years old and a retired college professor of 5 years.  He was just beginning to enjoy his grandchildren when he was diagnosed with inoperable liver cancer.  The oncologist gave him 6 months to live.   He meticulously planned his funeral right up to the point of sitting down with his entire family and explaining every detail.  Her is his plan:

  • after his death he wanted his family to spend some time with his body—at home, hospital, or funeral home—wherever he died
  • he wanted to be cremated within 24 hours
  • he wanted his sons to witness the cremation
  • his ashes were to be placed in an urn and given to his wife
  • one week after his death there was to be a memorial service at the Presbyterian church
  • his ashes and urn were to be place on the communion table in the front of the church—there were other details for the service the family was to follow
  • after the service his wife was to keep the urn on the mantle in the living room for one year
  • after one year there was to be a short memorial service at the cottage in northern Michigan and his ashes sprinkled around the tall oak tree in the back yard.

Everybody in the family followed the plan without question, except his 6 year old granddaughter, who asked, “why are you burning your body papa?”  Although I would not recommend Ed’s response, especially to a 6 year old, I did find it intriguing.  He said, “Honey, do you like worms crawling on your body?”  She screamed, “no!”  “Well, when you are buried in a casket, eventually—over time, the body is exposed to air and moisture which has in it tiny bugs and worms.  These little bugs and worms attach themselves to the body and begin to eat it.  We call this process “decay”, and after a long time the decayed body becomes dirt.  Now, I can have the same thing done in a couple of hours by burning my body, and I don’t have those pesky bugs and worms all over me.”

I guess Ed told it like it is—whether his granddaughter could understand it or not.  His idea was cremation is a quick, sanitary disposal of the body that prohibits the slow process of decomposition and in turn makes the survivor (s) feel better.  Also, I think Ed found some comfort in having his body reduced to its natural elements and then mixed with the elements of earth.  Whether I agree with Ed or not, he does have a point.  But the thing I like the most about Ed—was, he thought and talked about death—HIS DEATH.  That is something you need to do—like now!


Those are two of the reasons why I like cremation. Click here to read the two reasons why I dislike cremation.


| Grief Expert and Counselor

Dr. John D. Canine, Ed.D., Ph.D. is a noted author, professional speaker, educator and leading expert on grief and bereavement. He is currently the CEO of Maximum Living Consultants, Inc. and he...