Direct cremation is something that many consumers hear about for the first time from the funeral director helping to arrange memorial services for a friend or relative who has recently passed away. Since most funeral homes offer such a service (in fact, it can be argued that they are required to offer the service by law, though that has not yet been formally established by a court), it is listed, by-law, on the General Price List that all funeral homes in the United States are required to present to customers fairly quickly during their staff’s first meeting with a family arranging a service.
Because it is often the least expensive option that a funeral home provides, direct cremation is usually given just a cursory mention during a meeting with a funeral director. A good sales person (and, let’s face it, a funeral director is mostly just a sales person for a funeral home) would see that, of course. After all, why would any family want to order a simple direct cremation for his or her beloved family member when so many other, much more dignified and meaningful options are on the funeral home’s very menu. Many in the death care industry will argue that, because of the funeral director’s natural bias on this matter, many people who have not seriously thought about the possibility of direct cremation outside of the funeral director’s will office probably choose a different funeral and memorial service option. In the interest of education, we provide you this objective account of what direct cremation is and why it may (or may not) be a good choice for you or your family.
What is Direct Cremation
Direct cremation is exactly what it’s name implies: a very simple service provided by a funeral home (or sometimes available directly from a crematory itself. In most cases, however, crematories themselves do not work directly with the public, but are, rather, contracted by a funeral home working on behalf of the family) in which a body is moved directly to a cremation facility. Cremation is conducted quickly, and remains are returned to the family in a simple box (sometimes marked “temporary urn” by the more sales-oriented establishments who have an interest in up-selling a family to a much more expensive model). No further services (funeral, viewing, burial, whatever) are performed by the funeral home. Direct burial is about the closest similar service that a funeral home typically provides. It differs from direction cremation only in the obvious respect that it involves burial instead of cremation. In both cases, however, absolutely no other service is implied or performed by the funeral home. A body is not prepared, no visitation time is offered, and no remains are made available at a funeral service or memorial ceremony. (To be sure, many families who choose direct cremation do so with the intent of having a ceremony, but the ceremony either features no remains at all or simply the display of the cremation ashes in an urn.) It is often the case that families who order direct cremation from a funeral home will also order some services – such as the production of a video montage of the deceased – at “al la carte” prices from the funeral home. But critics of the death care industry’s main players in today’s market are quick to point out that al la carte prices are often outrageously high, making the purchase of a funeral package from the funeral home financially feasible with the steep discounts provided on individual items.
Reasons People Use Direct Cremation
The most common reason people cite for ordering direct cremation service is price. Though the prices do vary greatly (making comparative shopping a must!) even in a single city, most direct cremations cost far less than $1,000. A recent quick check of prices available for direct cremations in the largest cities in Texas, for example, showed that prices range from $250 to $780 in just about every city.
But, other than cost, there are some very interesting, important reasons people give for requesting direct cremation. The most important of these is simplicity: many people, even well before they are deceased, tell their families that they wish no fuss be made about them in memorial. These people simply want their lives to be perhaps remembered very briefly and then all attendees at a memorial service be encouraged to go about their lives quickly. These people are uncomfortable with the idea that much pomp and circumstance will be made at funeral or memorial services on their behalf, and they wish to discourage such activities as a result. (That is not to say that a family should completely avoid memorializing a lost loved one. Many may agree that a funeral is more for the living to say goodbye, than for the deceased. While the dearly departed may have not wanted any formal ceremony, that is not to say the family cannot have a small gathering to honor the person, or in a small gesture the family is comfortable with, memorialize a loved one.)
Another reason people choose direct cremation is, simply, to avoid the awkwardness of arranging a funeral and burial service for a person who was not universally admired. It is often the case that a family’s “black-sheep” may be treated to a direct cremation upon his death, often with the idea that he or she may be the subject of a much more elaborate memorial service in later months (or even years) after the various family pains that have had time to heal.
Reasons Direct Cremation Costs Less
Direct cremation costs less than other services offered by funeral homes because it is the epitome of no frills service. Consumers who order a direct cremation for a family or friend should expect very little from a funeral home staff except the standard bit of professional friendliness that is extended to everyone who comes to the facility. Business expenses involved with cremation are relatively small – most crematories are small very small businesses employing about five (or fewer) people, and equipment, while somewhat of a large initial investment requires a relatively minimal amount of maintenance or technical expertise – so, even at the minimum prices in any given town, direct cremation can be very profitable for a funeral home. Competitive retail pressure, therefore, is the main reason for direct cremation. While customers will find that direct cremation can result in a significant savings over what they might be asked to pay for additional services, they may find that using a bit of knowledge about the overhead expenses related to cremation may help them negotiate even lower rates: one or two experts have estimated in various online articles that overhead expenses related to a single cremation – labor for the operator, use of the oven and other related equipment and supplies, and utility expenses for the crematory’s office – is about $200 per cremation. Any amount that a funeral home may charge in excess of that is very likely profit for the funeral home itself. In the standard retail industry, it is common (and reasonable) that stores will sell a product for twice what they pay for it. This extra amount is typically considered a fair price to pay for stores that their own overhead to pay. For that reason, consumers say that a funeral home that sells a direct cremation for more than about $400 may be over charging. Customers are wise to check into prices that other crematories in their city are offering before settling upon a service provider. It is often that a funeral home will lower its price to match a competitor’s offer in order to win the order for themselves. If the average price for a direct cremation is more than about $400 in any area, that may be because a local region has extenuating circumstances – such as a high cost of living that allows cremation operators to command higher salaries than elsewhere or, perhaps, higher real estate or utility expenses than in other regions – but consumers are strongly advised to check closely on such issues before agreeing to hire a particular funeral home or crematory for a direct cremation.
Who Uses Direct Cremation
While many people will suggest that direct cremation is mostly reserved for those whose families have very limited (or no) financial means by which to pay for other services, that is not always the case. It is true, of course, that direct cremation is the service that is probably the most often provided to families who request and qualify for pro-bono services from a funeral home. But that is not necessarily a sign that all people who use direct cremation are of lower socioeconomic status than those who order other services from a funeral home.
Quite simply, anyone who is frugally minded may request a direct cremation – and we all know stories of very wealthy people who have spent their lives – perhaps even own their fortunes too – not wasting money on things that they consider frivolities. Additionally, many people in today’s modern world reject the notion that an elaborate funeral or memorial service is necessary. Their desire for a very simple direct cremation service may simply be related to a desire for simplicity – in their life and in their death.
In short, it is impossible to stereotype a particular type of person who might request a direct cremation for himself or for a family member or friend. The simple fact is that, for many, having the option of this quick and easy service, is a great benefit and a tremendous blessing.