It's not easy to plan for your passing or the passing of a loved one. If possible, and to help ensure that either your wishes or those of your loved ones are honored, it’s a good idea to plan ahead. During the planning process, you'll want to make sure you are looking into all of your burial options. While traditional burials are still a popular choice for some, cremation has quickly become the leading option of people throughout the U.S. Statistics show that conventional burial rates have fallen to approximately 37.9 percent, with cremation rates rising to nearly 56 percent between 2015 and 2020 and expecting to jump to nearly 80 percent by 2040. With the rise in cremations comes an increase in the need for cremation urns and memorial ideas, and while you may think you know enough about an urn to choose one for yourself or a loved one, there's much more to it than you may realize.
What is a Cremation Urn?
A cremation urn is a vessel used to hold the cremated remains of an individual (or pet). These vessels come in various shapes and sizes and may be either buried or displayed, depending on the person's final wishes. In some cases, your loved ones may request that their ashes be scattered, in which case the chosen urn will be a temporary solution, though it may still be used as a memorial.
Who Uses Cremation Urns?
Urns are used globally for several reasons. While choosing cremation is a purely personal decision, many religions specify that cremation is the proper route after someone passes away. Hindu and Buddhist religions favor cremation after death, while other significant mainstream religions, such as Catholicism and Jehovah's Witnesses, recognize the practice, though some restrictions may apply.
Many religious beliefs endorse cremation because they believe that the body holds very little value, and it's nothing more than a vessel for the soul. In other instances, they believe that cremation allows the soul to rise from the ashes, permitting it to ascend into its next life or next stage of being.
A Brief History of Cremation
Believe it or not, the concept of cremation dates back some 20,000 years when archaeologists stumbled across the remains of Mungo Lady, located near Lake Mungo in Australia. When the remains were discovered in 1968 by geologist Jim Bowler, it was stated that Mungo Lady’s remains had been ritually buried, meaning that she had first been cremated. Following the initial cremation, her bones were then crushed and burned a second time before being buried with the rest of her body's ashes.
Cremation is said to have been first introduced to the Western world by the Greeks as early as 1000 BCE, when armies would burn the bodies of slain soldiers before collecting the ashes and sending them home for ceremonial entombment.
The vessels that were used to transport these remains became known as urns, and as the practice continued to spread, urns became more ornate. Many were engraved with the individual's name, date of birth, and date of passing.
While cremating the bodies of fallen soldiers became a regular practice throughout history, the practice in general started to become associated with various pagan rituals. This led many in the growing Christian faith to disassociate from the procedure, favoring traditional burial of the body after an individual passed.
It wasn't until the 1870s when the topic of cremation was once again brought to light, thanks to the influential book Cremation: The Treatment of the Body After Death, published by Sir Henry Thompson, surgeon to Queen Victoria. In 1884, the practice of cremation was finally legalized in a British court and soon gained popularity in both England and America, though the process only accounted for approximately 8 percent of burial practices at the time.
Now that cremation has become universally accepted, cremation urns have become popular for various reasons. People no longer restrict their loved one's ashes to burial sites. Instead, they are now placed in many different types of urns, split between urns, scattered per the individual's wishes, and even used to create unique keepsakes for loved ones to cherish forever.
Why Do People Choose Cremation and Urns?
Aside from religious reasons, cremation is a very personal decision. Some individuals choose cremation because they can share a burial plot with their loved ones, bringing them physically closer after passing. Others choose cremation because it can be a less expensive option compared to a traditional burial. There are countless reasons why some choose this route over traditional burial, including:
Arguably one of the most common reasons for choosing cremation and having the ashes placed in an urn is how simple and cost-effective it is, compared to a traditional burial.
Rather than having the body move from place to place, changing the outfits of the deceased, and having to pick out a casket, choosing cremation and an urn may be a less stressful and time-consuming process. Depending on whether you plan to have a service, you may also avoid having to plan all the details of a service and save on costs associated with that.
Cremation costs and the cost of an urn can and will vary depending on the services you choose to accompany it, as well as the crematory you choose to work with. However, cremation services typically run thousands of dollars less than burials.
While many have become accustomed to traditional burial practices, it doesn't make them any less traumatic for those who have a hard time comprehending death. When a person passes away, viewing their body can be extremely traumatic.
Whether you have a fear of death, are claustrophobic, or simply feel anxious over thoughts regarding the afterlife, seeing a person's body after they've transitioned on can be distressing. Unless you have someone you can talk to about these feelings, it can be challenging to deal with.
Cremation, on the other hand, tends to be a little less traumatic for many. That's because once the individual has passed, the body typically goes straight to the chosen crematory, and you don't see them again until you receive their cremated ashes – that is, unless you choose to have a viewing prior to the cremation. Many individuals find that not seeing the physical body is less traumatizing, and some even find comfort in the idea of their loved one's soul rising from the ashes and moving on to their next physical body, heaven, nirvana – whatever they may have believed.
Once the ashes are returned, they are typically placed in an urn or crafted into some other form of cremation keepsake that helps to immortalize the deceased’s memory in a way that comforts their loved ones, bringing them peace.
Many people are turning to cremation over traditional burial due to environmental concerns, such as overcrowding in cemeteries and the concern of embalming fluids being leaked into the soil. When bodies are prepared for burial, they undergo an embalming process that helps to delay the body's decomposition. These chemicals include:
Once the body is buried and the decaying process begins, these chemicals are then released into the ground, seeping into the soil and water table of the area. Many fear that this will contaminate the soil and water with toxic and/or carcinogenic compounds – affecting the food and water that consumers ingest. While there are "green" burial options available, they are few and far between, as these options involve burying a body without any embalming fluids, using a biodegradable casket.
When your loved one passes away, it can feel difficult to "keep" them with you, especially when they've chosen to be buried. With a traditional burial, or even a cremation burial, it can seem as if you must let them go. This point is driven home even further if you have to move away from their final resting place, or if they've chosen a final resting place that is far from you.
When cremation without a burial is chosen, the ashes and urn become mobile, allowing you to bring your loved one with you, should you relocate. You don't have to physically say goodbye and go through the trauma of wondering when you'll be able to see them again.
Sure, there are many ways to customize a burial and memorial service for a loved one. However, many people enjoy the idea of being able to take the ashes of a loved one and either place them in a customized urn, or use them to create a beautiful keepsake. For instance, some people will take some of their loved one's ashes and have them used to create a stunning glass piece, while others may choose a ring or cremation pendant so they can keep their loved one close by at all times.
Should your loved one still wish to be buried, there are now many customizable options for burial urns. For those who want to become one with nature and don't want to worry about the environmental impacts of a traditional burial, they may choose cremation and then have their ashes placed in a Living Urn. A Living Urn combines your loved one's ashes with a young tree or plant, which is then planted as a memorial. You can even choose a biodegradable/eco-friendly burial urn to allow the body to become one with the Earth in a more traditional sense.
Everything You Need to Know When Choosing Urns for Ashes
If you or your loved one has chosen cremation as their preferred plan for after they pass, then you should take the time to find the perfect urn for the ashes and plan where those ashes will be housed – whether in a family crypt, buried somewhere, or housed with someone in the family.
While many individuals will simply choose an urn from the crematory they've decided to work with, there are hundreds of options available to you. It's essential that you take the time to get to know all of your options. Not sure where to start? Here's a breakdown of everything you'll want to know:
Different Types of Urn Materials
Urns are not a ‘one size fits all’ product. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of options available, and the first choice you’ll need to make is the material you would like your urn to be made of. The most common urns are made out of metal and have been used for hundreds of years, thanks to their durability. However, urns now come in a variety of other materials, including:
- Marble – These urns are a popular choice for those looking for a sturdy urn to house their loved one's ashes.
- Wood – Wood urns are an aesthetically pleasing option for those who appreciate a more natural look, or to memorialize someone who loved all that nature offers.
- Ceramic – These urns are another popular option because they come in various styles and colors, allowing you to choose a vessel that constantly reminds you of your loved one.
- Metal – A more traditional option, metal urns are still quite common and will last forever.
- Plastic – Plastic urns are another excellent option for those looking for a durable material, whether you're housing a loved one's ashes in a busy household with many children, or you move frequently and need a sturdy urn that is damage resistant.
- Biodegradable Materials – Biodegradable urns made with materials such as bamboo allow you to respect their wishes without worrying about the environmental impact that a traditional burial may have.
Urn Sizes: Does it Matter?
Urn sizes don't always vary as drastically as you may think. In fact, there is a standard urn size for most adults, which ranges between 180 – 200 cubic inches in volume. That's because the rule of thumb is that you need an urn with one cubic inch per pound of the individual who has passed on.
For example, if your loved one weighed approximately 195 pounds when they passed, then you need to purchase an urn that holds, at minimum, 195 cubic inches of volume.
Choosing the Style/Shape of Your Urn
Once you know what size urn you'll need, you can start looking into the many styles and shapes of cremation urns available. This is where you'll have full creative freedom over the vessel that is chosen for your loved one's ashes – unless, of course, they've already picked one out that they love.
When choosing the style/shape of the urn, you can base your decision on the style of your home décor (if you’re keeping the urn at home), activities that the individual loved to partake in, or even something based on their age. Say, for example, you're looking for an urn for a young child. Many urns are available that reflect the pureness of a child or the many activities a child may partake in.
Another excellent example may be an indoor plant urn that can memorialize your loved one who enjoyed spending their free time in the garden, or outside in nature.
What Do You Do with The Cremation Urn?
Finally, when choosing your cremation urn, you'll want to plan what will be done with it once it's arrived. While most individuals display urns as part of their home décor or have it buried in a family plot, many people will choose an alternative destination for their loved one's remains, including:
- Water Burials – When placed in a biodegradable urn, you can have the ashes floated into a body of water. Once they start to sink, they will be integrated into the surrounding environment.
- Memorial Gardens – Many cemeteries and memorial parks throughout the country now have memorial gardens, where a loved one’s ashes can be scattered in a beautiful, tranquil setting. Some also allow the planting of a memorial tree or bush (or other plants) – this includes burying the remains of your loved one in a biodegradable urn that will then grow something, allowing your loved one to continue living on in the garden.
Cost of Urns
Depending on the size, shape, and intricacy of the urn you choose, the overall price can range quite a bit. The more standard urns typically fall below $100, although prices can be found from $50 to $2,000.
Frequently Ask Questions About Cremation Urns
Still have questions about cremation and urns? Fret not. Here are answers to some of the most frequently asked questions on the topic:
Do You Have to Bury the Urn?
Absolutely not! Unless specified by the individual, urns do not have to be buried. In fact, many choose to hold on to their loved one's urns because it helps them feel connected to them. Depending on the vessel chosen to house the cremated ashes, you may even be able to wear the vessel as a pendant or have it transformed into a beautiful piece of artwork.
Can You Split Ashes Between Multiple Urns?
Yes, you may split ashes between multiple urns and this is quite common. Many individuals choose to have their loved one's ashes spread out among family members, or to have some of their loved one's ashes scattered per their final wishes.
Should either be the case, you may choose to invest in several smaller urns so you may split the ashes between them.
Do Urns Come in Different Types of Vessels for Ashes?
Urns are defined as anything that houses the ashes of a loved one. With that said, urns come in several different types of vessels, outside of the traditional urn. Some examples may include:
- Glass pieces infused with the ashes of a loved one, which can also house a small portion of loose ash
- Biodegradable urns for planning/water burial
- Pendants or jewelry that house a small portion of the ashes
Who Puts the Ashes into the Urn?
When it comes to the cremation process, you most likely will not have to put the ashes into the urn yourself. If you've purchased the urn from the funeral home or crematory, or had one that you purchased in advance of the individual's passing, then you'll give the urn to the funeral director, mortician, or undertaker.
However, if you choose, you may put the ashes into the urn yourself. The process begins by receiving your loved one's ashes, which will likely be housed in a sealed plastic bag within a cardboard or metal box. You'll want to open the urn and have it ready to go before you start working with the ashes. In some cases, you may be able to place the sealed bag into the urn as-is. However, some urns require you to open the bag and carefully pour the ashes into the container before sealing it up.
What Does the Term Cremains Mean?
Cremains is simply the term used when referring to the cremated remains (the ashes) of an individual.
Can I Customize the Urn?
In most cases – yes. Depending on where you purchase your urn, you'll likely have the option to engrave the piece with the name of your loved one, their birthday and date of passing, and even memorable sayings.
Do I Have to Buy an Urn from the Funeral Home or Crematory?
Not at all. While purchasing an urn from the funeral home or crematory you choose to work with is a convenient option, it doesn't ensure that you'll find the perfect piece that reminds you of your loved one. That's why you’ll want to do your research ahead of time and provide your loved ones with examples of the type of urn you'd prefer. If you choose not to purchase an urn from the funeral home or crematory, your loved one’s ashes will typically be returned to you in a temporary plastic or metal container.
What if I Plan to Scatter the Ashes? Do I Still Need a Cremation Urn?
Yes and no. Depending on the crematory you choose to work with, if you explain that you'll be scattering the ashes, they may suggest a nice cloth bag or a cardboard urn to transport your loved one's ashes in. However, you can invest in unique, travel-friendly cremation urns that allow you to travel with the ashes without any complications.
Choosing the Right Cremation Urn Takes Time and Planning
Dealing with funeral and cremation services can be quite a challenge. Instead of leaving it up to your family and possibly adding to their emotional stress, you can plan and notate your final wishes ahead of time.
When you include your funeral or cremation wishes in your last will and testament, your loved ones have legal notice of everything you wish to complete. While it may not reduce their mourning, it will help them to better cope with their loss, as they won't have to wonder what you may or may not have wanted.
If your final wish is to be cremated, make sure you guide your loved ones on the type of urn you'd like and whether or not you want your ashes scattered or split in any particular way. They will appreciate it more than you'll ever know.