This article covers the topic of your loved ones’ final resting place – the “final bit” of a funeral. We’ll discuss – with sensitivity, of course – some of the practical elements of laying the deceased to rest. We aim to be as factual as possible, but you may find some of the terms used somewhat upsetting.
“Laying the body to rest”
“Disposal of the remains”
“Committing the body to the ground”
“The final disposition”
There are all sorts of ways of describing the element of the funeral service that manages the body of the person who has died. In the UK, there are currently two main modes: the person’s body can be buried, or it can be cremated. Even if you choose other methods of in the interim – such as donating your body to medical science, or cryomation (if that’s your bag) – eventually, all that remains will be either buried or cremated.
Although those are the two modes, the methods of delivery, and the reasoning behind them, like most things Funeral-related, are many and varied…
Burying the dead was the done-thing in the UK for centuries.
Burials can be quite costly. Not least because when you plan to bury someone. With burials, rather than buying a plot of land indefinitely, you are buying an “Exclusive Right to Burial”, which is on lease for a number of years at a time. Depending on the Burial Authority, this could last for as long as 100 years, or as few as 25. After that time, you’ll have the option to renew your lease, or else the grave is repurposed for another burial.
In addition to buying the Exclusive Right of Burial – which you can purchase at any time, even before you need to use the grave – you will also pay an “Interment Fee”. Essentially, this is the fee to use the grave; it’s the cost of digging the grave and readying the ground for burial.
Sometimes, the first interment is included in the cost of purchasing the new grave. However, more often than not, it is a separate charge.
Burial fees also vary depending on whether or not the deceased was a tax-paying resident of the area the cemetery is in. Local authorities will offer discounted rates on new grave purchases and interment fees to residents who have lived in their area for five years or more, often at rates of up to 50%. The argument is that in so doing, the person will have contributed towards the running costs of maintaining the sites through their council tax payments, in that non-residents will not. Burial authorities will sometimes ask for proof of residency, so it’s a good idea to have this on hand when you go to your Funeral Director to make arrangements (they’ll take a copy for you and submit it to the cemetery with the rest of your statutory paperwork).
The cost of buying and using a grave varies greatly up and down the country. In London, for example, graves on cost around 40% more than the national average. Because of the dense population in London and the reduced availability of new graves, there’s a huge premium on the cost of burial land.
Of course, there are alternatives to the traditional cemeteries…
For avid church-goers, the churchyard of their favourite place of worship is an ideal resting place. There are a couple of ways in which burial in a churchyard differs from burial in a municipal cemetery; firstly, the grave and all burial rights will continue to be owned by the church. Churchyards tend to have stricter rules on what sort of memorials can be placed at the head of the grave, often only allowing plain headstones with minimal personalisation. Churchyards are also usually reserved for members of the parish.
Natural Burial Grounds are becoming more and more popular. For those who loved long walks in the woods in life, where better to rest in death than in a forest?
These specialist areas of land have been curated within ancient woodland, often with several different areas of meadowland, bluebell lawns and tree-lined avenues. They’re protected from development by trusts, often with longer grave-ownership leases than some of their municipal counterparts.
Like with Churchyards, there are more restrictions; most burial grounds will specify that coffins only made of natural materials can be used, they may not allow the burial of people who have been embalmed, and indeed will only allow wooden memorials/grave markers. Where in other burial grounds, members of the same family may be buried 2 – 3 deep in one grave, this may not be possible in natural burial grounds; graves aren’t always able to be dug as deep to take into account the growth of tree roots. You may also be restricted from placing personal items on the grave – like teddy bears, or balloons – as they may interfere with the natural landscape.
They’re a wonderful choice for the environmentally conscious.
You can bury someone in private land. You’ll need to have permission from the landowner, and it’s also helpful to have a survey carried out by the Environment Agency to ensure the burial is safe and legal. There are restrictions about how close you can bury someone to bodies of running water, plumbing lines and so on. You’ll also need to be mindful of the fact that your loved one will in all likelihood need to stay there if/when you move home, or who will inherit your home when you yourself pass on. Alternatively, you may wish to exhume your loved one – but this comes with considerable time and deliberation.
Since being approved by the Catholic church in 1964 as a method of ‘disposal’ (and, providing that the cremation is being carried out not in spite of the belief in resurrection), cremation has seen a surge in popularity and now accounts for 74% of all committals in the UK.
Cremation offers significant advantages to burial in a number of ways. Firstly, cost. The cremation fee is a single payment and often accounts for:
Crematoria will often offer reduced fees for:
How often have you heard the myth that coffins get reused once they’re at the crematorium? This is completely false: individuals are cremated alone, and in the coffin or shroud they are brought to the crematorium in.
Your funeral director will be able to help you select a coffin that is best-suited to cremation, and offer alternatives based on your needs. They will also advise you what can and cannot be placed in a coffin with the person who has died, with the cremation in mind (you’ll find this advice will include that you mustn’t place anything with a battery in with the deceased or alcohol/deodorants – these items can cause explosions that damage the crematory!).
At the point of arrangement, you’ll work with your funeral director to complete Cremation Form 1. This is a legal form that authorises the cremation to take place (if you’re the one signing the form, you’re making a statement that you would like the cremation to happen, that no one else has any rights over instructing a cremation to take place and, if they do, that no one disagrees with the cremation taking place), and also confirms your instructions for the remains from the cremation process. These remains are known as “ashes”.
You’ll be given three options.
The first, is for the crematorium to scatter or inter the ashes on your behalf. This will usually be in the crematorium grounds. You can choose to be present for this, or you can allow the crematorium to take care of this for you. They will record where the ashes are scattered for your information.
The second option, is for you or your appointed representative to collect the ashes from the crematorium on your behalf. This could be a named relative, or your funeral director.
The third option is for the crematorium simply to hold onto the ashes for you, until you make a decision about what you’d like to happen next. They will usually contact you after a period of time offering further options, or they will contact you after a number of months to start charging a fee for storing your loved ones’ ashes longer-term.
Oftentimes, you’ll be encouraged to let the Funeral Director collect the ashes on your behalf. While some may charge a fee for this, others will not and will hold the ashes indefinitely for you. It’s best to have an idea about what you would like to do with them at this early stage of making funeral arrangements, just so you’ve an idea about what the next steps will look like.
For an adult cremation, there will often be up to 3 litres of cremated remains. While some people may want to keep all of the ashes together, others may like the idea of them being separated out so that a little bit if their person goes to all the people/places they possibly can. The fact that ashes are portable is a huge benefit to cremation.
Whichever your decision, you’ll do what’s right for you, your family and your loved one. Your decision will be the right one, for you, with the information you’ve got to hand.
We wish you our very best for the next stage of your funeral arrangement journey.
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