Types of Funerals: How To Choose the Right Option and Why

Choosing how one’s body is laid to rest is a huge responsibility, and it can be daunting if you aren’t aware of all your options. If you are in the difficult position of choosing a loved one’s final disposition method, you must be educated on all your choices to decide confidently. 

There are many types of funerals you can choose from, including numerous different kinds of burial and cremation. The right option for your loved one depends on their beliefs, preferences, and culture. 

Let’s take a closer look at each type of funeral to discover the characteristics and elements of each that may be appealing or unappealing to you. By the end, you should have a better idea of what kind of funeral to choose for your loved one. 

1. Traditional Burial 

A traditional burial usually involves viewing or visitation, a service, and then transporting the body to the cemetery to be buried. The body is typically embalmed with this burial method, although it is not required under certain circumstances. For more information, you can read my article about if embalming is required by law.

After the body is embalmed, the funeral home dresses the body and styles the hair and makeup if there is to be an open casket at the service. Then, the funeral home places the body in the casket. 

After the service, the casket is lowered into a grave, closed, buried, and typically marked with a marker, such as a headstone. 

Closeup shot of a colorful casket in a hearse or chapel before funeral or burial at cemetery

You might consider a traditional burial for your loved one if: 

  • Their religion prohibits or discourages cremation (such as Catholicism, Judaism, Islam, and Greek Orthodox) 
  • They were comfortable with embalming 
  • Cost is not a concern, because embalming, caskets, and headstones can be expensive 
  • They want to be buried in a family plot or next to a loved one 
  • The environmental impact is not a concern 

2. Direct Burial 

With a direct burial, the body is buried shortly after someone dies instead of waiting a few days and having a viewing as with a traditional burial. This kind of burial usually holds the memorial service later, and the body is not present. The body is also placed in a more basic container instead of an expensive casket.  

You might consider a direct burial for your loved one if:

  • They did not want to be embalmed 
  • You want a more budget-friendly burial option 
  • Their religion prohibits or discourages cremation 

3. Traditional Cremation 

Cremation is more popular than burial, and more than half of Americans choose to be cremated. With traditional cremation, the body is identified and authorized. Then, the crematory prepares the body for cremation, including removing jewelry and mechanical medical devices. The body might be embalmed with traditional cremation so the family can have a viewing and a memorial service. 

Then, the crematory places the body in a special furnace and exposes it to extreme temperatures. After two or three hours, only ashes are left behind which are then placed into a container and returned to the family. 

A wooden coffin in a contemporary crematory. Funeral service.

You might consider a traditional cremation for your loved one if: 

  • The cost of a burial is a concern 
  • They were eco-conscious
  • Their religion supports or tolerates cremation (Christianity, Protestantism, Buddhism, and Hinduism)  
  • They wanted their ashes scattered or kept amongst family members 

4. Direct Cremation 

Direct cremation is similar to traditional cremation, but the body isn’t prepared in any way and is taken to the crematory and turned into ashes immediately. Therefore, there is no embalming or viewing, and the memorial service (if there is one) usually occurs later. 

You might consider a direct cremation for your loved one if: 

  • The cost of a burial or traditional cremation is a concern 
  • They were eco-conscious 
  • Their religion supports cremation 
  • They were uncomfortable with embalming 

For more guidance on choosing between burial and cremation, you can read my article on burial vs. cremation

5. Green, Woodland, or Eco Burial  

Green burial, also known as woodland or eco burial, is a more environmentally-friendly alternative to traditional burial and cremation because it skips steps of the disposition process that are harmful to the environment, including embalming. Furthermore, other aspects of burial are rethought, including burial containers, vaults, and grave markers.  

Elements of green burials might include: 

  • Biodegradable urns
  • Tree pod burial 
  • Graves marked with trees or flowers instead of traditional headstones  
  • Shrouding 
  • Eco-friendly caskets made of bamboo, willow, or pine
  • Woodland sites instead of cemeteries  

You might consider a green burial for your loved one if: 

  • They prioritized caring for the environment 
  • The cost of burial or cremation is a concern 
  • They were uncomfortable with embalming 
  • They were a lover of nature 

6. Sea Burial 

If you follow certain protocols, anyone can be buried at sea. This is a more unusual form of disposition, but it may be right for your loved one. 

A typical sea burial involves a boat ride to the burial site, followed by the body being wrapped in a biodegradable shroud and lowered into the water. Then, some captains circle the area where the body fell as the family says their goodbyes. 

Sea burials must take place three nautical miles from shore, and the area must be at least 600 feet deep. 

You might consider a sea burial for your loved one if: 

  • They loved the water
  • They don’t want to take up space in a cemetery 
  • They’re uncomfortable with cremation, or their religion prohibits it 

7. Alkaline Hydrolysis

Alkaline hydrolysis is a relatively new method for human disposition. During this process, a heated solution of water and alkali dissolves the tissues in the body until it is broken down into bone fragments and an inert liquid. This process typically takes two or three hours.

The bone fragments are then pulverized to ash, which is returned to the family in an urn, similar to cremation.  

Alkaline hydrolysis is only legal in the following states

  • Alabama 
  • California 
  • Colorado 
  • Florida
  • Georgia 
  • Idaho
  • Illinois
  • Kansas
  • Maine
  • Maryland
  • Minnesota
  • Missouri
  • Nevada
  • North Carolina 
  • Oregon 
  • Utah 
  • Vermont 
  • Washington 
  • Wyoming

You might consider alkaline hydrolysis for your loved one if: 

  • They were eco-conscious 
  • They wanted to be cremated but were afraid of fire 
  • Their body is not suitable for a viewing or visitation 

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Alex Noel

Hi there! I'm Alex Noel and live in Indianapolis, Indiana. I started this website to share my experience. My goal is to provide Americans a more fulfilling goodbye.

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