It may surprise you that people have buried their loved ones in a ritual or ceremony for nearly 60,000 years. Yet, it hasn’t changed drastically over that time, until recently. As you start making your end-of-life plans, you should consider what type of final resting place you’d like after you’ve passed. Today, there are many different types of burial options besides the traditional in-ground burial.
Read on to learn more about the most common types of burial and alternative burial options to decide which might be best for you.
4 types of burials
Even just a decade ago, burial options were limited to primarily traditional burials. However, more people are requesting alternative burial options that are more in line with their personal beliefs. Below are the most common types of burials and services.
Often called a traditional burial, an in-ground burial is where the deceased’s body is placed inside a casket and lowered six feet into the ground. There are several historical reasons why coffins are buried at least six feet into the ground. They are:
- To thwart grave robbers: Six feet was viewed as a theft deterrent, as well as having heavy caskets or stone slabs placed on top of the gravesite.
- Prevent the spread of diseases: The six feet requirement began during the 1665 plague that swept through England. The government decreed that all people should be buried at least six feet to prevent the spread of the disease.
- Folklore and superstition: Most are under six feet in height. The thought was that if their bodies were possessed or some witchery was to animate their bodies after death, the grave would be too deep for them to escape.
The tradition of burying a coffin at least six feet has stuck around even though the reasons may seem antiquated. However, there’s no federal law for graves to be dug at least six feet deep.
Many large metropolitan areas and memorial parks have crypts or mausoleums. There are many reasons for above-ground burials. Some cities are too congested for a traditional cemetery. Other cities may be at or below sea level or prone to flooding making in-ground burials impossible. For others, a mausoleum provides an indoor space allowing them to visit their loved ones no matter the season or weather. Some families may opt for an above-ground burial so that they can bury family members together. The most common types of mausoleums are:
- Family mausoleums: One of the most famous is Saint Louis Cemetery No. 1 in New Orleans. This burial type is popular in the city due to the water table in the area preventing in-ground burials and for families wishing to be buried next to their loved ones.
- Public mausoleums: Family and private mausoleums can be extremely expensive. Public mausoleums provide a cheaper alternative to private ones. They’re typically indoor structures with areas that allow visitors to pray, meditate, or pay respects to their loved ones.
- Columbariums: These are like a mausoleum, except that the wall spaces, called “niches.” Columbariums are much smaller than other mausoleums and are used to hold urns containing cremated ashes. A plaque is placed on the outside of the niche identifying whose remains are interred inside.
While above-ground burials do offer some advantages over in-ground burials, mausoleums are typically more expensive.
Natural burials have grown in popularity in recent years for people who want to lessen their environmental impact. Natural burials don’t use embalming fluids like many traditional and above-ground burials. The body is usually wrapped in a natural-fiber shroud or placed in a wooden casket before being placed in the ground. Like with traditional burial, headstones or a plaque can be used to mark the gravesite.
Many people opt for a non-traditional marker such as a memorial bench or flowers. If you’re interested in this burial option, look for a specific cemetery that offers natural burial.
Green burials have many similarities with natural burials, but there are differences. A green burial isn’t just about the burial process but also the land in which the burial takes place. Like with a natural burial, green burials don’t use embalming chemicals and shroud the body with biodegradable materials.
However, green burials take it one step further and ensure that the burial place also follows safe environmental practices. In green burials, no artificial pesticides are used to maintain the area. The coffin is fully biodegradable, meaning it uses only natural materials. Some green burial sites also allow burials without a casket. A green burial’s ultimate goal is to have the body decompose naturally and return to the soil to help the land continue to thrive.
What if I don't want to be buried?
Cremation is currently the most popular end-of-life option in the United States — with 80% of Baby Boomers planning to choose it instead of traditional burial. The main reasons that people are choosing cremation instead of burial are because it’s less harmful to the environment and more affordable. If you’d like to choose cremation, there are many unique after cremation options to choose from, such as having your ashes placed in an urn, scattered in a meaningful place, or spread in a memorial forest.
Which end-of-life option is best for you?
Often, during difficult decisions, we turn to something familiar or what our family has always done in similar situations. However, life is constantly evolving, and so must our traditions. For many, life continues long after we have passed, and it’s the legacy that we leave behind that can help loved ones grieve properly. A burial — or burial alternative — that allows your loved ones to remember you and leaves the world a little better is a tradition that’s worth passing down.