Planning Now for Later: After Death Options

People often try to avoid the subject of death, especially their own. But death’s inevitability is an opportunity that allows each of us to plan ahead and make sure we have a say in what happens before and after. It also alleviates the burden on our loved ones by ensuring they know how to best honor our wishes. 

For these reasons, we should carefully think and make decisions about the following: 

  1. Disposition of our body after we die

    Traditionally, people in the United States have opted for a casket burial where the body is placed in the ground. Most burials take place in cemeteries, although burials on private property are allowed in most states.

    However, cremation has become increasingly popular, both for cost and environmental reasons. Cremated remains can be buried in a cemetery, kept at home, or scattered at a place that holds a special meaning for the deceased or their family.

    An alternative to cremation is water cremation, also called aquamation or resomation. It is even more environmentally friendly than cremation, and why Nobel Peace Prize laureate Desmond Tutu chose it.

    Another option is leaving your body to science, which helps support medical education and advance research.

  2. The type of service we want to have

    Whether you want to have a structured funeral service or prefer a less formal memorial or celebration of life service, there are several options to choose from. 

    A traditional service usually takes place at a funeral home or place of worship, and  includes the presence of the casket or urn and the giving of a eulogy. A graveside service, which takes place at the cemetery or burial location, can be in addition to or lieu of a traditional service.

    For people who don’t want a funeral, direct burial is an alternative. Family members and loved ones can be present. Similarly, a direct cremation involves the remains being given to loved ones immediately after the cremation, without an accompanying service.

    A memorial service, meanwhile, takes place without the deceased person’s body. Unlike funeral services, which occur soon after or relatively close to a person’s death, memorial services can happen any time in the future.

    Finally, a celebration of life is an event that aims to strike a joyous tone, different from a more serious funeral or even memorial service. Friends and loved ones come together in a casual setting to share stories and other happy memories of the deceased. 

  3. Our final resting place

    When it comes to a final resting place, you have choices here as well.

    People are most familiar with traditional cemeteries where the deceased’s body is embalmed with chemicals and then placed in a concrete vault and casket that’s lowered into the ground. In the case of cremation, the urn is placed in a grave or columbarium.

    But these days, people are also looking at natural alternatives. In green burials, the body is wrapped in a shroud or casket made of untreated wood or other biodegradable material. Some individuals prefer having their ashes buried in a beautiful forest under an individually selected memorial tree. Still others are drawn towards memorial reefs, where cremated remains are combined with concrete and then formed into a permanent reef that benefits marine life.

    Some people prefer to have their ashes scattered. The location can be a tranquil place in nature, in the ocean, on top of a mountain, underneath a favorite tree, in the city of their birth, or any other place that holds a special meaning for the deceased. The scattering can be accompanied by the reading of a favorite poem, quote, or prayer, if desired.