Decomposition of the body in the earth (after burial) is the slow oxidation of the body tissues. Cremation, on the other hand, provides rapid oxidation.
No casket is legally required for cremation, just a simple container, which is strong enough to hold the body. This could be a box of rough boards, pressboard, or heavy cardboard.
Some crematories accept metal caskets; most require the container to be combustible.
If the body is cremated:
The remains can be stored by the family
You may take the remains in the simple cardboard box supplied by the crematory and distribute ("scatter") them over the land or water.
The remains can be placed in a niche within a columbarium.
The remains can be buried in the ground in a regular plot or in a smaller cremation plot.
The remains can be entombed in a crypt within a mausoleum.
Why people choose cremation
In the United States, in 1972, only five percent chose cremation. That number had quintupled by 1999, with over 25% choosing cremation. The Cremation Association of North America predicts that by 2010, that figure will rise to 36%. In Canada, the rate is already over 42%; in Great Britain, 71%; and over 98% in Japan.
Those who choose cremation (for themselves or others) often hold the belief that it is better to honor the memory of the person, not the dead body.
Here are some other reasons you might choose cremation:
Cremation is traditional in your family, religious group, or geographical area
You prefer the body to be returned quickly and cleanly to the elements
Many people believe that a cremated body becomes one with nature more quickly
You have environmental concerns
Perhaps you are worried about the use of valuable land for cemetery space, or believe it is wrong to fill the ground with materials that won't erode, such as metal coffins and concrete vaults
You want to keep the costs down
Selecting cremation does not mean, however, that you will have an inexpensive funeral
You might still choose an expensive casket and/or a viewing, and/or decide to have the cremated remains buried in the ground or placed in a columbarium. These choices can bring your costs up to those of a traditional funeral
Decisions you must make if you choose cremation
Who will do the cremation (a funeral home or a firm that specializes in direct cremation)
Whether to use an urn or container
What to do with the remains
If you are distributing the remains
Some jurisdictions have laws prohibiting the scattering of remains; others require a permit. Ask your funeral director.
Also, ask if there are any firms in your area that specialize in unique ways of distributing the remains, such as a plane to spread them over a mountain, or a ship to scatter them at sea.
Think of places that were especially loved by the deceased, close to home or far away. You can walk in the woods, by a favorite lake, or on the old family farm.
Be sure to ask permission if you want to use private property.
What about using the remains to create new life, by planting a tree? Some survivors choose to mix the remains with the soil in flower beds and rose gardens at home. Every time the roses bloom, you will be reminded of your loved one.
If you decide to do this, however, consider what will happen if, some day, you move away.