Saying Goodbye: Funeral Casket and Urn Options

By: Ben Nystrom

When someone close to you dies, the process of arranging a burial or memorial ceremony, as well as all the other aspects that come with the death of a loved one, can be overwhelming. One aspect of planning a funeral or ceremony that should not cause you stress is deciding on the type of casket or burial vessel for your loved one. Perhaps the deceased expressed interest in a certain type of casket or vessel. Perhaps the deceased's religious traditions require a specific type of casket. Perhaps you've been left to pick the right type of casket or vessel without any input from those close to the deceased. Whatever the case, knowing the basic types of caskets and burial vessels will help you make the correct choice without a lot of thought and fuss.

Casket Options
The important thing to remember when picking out a casket is that there really is no right or wrong type. Most people look for caskets within a designated budget, cemetery restrictions, or religious or cultural expectations. The traditional funeral casket is usually made out of one of many types of solid wood; maple, oak, pine, mahogany, poplar, cherry, even walnut. Though most traditional caskets are lined with satin or other soft, pleasant fabrics, they can also be personalized by the deceased's friends and family. A favorite blanket, pillow, or fabric can be redesigned to act as the lining of the casket, and some people inscribe quotations or paint the outside of the casket to match it with the deceased's unique personality.

Green Caskets
Green burials, ceremonies that involve biodegradable caskets, are becoming increasingly popular these days. Biodegradable vessels are made of material that will biodegrade over time and cause no harm to the earth. Green ceremonies are often used everyday as a park or garden and encourage sustainable growing practices. Cremation equipment uses harmful fuel to operate and often produce toxic pollutants that put mercury into the atmosphere. Green burial practices help give back to the earth, creating an area of land that is very rich in soil quality and preserves the area's natural habitat.

Religion and Caskets
Some religions call for very specific types of caskets or burial vessels. In traditional Jewish law, simple wooden caskets must be used in a burial ceremony. Metal parts are not allowed. Many African cultures place their dead in caskets that are shaped to resemble familiar objects, such as a favorite animal. In Japan, however, caskets are often made out of cedar or cypress. These types of caskets do not decompose and have an appealing scent, preserving the deceased in a way that mirrors the culture's view on ancestors and honoring the dead.

Cremation and Urns
Cremation is still a very popular burial practice, so it makes sense that there are a number of different types of urns one can choose from. A lot of urns today are made of long-lasting, metallic materials such as stainless steel, brass, and bronze. Many people still choose more classic style urns, though, such as those made of granite, marble, or cloisonné. Urns aren't limited to vases, either. Many funeral service providers offer handsome box urns in a variety of designs, often made of cultured marble or oak.

The cost of the casket or burial vessel depends greatly on the kind and quality of the vessel. The average casket sold in the U.S. costs around $2,000, although cheaper caskets can be found on specialty websites and wholesale companies. Of course, customized or specialty-order caskets or burial vessels will cost more than your basic vessel. Urns are significantly less expensive, running anywhere from $100 to just under $1,000, but the price of cremation adds to the overhaul cost. Green burials are another significantly less expensive alternative to traditional burials. The average green burial is around $2,500, less than half the cost of the average traditional burial. Green burials are less expensive because the materials used in the burial are cheaper and easier to come by, there are no chemical embalming costs, and grave markers are often natural landmarks from the surrounding area, cutting down on headstone and traditional marker costs.

Funeral arrangements can be very difficult and stressful. Without the proper preparation, you may end up breaking a long-standing religious or family burial tradition, harming the environment, or simply paying too much for what you get. With a basic understanding of the different types of caskets and burial vessels, however, you can assure your recently departed loved one will indeed rest in peace.

~Ben Nystrom, 2009

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