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Direct cremation which means no visitation or funeral costs about $1,500. Greg Spry of Spry Funeral Home in Athens, said the cost is about equal to a traditional funeral and burial about $6,000 if visitation and a service are conducted before the body is cremated.
Daily Photo by Emily Saunders
Direct cremation which means no visitation or funeral costs about $1,500. Greg Spry of Spry Funeral Home in Athens, said the cost is about equal to a traditional funeral and burial about $6,000 if visitation and a service are conducted before the body is cremated.

Bury or burn?
Cremations on rise in Alabama, but cost is seldom a factor

By Danielle Komis
danielle.komis@decaturdaily.com·340-2447

While the grief of losing a loved one transcends traditional penny-pinching, cost is a major concern for those who may not be able to afford a traditional funeral and earth burial.

Direct cremation — which costs about $1,500, compared with $6,000 for a traditional funeral and burial — is slowly becoming more common in the South, and can help alleviate costs, local directors say. However, few people choose cremation based on cost alone.

Many out-of-towners and various ethnic groups prefer cremation, though cost also is a factor for some, said Kenny Blythe, co-owner of Limestone Chapel Funeral Home in Athens.

“Most of it’s just their tradition and what they’re accustomed to, and the cost factor will probably figure in 10 to 15 percent,” he said. “Folks move here from states like Florida or those up North that are traditionally heavy in cremation. They bring that tradition with them.”

While direct cremation — which means there is no visitation or service — is inexpensive, other ways of incorporating cremation are not always less expensive than a traditional funeral and earth burial, said Greg Spry, owner of Spry Funeral home in Athens.

If a family chooses to keep cremains, urns run from $300 to several thousand dollars. However, that cost is still somewhat low compared to the cost of caskets, he said.

Some families who choose cremation first preserve the body for visitation, then hold a memorial service at the funeral home. The cost ends up being about the same as a traditional funeral, Spry said.

Families who choose direct cremation without a memorial service at the funeral home often hold the service at a private residence or church, Spry said.

For individuals who don’t want cremation but worry about the money aspect, pre-planning a funeral is a popular way to go, Spry said.

By making arrangements ahead of time, people can start making payments on the services so that their family is not left with the financial burden, he explained.

Those who favor cremation tend to be better educated and from households with higher incomes, according to the Cremation Association of North America, a Chicago-based trade association for the funeral industry.

31 percent increaseWhile the percentage of Americans who plan to choose cremation has steadily increased from 31 percent in 1990 to 46 percent in 2005, cremation still is not as popular in Alabama as in other parts of the country, according to CANA.

Only 9.1 percent of bodies were cremated in Alabama in 2004, ranking the state in the bottom five states by percentage.

According to CANA, two groups less inclined to choose cremation are African-Americans and Baptists. African- Americans have the least exposure to cremation and Baptists are more likely to shun cremation because “it destroys the body,” the survey found.

While many local funeral homes offer cremation, there are only a few crematoriums in North Alabama. Those without them contract with those that do and transport the body there for the procedure.

Before the 1980s, the closest crematorium was in Birmingham, Spry said.

John Purdy, owner of Laughlin Service Funeral Home in Huntsville, said his crematorium performs at least 100 cremations each year, with that number increasing steadily by about 10 to 15 each year.

Primary Reasons for Choosing Cremation:

(according to a telephone survey of nearly 1,000 adult Americans age 40 and older)

  • Because it is simpler, less emotional and more convenient (14%)
  • To save land (13%)
  • 2005 WIRTHLIN REPORT — “A STUDY OF AMERICAN ATTITUDES TOWARD RITUALIZATION AND MEMORIALIZATION”

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