BY TRONE DOWD
In the last decade and a half, the likelihood that the family of a deceased loved one will choose cremation has grown exponentially across the nation. But has that trend reflected here in the borough of Queens? How do the local faith based organizations feel about it? The Queens Tribune spoke to religious leaders in the community to get their input on the matter and find out what the many different faiths have to say on the topic of cremation versus burial.
In the U.S., the National Funeral Services Association reported that in 2005, just 32.3 percent of the deceased were cremated as opposed to 61.45 percent that were buried. In 2010, 40.4 percent of the deceased were cremated compared to 53.3 percent that were buried, a noticeable shift. In 2013, the trend continued, as 45.4 percent of the deceased was cremated, while 48.7 percent of the deceased were buried. It was projected last July that in 2015, cremation will overtake the tradition of burial for the first time, by a margin of 2.9 percent. By 2020, that predicted margin will increase to 18.3 percent, and then to 47.8 percent by 2030.
Ed Horn, Director of the St. Michael Funeral Home in East Elmhurst for over 20 years, spoke to the Queens Tribune on the matter, saying that while the home will almost never push their clientele in one direction or the other, they have noticed a huge divide between the two services.
“There are those people who will only go for cremation and there are those people who will only go for alternatives for the cremation.”
Horn did however refute the idea that the divide had anything to do with financial reasoning.
“I never tied or believed this contention was ever price based,” Horn said. “There are people who are committed to one type and never consider another type. A person who wants a traditional burial or crypt would never consider a cremation. And those people who want a cremation would never consider alternatives.”
Horn said that funeral homes often don’t try to influence families any way, only following whatever the desires of the family or deceased individual were. Cremation is usually cheaper compared to traditional burials due to the costs of the plot of land and casket not having to be accounted for.
“The only advice that I usually give people is that pre-planning is the way to avoid the tragedy that befalls many people at a time of need, when people are in not the best of mindset, to make the most educated of decisions that would benefit themselves, the one who they’re memorializing and want to remember with love and affection.”
Rev. Charles Norris of the Bethesda Missionary Baptist Church said that he believes that a burial is symbolic of where the Christian belief says mankind came from.
“I know that cremation is less expensive than burying,” Norris said. “There are people who can not afford a burial plot and will choose cremation. That’s to benefit them. But I’m favorable toward burial because I came from the Earth; God made us out of the Earth, and would think that we should return to the Earth. Now I know many people who have been cremated and have the ashes scattered over the Earth, and that happens, but I still favor regular funeral services and a burial.”
Norris clarifies however, that the choice is ultimately up to those close to the deceased.
“But it is the choice of the family. If that’s what they choose to do, I have no objections to that. If I were to talk to them, I would try to see if they could afford a burial. But if they can’t afford a burial and want to cremate and spread the ashes, that would be fine with me. You have to work with what the family decides and go along with that.”
The Jamaica Muslim Center also commented on the matter, confirming that in the Muslim faith, it is traditionally mandatory to have a burial for the deceased.
“We do not do a cremation,” Mohammed Akhter Hussain, secretary of the Jamaica Muslim Center said. “We do regular burials just like Christian churches do. It is a faith mandate to do a burial. We usually go to a few Long Island cemeteries, buy land there.”
According to Imam Shamsi Ali, the leader of the Jamaica Muslim Center, there are guidelines as to what followers of the faith should do with deceased loved ones.
“The reason why Islam regulates burial and not cremation because we believe that on one hand the body of a deceased person must continuously be respected,” Ali said. “On the other hand we believe that humans are physically created out of clay and must return naturally as well to the clay.”
Reach Trone Dowd at (718) 357-7400 x123, email@example.com or @theloniusly.