Funerals aren't what they used to be. Local funeral homes say more and more people are opting for cremation and green burials.
Matt Grieco, director and owner of Kuzo and Grieco Funeral Home in Kennett Square, says of the families he serves on an annual basis, 38 percent choose cremation. Twenty years ago, it was just a fraction of that number.
Grieco is the first funeral home in the area to offer green type burials. Caskets are made of biodegradable material yet keep the form and shape of a traditional casket. The deceased can be prepared for viewing with eco friendly solutions, viewed in a traditional manner, and then buried in a non sealed vault in a local cemetery. This is our current definition of "Green" until local cemeteries offer more authentic green burial sections.
"It's a slow trend," Grieco said of green funerals. "It's more expensive than a cremation but can cost less than a traditional burial."
But the cremation trend locally in undeniable. And people who opt for cremations don't do it to save money.
"I think a lot of it is simplicity due to families being spread apart," Grieco said. "Cremation provides a certain convenience. And it's not about cemetery space. The reality is there's plenty of space in this country."
The least expensive form of cremation is one with no ceremony and no viewing. Then there's cremation combined with a memorial service, and the most expensive is a cremation after a full service funeral, including viewing and casket.
Grieco said his funeral homes keep the emphasis on ceremony.
Matthew Genereux, supervisor of the Longwood Funeral Home on Route 1 west of Longwood, has been in the funeral business for 15 years. Over that time Genereux has seen the proportion of cremations rise dramatically, and in surprising ways.
The assumption that people choose cremation because it's less expensive than burial isn't necessarily true in all cases, Genereux says. He says that in fact, it's those with less money, the middle-class people with more traditional lifestyles, who are more likely to choose burial. Chester County is filled with people who are relatively affluent and well-educated, and Genereux says they're the type who are more open to other options than the traditional ceremony and burial.
Genereux says there's also been a change in what funeral homes offer today. Years ago, funeral directors tended to present customers with an either-or choice: have a funeral with a viewing, a religious service, and a burial, or have a simple cremation with no viewing, ceremony, or burial.
Today, there's a wider range of options. More people are having cremated remains buried. And with cremation, they can also scatter the remains in some place meaningful to the deceased, or opt to bury part of the remains and keep the rest. They can have a public or private viewing before cremation, a religious or memorial service, whatever they prefer.
The variety of choices today extends to the urn in which the remains are kept, and that variety can be seen on a table in Genereux's funeral home. Grieco too offers keepsakes like "thumbies", a thumb print of the deceased pressed into gold or silver to make precious pendants, cuff links, or other types of jewelry. Other options include incorporating a small amount of ash into oil paintings, ashes blown into glass artwork, adding to an "Eternal Reef" or burial at sea. There really are endless ideas, but Matt suggests making final decisions carefully. Once ashes are buried or scattered, the decision is final. An advantage of cremation is that all of the above forms of disposition are available for one person's ashes, depending on your religion.
At Genereux, there are simple, traditional boxes made of metal or stone. But there are also urns that depict the Pieta, with Mary holding Jesus' body. Another is a whimsical rabbit covered with a floral pattern. For golfers, there are golf balls, and a deceased hunter might opt for a duck-decoy urn, or shotgun shells that can actually be fired. If you want your final resting place to be a liquor bottle, that's an option too.
Genereux recommends that people be aware of choices they will need to make, in particular whether they want a viewing for the body before the cremation process. And they should know whether the process is done at the funeral home, or outsourced. Genereux himself uses an outside crematory, but he goes with the body to be absolutely sure the correct remains come back. "We never leave that room," he says, to be certain there is no mixup.
Genereux said people today are ending their lives the way they live them--they're tailoring things to fit their wishes and express who they were. Cremation, as it's done today, extends that range of options.
"It's not about money," Genereux says. "It's a choice."
Cremations are popular, Grieco said, because of the flexibility it offers.
Cremations are popular, Grieco said, because of the flexibility it offers and he expects the trend of cremations growing 1 percent a year to continue.
Considering this, many more families will choose to have a traditional funeral before the cremation, with the opportunity to view the deceased with a public viewing or privately as a family. While cremation can be an appropriate option for many, he suggests that we must not forget why viewing the deceased is still appropriate and healthy in most situations.
"Closure is a very real phenomenon that can be more effectively achieved when we have the opportunity to say goodbye," Grieco said. "Ultimately, our job as funeral directors is to listen to the needs of our client families, and then guide them through an experience that enables them to take the first step in the grieving process. The funeral ceremony by definition is the first step. The choice, is a very individual family decision."