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Are Cemeteries A Thing Of The Past?

A typical funeral in the United States used to mean viewings in a funeral home, followed by a service in a place of worship and traditional burial in a cemetery. But as traditions and customs changed — and, more importantly, cremation became more acceptable — burials in cemeteries started to wane, too.

The big reason: Cremations.

“The influx of cremations has changed the way we use cemeteries,” says Anthony Quahliero, Co-Founder of Keystone Funeral Services. “Where they used to have traditional funerals and ultimately be buried in a cemetery, they are now being cremated.”

Cemeteries are still used as they were years ago. But, now, 50-60 percent of families opt for cremation over burial in a cemetery, Quahliero says. That’s also due to religious denominations being more open to the idea of cremation.

“We used to think ethnic communities would hold out longer and not buy into cremation. But they have changed,” he says. “The Roman Catholic Church now accepts cremation.”

Even if people choose to cremate their loved ones, some, then, do bury the ashes in a cemetery plot. But that’s not the case with most people who opt for cremation.

“We don’t see nearly as many burials as we did before,” Quahliero says. “It’s all tied into cremation.”

He says the change has been many years in the making. But every year, for the past three decades, the number of cremations has gradually increased.

Quahliero says: “When I ask a family, ‘Have you thought about the funeral arrangements,’ they say, ‘We were thinking about cremation.’ Traditional burial — now, that’s not the norm.”

Funeral directors thought the shift was due to costs, he adds. Cremations cost much less than a traditional cemetery burial. But, he says, “we are doing more cremations based on the simplicity. It’s not the money, it’s more about the convenience.”

Another reason for a drop in the number of burials is a generational shift. Unlike their elders, the younger population does not visit cemeteries as often. “They don’t see the value in that,” Quahliero says. “Tradition, religious custom, being part of the cemetery finalization, none of that seems to factor in. Before cremations were prevalent, younger populations were not going to graves to visit cemeteries like their parents did. They just didn’t feel the need to do that. That also encouraged cremation.”

“Our religions have changed, our ethnic culture has changed,” Quahliero says, adding other rituals have changed, too. For instance, funeral services are now often referred to as “celebrations of life.”

The increase in cremations has cost cemeteries revenue, he says. That also has had a ripple effect on funeral homes. Depending on what kind of cremation is chosen, they can usually cost $2,000-$3,000 less than a traditional cemetery burial.

Viewings at funeral homes have decreased, too, he says. Families are now combining visitation and services in places of worship, “just making it simple.” They hold visitation hours at the place of worship an hour or two before the service, and, then, after the service, the cremation takes place. And most families chose not to view the cremation.

Instead of burials or even burying loved ones’ ashes in a cemetery, more and more families are opting, these days, to keep the ashes in an urn in their homes. “Probably more times than not, people are keeping the ashes,” he says. “We have seen that on a more regular basis. They say, ‘Why go to a cemetery when I can have mom in my home?’”

People also choose to make the ritual far more personal by, say, having some of the ashes included in jewelry they can wear.

Cremation, Quahliero, is no longer considered taboo. “People are comfortable talking about it. You don’t talk about the old way anymore,” he says.

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