What is the difference between regular and direct cremation?

by | Jun 30, 2023

Direct cremation is having a person’s remains cremated immediately after death without any extra funeral procedures, such as a viewing, a wake, or a visitation. Cremation occurs immediately following death, and the ashes are collected by or returned to the relatives. No memorial service is held and sometimes, no burial. The deceased is cremated by having their body burned in a simple cardboard container known as a Cremation Container. Caskets are not required for direct cremation because there are no funeral services beforehand. The family is typically not informed of the exact day until it is time for them to be there (if they choose to be present). 

When one opts for direct cremation, no memorial services are held. The family can hold any funeral or burial rites after receiving the cremated remains. There are no time constraints or other preservation considerations with direct cremation. 

People often are choosing this option because of cost. Since funeral fees can be a burden for some, saving money on a costly service can be preferable. A cremation without a funeral service does not mean that the departed will be forgotten, but rather that you can choose a more personal way to honor their memory, such as by burying/interring their cremated remains at a cemetery. 

However, the downside to this is that the family is often not able to see their loved one prior to the cremation. The funeral home/cremation service will usually pick up the body immediately following death. They do not wait for family to arrive. Cremation happens quickly. Some places will contact the family about when the cremation will occur and offer the family an opportunity to be present for the cremation.  

My family experienced direct cremation when my uncle died. He unexpectedly died at home. A neighbor called the police, and his doctor had stopped at his home when he saw the police cars. My uncle had left instructions on his refrigerator about who to contact, one of which was a direct cremation provider. While family was notified of his death, before we could get to my uncle’s home, his body had been removed. We were never notified of the cremation and his cremated remains were taken by the cremation service to be placed in a reef in the ocean, again, without any notification to the family. We eventually did a Memorial Mass at his parish months later when all family could gather. 

I understand that my uncle did not want to burden any of us with dealing with his death, especially when it related to money. However, I felt cheated of being able to see his body and to say goodbye, especially since he was my godfather. While the Memorial Mass was a tribute to remembering him, I have no place to visit him. There’s an emptiness surrounding his death. I prefer what we did for my dad, where we had a wake, Funeral Mass with the body, and then had him cremated following that service. It gave more closure to all of us. 

Sometimes, I believe we try to get through life events too quickly-maybe so that we are not so affected by the experience. But, I believe those experiences shape us for other life events and remind us that we too will die. It is part of what it means to be a human being-to be born, to live and to die, thus returning to the God who created us.