5 min read

Will a Direct Cremation Harm Your Grieving Process?

Psychologists widely recognise funeral rituals as a crucial first step in the grieving process. Today we explore whether a direct, more basic cremation undermines this process. Whether the visiting site of a physical burial brings more closure? Or whether there's any evidence behind fears that ‘hastier’ cremation options make it harder to process the loss of a loved one?

Healing from grief 2

There's a minefield of misconceptions on death and mourning. As a traditionally taboo subject, these can be ingrained deeper than most. With conversations around grief often avoided, and chances to challenge and debunk the myths few and far between in day to day conversations.

It makes sense. Grief is a sensitive topic. And it can feel inappropriate or insensitive to start citing science or your better know-how in the face of someone's individual experience and consequent beliefs surrounding different funeral practices. It can also be difficult not to be swayed in your decisions by the personal beliefs of others.

Today, we offer a neutral ground to answer your questions on whether cremations really do impact the grieving process any differently to a traditional funeral. Covering:

  • The psychology of why funeral practises are important

  • What are the common concerns over cremations?

  • A review of the evidence

  • Making the right choice for you

Let’s dive straight in.

Why are funerals important to the grieving process?

There's extensive research and centuries of history backing the importance of funerals on aiding our grieving process. Experts in the field have noted how despite individual differences in experiencing grief the ability to come together during this time has benefits for us all, including:

  • Sense of ritual

  • Social support

  • Recognition of the deceased

In this way, funerals offer a chance to accept the reality of a death and validate your grief. To reinforce social ties and lean on your social safety net, just when you need it the most. To be vulnerable, to connect and to help your nearest and dearest through the shared loss experience. It's interesting to think that despite vast differences in specific funeral rituals, this central concept of collective gathering and bonding remains a constant.

Despite this, there's often much scepticism over any unfamiliarity when it comes to funeral practises. To most Australians, the concept of digging up the dead to dance and redress the body seems morbid. But to the Malagasy people of Madagascar, this is the done thing when it comes to their traditional funeral rituals and death beliefs.

What can help one society heal, sounds traumatic, (and even illegal), to another. The same goes for variation within Australia, with some seeking comfort in a physical burial site and others scattered ashes in the wind. Before looking at the concrete evidence, we look at why some people are reluctant to embrace cremation, and the negative beliefs which sometimes surround this funeral practice.

Common concerns about cremations

Whilst everyone grieves and finds comfort in different rituals, some may be closed off to cremations because of fears or misconceptions. This can be especially true for direct, very basic, cremations- where guilt can also come into play over questioning whether this more affordable option might provide less comfort to loved ones.

Lets outline these common cremation concerns below:

  • Lack of physical place to visit

  • Idea of body being ‘alone’ vs with spouse in burial site

  • Concern ashes are mixed with other peoples

  • Feeling squeamish about handling container of ashes

  • Viewed as ‘hasty’ or ‘less dignified & respectful’ than traditional burial

  • Provides no closure

  • Prolongs grieving process & ability to mourn

It’s important to reiterate that grief and loss are unique experiences which affect no two people the same. Intuitively knowing that cremation won’t sit well with you or what you need to grieve is completely valid.

However, it's also important to note that ashes are never mixed and the cremation process is handled by respectful professionals. With this settled, the idea of having ashes spread in your loved ones favourite place, or put into an urn or jewellery to feel closer to them every day, might bring immense comfort to you. If this is the case, it's important to address any other cremation concerns which might create a barrier to this choice.

Read on to uncover the evidence on whether cremations undermine closure or the grief process. Offering you an evidence-based understanding to inform and align your ultimate choice with your beliefs.

The evidence on whether cremations undermine grief

Psychologist John Birrel and his colleagues aimed to test whether more minimal ceremonial cremations had a negative association with grief over time. They followed participants who had experienced a loss and matched their grief survey responses over time with the type of funeral they attended.

Results revealed that the difficulty, the length or the ability to cope with grief was not influenced by the type of funeral. Those who attended a highly elaborate and expensive burial were not ‘more healed’ from grief than those who attended a basic cremation. Same went for the richer or higher educated. Meaning more money or more intellect provided equally inconsequential impacts on the grief process.

Crucially, there was no evidence that a cremation hindered the grief process in any way. This held true for direct- aka no frills, very basic and affordable- cremations as well. Rather than ceremony specifics or the size of the sympathy bouquets, only factors relating to the specific nature of the death and the mourning individual were found to impact the grieving process.

This included whether death was expected or not, whether there was a solid emotional support network, and the presence of a farewell ritual. With this in mind, we conclude with our take-away that grief is:

A) Individual

B) Sadly unavoidable, and

C) Aided by the ritual of a funeral, not the specifics of these practices.

Making the right choice for you

Whether you want to plan a traditional or direct cremation, a burial or just get your end-of-life wishes secured with a will, Safewill can help. We offer expert legal advice at an affordable price, and flexible time to fit around you. Call us today to discuss your options further, on 1800 103 310 , or live chat now.

Last updated 18th January 2023
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Hannah Comiskey
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