Frequent Questions - Burial & Embalming
Burial is placement of human remains underground. Sometimes in industry terms we use it interchangeably with “entombment,” which is putting the body in a crypt or a mausoleum. Even though this process is traditionally associated with embalming, visitation, and a funeral service, burial does not require any of these events.
Burials involve two parts:
Funeral – This general term refers to all the products and services that occur between the point of death and the gates of the cemetery. It can be a confusing term, because in common usage it usually refers to a specific service for the deceased with the body present.
Cemetery – This term refers to all the products and services required at the place of burial.
Cemetery and funeral service are always done by separate companies, even if the parent company is the same. This means that you will plan final arrangements with both a funeral director and a cemetery representative.
The most basic of all the services for burial are called “immediate” or “direct” burial. As you shop funeral homes, it is helpful to know that these terms mean no services. The funeral home will pick up the body, get permits, take the body to the cemetery, and the cemetery will bury them.
When a person calls a funeral home and asks, “How much is it for a burial?” it’s very like calling an auto dealer and asking the person on the other end of the line, “How much is it for a vehicle?”
Much like a vehicle that has many options affecting the price, burials are not “one size fits all.” Many factors determine the final cost for a burial. Some clients believe not receiving an immediate answer means the funeral director is trying to upsell or tack things on, when they are likely trying to figure out what the family wants for their loved one.
Unlike cremation, there are so many variables to burial that it is difficult to provide simple pricing. Our pricing page can provide an estimate for what you can expect to pay, but some of the things that will impact your costs with a funeral home, in order of potential increased cost:
- Casket selection
- Services required (funeral, visitation, etc.)
- Preparation & Transportation (to/from cemetery, to/from church, embalming etc.)
In the case of Elemental, our side of the costs are almost always lower than that of the cemetery. At the cemetery, you can expect to have, at a minimum, the following charges.
- Space (grave, crypt, niche, etc.)
- Open & Close – the overhead of the cemetery, in the form of digging the grave (i.e., “opening the crypt”)
- Outer Burial Container (vault or liner)
- Headstone or marker
- Setting fees – fees to place the outer burial container and marker
Some cemeteries have records fees or service fees for tent and chairs as well.
Before you call funeral homes and cemeteries, brace yourself. You are not going to be able to accomplish a burial in the immediate Seattle area for less than $6,000, no matter how austere you make it or which cemetery you select. This is the reality of cemetery pricing and products in our costly urban area.
Before you contact a funeral home, knowing the following answers can help you narrow down the numbers to a clear quote:
- What is your casket budget? A reasonable expectation is between $1,500 and $3,000 for a nice middle of the road casket.
- Do you want to have a church service?
- Do you want a visitation?
- Do you want a graveside service?
Having answers to these questions will go a long way towards helping a funeral home provide the most accurate information possible.
Burial pricing tends to be a little more complicated, due to the number of variables involved. We can tell you that the cost is more than cremation.
Burials involve two parts – the “funeral” and the “cemetery.” “Funeral” refers to all the things between the place of death and the gates of the cemetery. “Cemetery” is everything inside those gates that relates to the placement of the body.
In the Seattle area, you are unlikely to do a burial all in (funeral and cemetery) for less than $6,000. This cost does not include any type of service. Elemental’s charges are the smaller part of the equation – if you want burial without any services, often we can do that for less than $1,500. The cemetery, however, is going to be a significant cost if you don’t already have a gravesite purchased.
If you are willing to leave the urban center of Seattle, you can find less expensive cemetery property to keep your costs down. If you are hoping for a burial option, please give us a call and we can run the numbers for the funeral and location of interest.
We do have a few biodegradable urns in stock but most of the urns that we sell are sent directly from our distributor. There are so many options out there that there would be no place for us to store all the possibilities. This also allows us to keep prices low because we don’t have to carry large amounts of inventory.
Caskets are large and expensive, so most funeral homes now have digital images or catalogs for you to select from. We simply don’t have any place to store them. If you pay a visit to the office, it will be clear that there’s nowhere to put a casket showroom!
Our urn and casket pages are available for you to browse. These feature some of the most commonly chosen options by our clients.
Embalming is never required by law – it’s only required by funeral home policy. Elemental’s policy is that we will do everything within reason to avoid it, however there are some rare instances that it makes more sense than the alternatives. An example of this is shipping the body across country for services elsewhere. Another example is when a family tradition includes it, or a family is wanting a multi-day visitation in a public space, such as a church. These are examples where ice packs may not be the most practical or desirable solution.
Embalming is the replacement of bodily fluids with a preservative solution, disinfecting the body, and preparing it for visitation by setting the features of the deceased to be more visually appealing. Historically, embalming is done with formalin (formaldehyde) solutions. Today, we have equally-effective alternatives that are not formaldehyde based.
We embalm for many reasons. The part of the law that many people will refer to when they say that embalming is necessary is a regulation. WAC 246-500-030 says “Funeral directors, embalmers, and others assisting in the preparation of human remains for final disposition must refrigerate or embalm the remains upon receipt.” The reason for this is simple: refrigeration and embalming serve to slow the decomposition process. It is unsanitary to leave the deceased around at room temperature for long periods of time.
Many traditional funeral homes will tell you company policy requires embalming for visitation. We don’t require it for visitation because we want to provide our clients with more options.
In addition to disinfecting and slowing decomposition, embalming contains pigments that enhance the appearance of the deceased by returning color to their face and hands. Even with embalming, however, the deceased may not look like they did in life. Washed out color and sunken features can be upsetting to some people, which is why embalming is always an option. For others, however, the body in its natural state after death can be validation of a closing chapter. The choice whether to embalm is a personal one, but we are glad to discuss the differences with you and help you decide what is right for your family.
If your loved one has experienced an autopsy or a traumatic accident, we highly recommended that some form repair, and possibly embalming, take place. While we would never forbid you from seeing them or require that repair work be done on your loved one, we can tell you that viewing a body after these scenarios can be exceedingly difficult. If you want to see your loved one after such an occurrence, we are here to discuss their condition and help you decide what the best course of action is for the peace of mind of everyone involved.
If you are planning on placing your loved one in a crypt, embalming may be a requirement of the mausoleum. Again, that’s not a law. That’s a company policy established by the cemetery, and it is within their rights as the property owners. It is also within your rights to find a cemetery that meets your needs – if one cemetery isn’t the right fit, we can help you find one that works with your choices.