If you read my last post on the subject, you know that my wife, Tamie, wants to be cremated when she dies.
I, on the other hand, prefer to be dressed in my Sunday best and await the resurrection with what's left of my skin and bones fully intact.
I bring up this issue — once again — because the rising number of cremations in the U.S. again has sparked a wave of headlines.
The New York Times is among major news organizations covering the trend, with a story headlined "In a Move Away From Tradition, Cremations Increase":
An envelope was in Carmen Rosa’s desk in her apartment in Co-op City in the Bronx — an envelope that she had instructed her son not to open until after she died. Inside were more instructions, and they left her son, Alfredo Angueira, flabbergasted.
Ms. Rosa, the longtime district manager of Community Board 12 in the Bronx who died in March 2015 at age 69, directed that she was to be cremated and her remains placed at Woodlawn Cemetery. Mr. Angueira called that “a shocker.”
“Never in a million years would I have thought that this is what she would have wanted,” he said, explaining that he had expected her to say she wanted a traditional burial at St. Raymond’s, a Roman Catholic cemetery near the Bronx-Whitestone Bridge where celebrities like Billie Holiday and Frankie Lymon are interred. So are at least four of Ms. Rosa’s relatives, including her mother.
But cremations are quickly becoming the choice for more and more families. And now, for the first time, more Americans are being cremated than having traditional burials, according to the National Funeral Directors Association. The cremation rate in 2016 achieved a milestone, edging past 50 percent to 50.2 percent, up from 48.5 percent in 2015, according to a report issued recently by the funeral directors’ association.
Right away, the Times hints at a strong religion angle (read: changing beliefs) behind this trend.
And later, the story notes:
The reasons include the weakening hold of religion on American life as well as a loosening of strictures against cremation by some denominations. The proportion of consumers 40 and older who think it is important to have religion as part of a funeral has dropped by 20 percent since 2012, according to the funeral directors’ association.
But while the Times notes how the Catholic Church's official position toward cremations has shifted, the paper remains vague about specific beliefs and reasons why certain people of faith either do — or don't — embrace the growing practice.
A CNN report — "Half in US choose cremation as views on death change" — is similarly vague. Holy ghosts, anyone?
Where to turn for the kind of insight I'm seeking?
Well, I'd refer you back to the story I highlighted in my June post — the one produced by Godbeat all-star Peter Smith of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
Also, The Oklahoman had a nice sidebar that quoted various religious leaders on the issue:
“We believe that God gave us this body as a trust. We must take care of it before and after death. Since he put us in a full body on earth, we must return to God in a full body. We want to return to him in the best way possible.”
—Saad Mohammed, director of Islamic Information for the Islamic Society of Greater Oklahoma City
“Traditional Judaism does not permit or encourage cremations, though in the modern world there are some who choose it anyway. According to traditional Jewish thought, the things that are not appropriate to do to a live body are also not appropriate to do to a dead body. For this reason, many traditional Jews also oppose autopsy, unless it is needed to solve a crime or to help cure a disease. ... There is one extra sensitivity with cremation, which is that so many Holocaust victims were cremated by the Nazis. Many Jews would say it is inappropriate to cremate because so many Jews were murdered and cremated against their will.”
—Rabbi Abby Jacobson, Emanuel Synagogue
I better not copy and paste all the sources, but you get the idea. As opposed to the national stories that relied on vague mentions of "tradition," my home-state newspaper asked a crucial question, printed the responses and fully identified the sources.
Way to go, Oklahoman!
Meanwhile, if you're looking for an alternative to traditional burial or cremation, how do you feel about dissolving?