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Make less, urn more

Published: Thursday, July 23, 2009 9:34 p.m. CDT
Caption
Sandy Bressner – sbressner@kcchronicle.com Lee Norris at the Norris Funeral Home in St. Charles

These days, things are getting smaller for a lot of people, from a house to an apartment, from a Hummer to a Prius, from a Whopper to a salad ... and from a casket to an urn.

Many are finding out that an urn can be cheaper than a casket, as well as taking up less space.

And many religions have eased up on the notion of reducing one’s body to ashes after death.

According to the Chicago-based Cremation Association of North America, “diminishing religious restrictions” is one reason why there are more cremations. One big change was with the Catholic Church. Rome gave the OK in 1963 to allow cremations.

The Rev. Joseph B. Linster, pastor at St. Patrick Church in St. Charles, said the Catholic Church allows parishioners to be cremated, but that it is not the preferred way to go.

In the event of cremation, he said, the church recommends that the body be present at the funeral and be cremated after. The ashes are not to be cast into the wind or put upon a shelf, but buried in a cemetery.

“Cost should not be a consideration,” Linster said. “Some say it’s also cheaper to live together before you get married. But we don’t promote that either.

“The most important thing is that a person’s remains get treated with respect.”

He said the Catholic Church allows cremation because it goes along with Bible teachings – the “dust to dust, ashes to ashes” part.

Cremations on the rise

The number of cremations in the U.S. has been rising steadily since the 1980s, according to CANA. In the 1920s, cremation was the choice of the wealthy and the well-educated, according to CANA, and about 3 to 5 percent of Americans were cremated. It wasn’t until the early 1980s that the rate reached double digits and has increased about 8 percent annually since, according to CANA.

CANA predicts that nearly 40 percent will be cremated in 2010 and nearly 60 percent will be cremated in 2025.

Some of that has to do with cost as well as more acceptance in the religious realm.

For a traditional funeral with a casket at Norris Funeral Home in St. Charles, it can cost $8,000 to $10,000, said Lee Norris, the owner and funeral director. That can include the price of embalming, a burial vault and a headstone.

A cremation at Norris Funeral Home, he said, goes for $2,000 to $5,000, which can include transporting remains, the cremation, the urn and the funeral service. 

“Forty years ago, cremations were 3 percent of my business,” Norris said. “It has been steadily climbing, and it is now about 50 percent of my business.

“Death hits every family, whether they have a faith or not.”

SFlbOther religious views

Samuel Mann, a rabbi at Temple B’Nai Isreal in Aurora, said Judaism discourages cremation but added that some denominations allow interment of cremated remains in a Jewish cemetery.

“Others would forbid it because it encourages the practice that ought to be discouraged,” he said.

Mann, a rabbi of 30 years, said he presided over a ceremony in which a man from Russia was cremated by relatives before the remains were sent America.

Although against Jewish law, Mann said, he presided over the rite for human reasons, because he couldn’t say no to the family of the man. He simply couldn’t tell the family they did wrong by cremating him.

Mann added that each rabbi has to make his own interpretation of Jewish law. And he quoted another rabbi who said you cannot bury ashes in a Jewish cemetery, but you can’t bury them anywhere else, either.

Erica Schemper, an associate pastor with Fox Valley Presbyterian Church in Geneva, said in her denomination there are no “hard-and-fast rules” regarding cremation, though she believes that at one time cremation probably was not accepted by her faith

“Cremation [now] is fine as an option,” Schemper said. “So is burial or donating one’s body for science.  ... We don’t have straight regulations about it.”

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