As I stood near an open grave this afternoon at Saltwell Cemetery awaiting the arrival of the hearse and family mourners, my mind turned to death and that inescapable question – to be buried or cremated? Of course, when the time comes, I will neither know nor care about the disposal of my remains, or anything else for that matter, but I can’t help but think about it from time to time, especially when paying my last respects to a friend or family member.
My parents and three grandparents were cremated, all but one at Mountsett Crematorium near Consett, shown here. The fourth grandparent was buried at Greenside Cemetery. So what are the pros and cons? Neither is particularly appealing from the perspective of the living – to slowly rot in the ground in a cemetery, or to go up the chimney in a crem – but to the dead, it makes no difference at all. Does it make any difference to those left behind? From my own experience, probably not. Having a grave to visit doesn’t mean I remember that grandparent any better than the others. Why would it when I remember family members as they were when they were alive? I can do that anywhere and at any time, not just at a graveside or memorial garden.
So will it be burial or cremation for me? To be honest, I’m quite happy to leave that to whoever takes on the job. In either case, the atoms in my body will become part of the environment and many will get incorporated into other living things. I suppose cremation ensures this happens rather more quickly – all my organic bits will go up the chimney as CO2 and some of it will be “breathed” in by plants and some of those plants will be eaten by animals. But what’s time when you’re dead? If I’m buried, the same thing will happen, but much more slowly.