What is Direct Cremation?

Why choose a direct cremation?

It’s becoming a more popular choice, but what does it really mean? Read on for answers to some of the most common questions about direct cremation.

Why is everyone talking about direct cremation? 

There’s more choice around how to mark the end of someone’s life than ever before, and direct cremation is an option that increasing numbers are considering.

Also known as simple cremation, this is a choice for people who don’t want the fuss or formality of a traditional cremation or burial service. At around a third of the cost of a traditional funeral, it also has understandable financial appeal.

The first many knew of direct cremation was when David Bowie went down this route after his death in 2016 because he wanted to ‘go without any fuss’. It was a decision the trendsetter had apparently made more than a decade earlier.

The real turning point for this kind of cremation, however, was the pandemic, when large gatherings were not allowed. Direct cremation suddenly fitted with the times, and it has remained both a practical and personal choice for many since.

It’s certainly more popular. According to the Sunlife Cost of Dying Report 2023, around a fifth (18%) of people chose direct cremation last year compared to two per cent four years ago.

So what exactly does direct cremation involve?

It is when the cremation is separate from any commemorative service. This means there is no formal service so, after the cremation is complete, loved ones can say goodbye in their own way and in their own time. Rather than rush things, a commemoration or celebration of life can be held weeks or even months later.

Creating a special, individual farewell is appealing to many families. It may also be the express wish of the person who has died, especially those who can’t afford or don’t want a traditional service.

But it’s important to know what a direct cremation entails.

There are no mourners present. The person who has died will be cremated in a simple, unadorned coffin and cannot be dressed in their own clothes. Mourners are unlikely to be able to even choose the date or time of the cremation. The ashes will be returned to the family once the cremation is complete.

Without the usual personal touches – no need to spend money on flowers, limousines, embalming, or any other extras, it’s a much more cost-effective option. According to the Sunlife report, the cost of a direct cremation is around £1,500 compared with £4,000 for a basic funeral.

The wider family

But while it is the right choice for some, it is not the answer for everyone. Some families, for example, may see a traditional service as an important step in the grieving process and feel uncomfortable about such a simple farewell.

One of those in whiteballoon’s directory of caring and compassionate providers is Aura Life, a funeral planning company that supports people to plan their death while enjoying their life. As well as more traditional options, it can help families decide if a simple cremation might be the right choice for them and helps them to plan it.

Its founder Paul Jameson said it had introduced direct cremations partly because of the lower cost but also because it often fits with today’s changing attitudes. The company also offers a ‘direct cremation plus’ option which is more simple and low cost than a traditional service.

He said: “More often today, people don’t want a sombre black funeral that doesn’t reflect that person’s life. They want to celebrate a life not mourn a death.

“They also want more time to grieve properly rather than being thrown into a full-on funeral shortly after that person’s death. A direct cremation followed by a ritual to commemorate that person’s life allows them to do that.”

He understands it is not for everyone. Some may prefer the sense of occasion that surrounds a traditional funeral and see it as a sign of respect. A person’s religious beliefs will also play an important part.

For those considering direct cremation, he urges them to talk to their family and consider their wishes as much as their own.

“A funeral is as much for your family as it is for you. Talking about it is also a great way to open up the conversation about death and dying, which is such a taboo in this country.”

Founders Holly Lyon-Hawk and Lizzie Neville of Stag Cremations also recognise the importance of family support and involvement, both before and after a direct cremation. Their pioneering holistic approach means that they are there for the family throughout the journey, from the first phone call to the cremation as well as many weeks beyond with grief support.

It’s all about having choices – something we feel passionately about at whiteballoon. Take the time to browse our website to find out how to make a final farewell a personal and precious experience, whatever path you take.

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