A burial is defined as an act or ceremony of burying a dead person or object in a grave, often synonymous with "interment," the placing of human remains in an underground enclosure. In the funeral industry, a burial is a means of final disposition that ends with burial in the ground or in a crypt in a mausoleum.
Photo: Erik Jan Leunsink
Once the most prevalent type of funeral arrangement in the U.S., now only 50% of the population elects for burial. Adding to this trend are changing religious views as some religions have begun loosening their view on cremation vs. burial. Others are looking for simpler means of final disposition.
Deciding on burial as a means of disposition is just the start of decisions. As consumer funeral preferences change, so has the rise of more diverse burial options being offered. There are a plethora of choices you can make - from an in-ground or above ground funeral to a green and natural burial or home burial.
In-ground burials typically involve a plot for which to inter the deceased, a casket or shroud, and vault or grave-liner (as required by the cemetery). Often a plot is marked by a memorial tribute such as a headstone or grave-marker of some sort.
Above Ground Burial
A burial that occurs above ground involves the use of a crypt in a mausoleum which can be either communal or private.
A public, or community mausoleum is a building that provides space for the interment of multiple individuals and families. A crypt may house one person or two, similar to an in-ground grave.
Private mausoleums are the ultimate above ground interment option. Often built to resemble a small house, it ensures maximum privacy, prestige and personalization as well as the ability to be laid to rest alongside your family and loved ones.
Green burials are burials carried out in a way that creates the least negative impact to our environment. This includes using a biodegradable casket or shroud, foregoing embalming, and finding space that does not require the use of vaults or grave liners.
All of these choices allow a more natural decomposition of the interred body. Green and natural burials seek to cause the least damage as possible by aiding in the conservation of natural resources, reducing carbon emissions that may be released with cremation, protection of worker health from embalming toxins, and the restoration and preservation of natural habitats.
The burial of a deceased individual on private property is referred to as a home burial. Most common in rural areas, home burials offer a more economical, convenient and intimate alternative to a traditional burial.
It is legal to bury your loved ones on private property in rural and semi-rural areas in nearly every state. Municipality approval, legal mandates and re-sale value of the property are some aspects of home burial that may need to be considered. For more information regarding your specific state, see our state by state end of life guides.
After you have decided the sort of burial you want, you may have to decide what sort of services you'd like to have. Below you can find some of your service options.
Home funerals, or family-led funerals, encourage a family to take control of the funeral process and care for their own loved one in the hours and days following their death. A home funeral may consist of a few hours to a few days of keeping the body home to care for your loved one, prepare them for burial (or cremation), and allow friends and family to stop in and say one last goodbye. It may also involve transporting the body to the cemetery in the family van or truck bed or hearse.
Home funerals may include engaging professionals, clergy and funeral directors among them, or more commonly be handled exclusively by family, friends, neighbors.
The simplest form of burial, an Immediate Burial is the most cost-effective choice. It involves no service, no embalming, and the body is buried shortly after death and in a simple, untreated container. No viewing or visitation is involved though a memorial service may be held at the grave-site or anywhere else a family wishes.
Burial with Graveside Service
Graveside services can follow a traditional funeral or immediate burial, preceed a memorial service, or be a stand-alone event held at a grave-site, mausoleum or crypt.
Common among some religious groups, such as with Judaism or Islam, burial with a graveside service is, in it's simplest form, an immediate burial where the family and friends may be present for the interment. Some funeral homes may allow family to be present as part of the cost of an immediate burial and others may allow a family to add a graveside service to the cost of a burial. As such, this type of service may be slightly more expensive than an immediate burial.
Also keep in mind grave-site preparation fees for things like opening & closing the grave, officiant fees for a committal service (if desired), and perpetual fees for landscaping and keeping up the cemetery grounds.
Burial with Funeral Service
Held at a church, funeral home, or elsewhere, a funeral service memorializes the deceased with their body present. Without a viewing, embalming is not necessary, which can save you from additional fees, though the use of a funeral home may raise the costs.
Full Service Funeral
Often referred to as a "traditional" burial, full service burials include the works; a viewing the night before or day of, a funeral service, procession to the cemetery, and often a short graveside or committal service before a ground burial or placement in a crypt.
If a public viewing is had, funeral homes may require a body to be embalmed and dressed. This, in addition to hearse rental, funeral service, plot, casket and committal makes it the most expensive funeral and burial option.
Burial and Funeral Terms to Know
A committal service is the final portion of the funeral process when the casket is lowered into the ground as final words, prayers and wishes are spoken.
A designated section of land, a plot is a space within a cemetery for rights of interment which can be purchased. Above and below ground burials often have the choice of single or double plots, also known as companion plots.
Companion plots are burial ground with space for the remains of two individuals and are sold either side-by-side or stacked.
Family plots are another option in which a designated area can be purchased for use by members of a family.
Click here for a full Glossary for Funeral & Cemetery Terms.