October 22, 2018
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Why more Mainers are choosing to be cremated

Seth Koenig | BDN
Seth Koenig | BDN
Joe Dumais, Portland's cemetery superintendent, points out on a map where the city's historic Evergreen Cemetery would be expanded, March 31, 3018. The approximately 180-acre cemetery would get space for between 800-1,000 graves and a new columbarium for the internment of cremation remains in the project. Prices for an alcove to house the cremated remains start at $750.

Burials are taking a cheaper, more environmentally friendly turn from traditional caskets to cremation just as the number of older Americans is headed to outnumber children by the year 2035, a new report finds.

From 2015 to 2017, the number of licensed crematories in the United States increased almost 10 percent. And, especially in parts of the northeastern United States with older or denser populations, cremations are becoming the burial method of choice, according to a July report from the National Funeral Directors Association.

Cremations already have outpaced burials for three consecutive years. Maine, with its rapidly aging population, is among the 12 states where cremations are growing fastest, the association said.

In Maine, 17 percent of those deceased were buried in 2015, compared with 72 percent who were cremated. The remainder were moved out of state, donated their body or were entombed.

The cremation numbers are expected to skyrocket to nearly 87 percent in 2035. In that year, fewer than 10 percent of Mainers will opt for traditional funeral services.

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Maine is moving toward a dubious milestone in 2020, when residents 65 or older are expected to outnumber the young.

That’s 15 years ahead of the nation as a whole, which the U.S. Census Bureau estimates will see its over 65 population outnumber the young by 2035.

Portland’s historic Evergreen Cemetery began planning for more occupants in 2014 with an expansion that included a semicircular columbarium with 300 niches, which can hold as many as 600 cremated remains.

And it may have been ahead of its time, Portland Cemetery Superintendent Joe Dumais told the Bangor Daily News in 2014, when the expansion was being planned.

Dumais said he expected with the demand for burials at Evergreen to increase in the coming years as Maine’s population ages, but he also said the increasing number of people choosing cremation will help offset the space crunch the cemetery was confronting.

“We’re over 50 percent cremations now, and we know as a nation we’re trending toward cremations,” Dumais said of the interments for that year. “In some cemeteries, it’s as high as 60 percent or more.”

Prices in Evergreen’s columbarium start at $750 for a single alcove, not including lettering.

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The National Funeral Directors Association said 39 percent of cremated remains are returned to families, 37 percent are buried at a cemetery, 1.6 percent are scattered at a cemetery and 8.6 percent are placed in a columbarium, which is a room or area with niches for remains. Another 19.8 percent are scattered at unknown locations.

The association said it costs about $7,360 for an adult casket funeral with viewing, ceremony and burial, but not including the burial vault that houses the casket. A cheaper option is a burial container provided by the family. A cremation casket is $1,000, while an alternative cremation container is $125. An urn for the ashes is $275.

Overall in the United States, the rate of cremations is expected to rise from 50 percent in 2017 to 79 percent in 2035. Other states expected to see spikes in cremation are Minnesota, Nevada and Michigan, among others.

The association said cremations can cost a third of a traditional burial, depending on whether there are services held with it. That can hurt the industry’s overall revenue, the report said, but the lower prices are offset to some extent by the rising number of cremations.

It also attributed the popularity of cremations in part to weakening religious prohibitions, though it said low price is the top reason for choosing to be cremated.

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Maine had 12 crematories in 2017, and is one of a handful of states where funeral homes are not allowed to run crematories. Those wanting to be cremated go to a separate crematory facility.

The association said only about 17 percent of funeral homes in the United States offer pet cremation services, but 13 percent more expect to offer them in the next few years.

Those who have more exotic tastes can pay extra to have their ashes become part of an artificial reef or even rocketed into space. In April 2007, the ashes of actor James Doohan, the beloved “Star Trek” engineer Scotty, and NASA Mercury astronaut Gordon Cooper were strapped to a private rocket and sent into space from a New Mexico launchpad.

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