Do You Want To Be Buried or Cremated?

If you’re my age or younger, you probably haven’t thought about whether you want to be buried or cremated.

If you’re my 74-year-old-beloved-relative-who-will-not-be-named-here-for-fear-of-offending-him, you shrug and say you don’t know, you’ll let your wife decide.

But there’s so many things to take care of when somebody dies.

There’s so much grief.

There’s so much longing.

There’s so much you wish you had said to your loved one.

There are so many nights when you lie awake for hours wishing you had a second chance … and knowing that you never will.

The loved one is in a quieter, gentler place. But you, the bereaved, are stuck in a hurricane of sadness and self-doubt and regret and longing that goes on for months or years or maybe even decades.

So if you, while you are alive and healthy and strong, make some simple preparations, those preparations will help the people you leave behind, who hate you for being gone, who love you fiercely and maybe feel they didn’t tell you so often enough, who let life’s petty anxieties get in the way of listening when you called them on the phone.

My mom wanted to be cremated. Cremation is easier and cheaper than being buried. She didn’t want hoop-la. The no nonsense of cremation appealed to her, I think.

We chose an urn made out of pink Himalayan rock salt to put my mother’s ashes in. My brothers and I agreed on it right away. Every rock salt urn is unique. It was natural but it had pizzazz, just like my mom. We know she would’ve liked it.

Related Posts:
Be extra kind to your mom, because you only get one, warts and all
On having a hard time getting back to work

My mom (right) and her mom with Carl Sagan at their wedding. She was 19 years old.

A recent picture of my mother, Lynn Margulis, who died very suddenly and unexpectedly of a brain hemorrhage on November 22, 2011.

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Categories: end of life.


  1. Love that photo of your mom as a bride! Thanks for sharing. My parents were both cremated. By choice. We had a ceremony and buried their ashes in the garden, under a new pear tree. My kids were all with me that day. This was a beautiful, moving post. I agree with you about making an effort not to let life’s petty anxieties get in the way of listening to loved ones. It’s tough sometimes. My daughter had an operation yesterday. We hope she’s all right. Will know after the biopsy. Anyway, in the parking lot elevator at Mass General, a stranger, a woman in her 50s, said to me out of the blue, “Don’t rush. Take time to breathe.” Good advice for us all. The pace of modern life is overwhelming. So much more to say, but will stop there.

  2. I love that you included the photos. Many years ago, I took heed of some advice–perhaps from a financial expert?–to take care of certain hard things. Like I made a will. I decided how I wanted to die and have my body disposed of (cremated) and I made the hard decision of what I wanted to become of my child should my husband and I go together. I got life insurance. I picked beneficiaries for certain investments. So on and so forth. More recently I’ve been practicing Buddhism. The Buddhists embrace death. In the west, we try to ignore it and deny it and basically try not to think about it. But the Buddhists meditate on it and spend their lives preparing for it. As a result, it has allowed me to have casual conversations with my husband like this, “Honey, I’ve been reading that it takes at least 30 minutes, maybe longer, for the brain to die after the heart stops. So if you are with me when I die, please stay with me for a long time, even if you think I am gone. Hold my hand for an hour. Two if you can swing it.” He rolls his eyes, but I also know he will carry out these wishes.
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  3. My grandmother has her burial spot all picked out and it’s right next to my grandfather. I think it gives her great comfort to know that she’s put everything in place so that her final wishes are carried out. Whenever we visit her we go and visit grandpa’s grave and she points out her own. At first, it was a little unnerving, but now I understand that she feels like she’s taking care of herself–and her family–by having things planned out beforehand.
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  4. Jennifer – a lovely blog, Jennifer. Both my parents wanted to be cremated and had made arrangements with the Neptune Society for cremation. What nobody thought about ahead of time was the period between death and the cremation. It was 1985 and it never occurred to me or my brother to hold home funerals, to decorate cardboard caskets into which we could place their bodies. We were totally ignorant about caring for the body of a person who has just died. We just allowed the “professionals” from the Neptune Society to come and unceremoniously take my parents’ bodies away shortly after death. I wish I knew then what I know now, after having met and learned from Marian Spadone, an artist in Portland, Oregon, who makes beautiful shrouds and whose calling it is “to bring the subject of death more comfortably into daily living,” to arouse interest in “shrouds, home funerals, and mourning customs.” She’s a real treasure and what she is teaching is so important. Thanks to Marian’s influence, when a dear relative of mine passed away recently, the family made a shroud for her and cared for her body at home before taking her to the crematorium in a casket (all perfectly legal and do-able). I wish my brother and I had done the same for our mother and father. Check out Marian’s website

    • Thanks for reading and thank you so much for this information Shoshanah. I’m interested to learn more about this, and eager to talk to you about it in person as well. I’d like to write about “home death” sometime. When my mother was dying it struck me that dying at home is not unlike birthing at home. I can’t explain that, really, at least not now. But one day I hope to reflect on it coherently in words…

  5. Elisa Ramírez

    we are a group of teachers at Colegio de Ciencias y Humanidades, Plantel Sur, UNAM who want to pay tribute to Lynn Margulis.
    We want to make a poster that reflects Lynn as a woman of science and the challenges she faced in those years.
    May you help us with some anecdotes.
    Thank you.
    Elisa Ramirez

  6. I’ve been making handblown glass cremation jewelry for years and I’ve seen the comfort it brings friends and family to have some cremains to wear in a memorial pendant or keep in a special place at home. For that reason I’d like to be cremated so my friends and family can have a memorial like that if they so choose.

  7. I’m sorry for your loss. It’s always hard to lose a loved one, especially a parent. However, like you said, it’s easier for everyone if you make preparations for your death while you’re alive. I still haven’t decided whether I want to be cremated or buried, but it’s something I should give some real thought to. Thanks for sharing.

  8. Growing up in the bay area, I would love to have a sea burial for my cremated remains. I think it is a personal preference, but that is the way I want to go. Maybe because my dad wanted it that way, I don’t know.

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