We are living in an amazing time with more options than ever when planning a death. Whether you are planning for your own death or the death of a loved one, there are more options than ever to suit your values and preferences. There are new disposition methods like water cremation, exciting new keepsakes and products like biodegradable urns, improved methods of embalming and restoration, and new forms of remains like stones. These new contemporary options are empowering for families that are planning a death, but many were introduced rapidly over just the last decade, which created a gap in available information for consumers and funeral professionals alike. 

Staying aware and informed about all the new options can be hard. Over the last decade, this surge of change in deathcare has been fueled by a pandemic, social movements, changing customer preferences, independent online consumer research, and new technologies. These phenomena led to radical new options and limited educational resources. Many of us are familiar with traditional options like burial or cremation but are less familiar with newer options like natural organic reduction. No one should be put in a situation where they are unaware of a potentially meaningful deathcare or grief care option.

We want you to feel confident in your death arrangements, so we’ve selected the most available and sought-after deathcare options and presented them in an easy-to-understand downloadable guide. This guide can be referenced at home, or it can be used interactively when making your own death plans with a deathcare professional. The printable guide in this article for navigating modern deathcare options will help you navigate the rapidly changing deathcare landscape and ensure that you choose the most meaningful options for you and your family.

While we would have liked to include every option, this was not realistic and would have likely been more confusing than helpful. Additionally, the arrangement format proposed is highly variable based on each different situation - this is a starting point. The following information was designed to help families and funeral directors easily, clearly, and accurately learn about modern deathcare options.  


A New Framework for Deathcare Arrangements

When pre-planning for your own death, or arranging the death of a loved one, you may be asked the question, “Burial or Cremation?” This question has been the standard starting point during the funeral arrangement for nearly 50 years, gaining traction around 1970 when the cremation rate was just 5% in the United States - it’s time to change that. With so many more options in death care, we now have an opportunity to provide a better experience. The “Burial or Cremation” question limits your ability to choose the right experience for you or your family. With this new world of options, we believe there is an opportunity to change how we approach the traditional death arrangement process to provide a more fulfilling experience.

In order to navigate modern deathcare options best,  you can think of the arrangement in 4 main segments.

Step 1: Will there be a viewing, and if so, what kind?

Step 2: What disposition method is right for your family?

Step 3: What is the final resting place of your loved one’s remains?

Step 4: What form of remains would best fit your family’s memorialization plans?

These segments will be the foundation of our taxonomy of death-planning options.

Navigating Modern Deathcare

Step 1: Viewings

Viewing the deceased ahead of disposition (ie burial, cremation, etc) can be an important step in the grieving process, and there are various forms of viewings that can best suit your family’s preferences. Many families are under the misconception that a viewing is exclusively offered as a part of a traditional funeral service with an embalmed body or a wake, when in reality a viewing can be selected in nearly any situation regardless of the chosen disposition method.

The main viewing options include:

Home Funeral. Some families opt to have a viewing at home, often referred to as a “home funeral.” The body of the deceased can be visited by loved ones in a familiar and intimate setting while lying in state outside of a funeral home or chapel. In this case, the body is left unembalmed but often treated to prevent odors or decay by cleaning the body and keeping it cool. 

Witness Cremation. “Witness cremations” or simple “ID viewings” are also popular. This allows you to see your loved one again without a more formal viewing or ceremony. In the case of a witness cremation, the family is present for the start of the cremation process of their loved one, and you often have the option to indicate to the funeral director when you are ready for the cremation to begin.

Traditional Funeral. Of course, a more traditional option is a funeral or visitation with an open casket. Remember, you can choose this option with or without embalming. 

Some families even request to bathe and dress their own loved ones, which could happen at home or in the funeral home. Many families would like to see their loved one ahead of the chosen disposition, even if only for a few moments.

Step 2: Final Placement

At this point in the planning process, it's time to select the final resting place for your loved one’s remains. This key question can lead to more clarity around what other options might be a fit for your family, such as disposition method, type of remains, ceremony options, and more. 

Do you want one location for permanent placement, like a cemetery where people can visit, or do you want something else? Perhaps your family lives in different parts of the country, and everyone wants a portion of the remains to be taken somewhere special. Perhaps you wish to scatter your loved one's remains in the ocean because they loved the sea. Determining what your family wants in the future will help you plan the best course of action today.

The next step is to select the disposition method and the type of remains. 

Steps 3 and 4: Disposition Methods and Type of Remains

There are at least 8 legal disposition methods for humans in the U.S. alone, but we will focus here on the 5 most common: traditional burial, natural burial, flame cremation, alkaline hydrolysis, and natural organic reduction. 

When considering which disposition method is right for your family, it is important to consider which methods are legal in your own state and which methods can be utilized by transporting the deceased to other states. Your local funeral director or pre-need arranger will be able to advise you on the options available in your area and out of state. 

Traditional Burial. Final placement of the full body, often in a cemetery, in the ground or in a crypt. This usually requires a casket and a vault.

Natural Burial. A more eco-friendly version of full-body burial, in the ground, that does not impede decomposition and uses no chemicals or plastics. Vaults and caskets are not required, reducing ecological impact as well, as only other biodegradable materials are allowed in the grave with the body.

Flame Cremation. Reducing of the body using high-heat flame is often thought of as more eco-friendly than burial. This is the most popular method of disposition in America, chosen in over 57% of deaths.

Alkaline Hydrolysis (water cremation). Reducing of the body using heated water and lye, mimicking the natural decomposition process. This is considered to be more eco-friendly than flame cremation as it uses far less energy and has no emissions. It is also more gentle on the body which can give families some peace of mind. 

Natural Organic Reduction (NOR or composting). Reducing of the body into a soil-like material using plant materials inside of a controlled environment. This method is gaining in popularity and is now legal in seven states.

When considering your preferred method of disposition, make sure also to consider the type of remains that result from each. Other than burial, each method produces a unique form of remains.

Cremated Remains (ash). Flame cremation creates a loose ash-like material made from mostly pulverized bone that is gray in color and granular in texture. It is often considered unattractive and is often stored and hidden from sight in a container. This form of remains can be messy to scatter and challenging to split up for sharing.

Alkaline Hydrolysis Remains. Similar to cremated remains, alkaline hydrolysis results in a loose powdery material made entirely of pulverized bone that tends to be white or beige and has a very fine consistency similar to sand. Even though this material may be considered “less ugly,” it is messier to scatter due to its fine particle consistency, and like flame cremation remains, it is difficult to split up for sharing.

Solidified Remains. There is an additional type of remains for families choosing flame cremation or alkaline hydrolysis who may feel anxious about the ash or are planning to share, travel, or otherwise interact with the remains. Solidified remains are produced by Parting Stone and and are processed after flame cremation or alkaline hydrolysis before the remains are returned to you by the funeral home. Families may also choose to have remains solidified at a later date on the Parting Stone website. The solidification process compresses 100% of the ash and returns the remains in a form that resembles a collection of 40-80+ stones that feel similar to ceramic. Solidified remains replace the typical ash or powder-like remains from those two disposition methods. The stones are ideal for families who wish to have memorial experiences that involve the remains because they can be handled and shared, scattered without a mess, and are often considered to be more attractive to look at. You can learn more about solidified remains here

Soil. Natural organic reduction makes a nutrient-rich soil. It yields much more than the previous two options, roughly enough soil to fill the bed of a pickup truck. Many people do not take all of the soil home, but rather they donate much or all of it to a local forest. Families do have the option to take the material home and use in gardens, or even scatter it around like they might with flame cremation and alkaline hydrolysis remains.


Example Scenario

Imagine a person, we’ll call her Janet, is planning for her own death using Parting Stone’s pre-need service or with a local funeral home. Janet is not old, 55, and is in good health, but wants to ensure if the worst happens, many of the hard decisions and financial burden does not fall on her 3 children.

Guided by a death-planning professional using the Navigating Modern Deathcare tool, Janet reviews the options for viewings, like an unembalmed close family visitation or perhaps a family dressing of the deceased. After discussing the options with her husband and children, they decide to take a hands-on approach to the viewing portion of the death plan and select a home funeral. 

The funeral professional asks Janet how she would like her remains to be treated in the future. Would she like permanent placement at one location of final rest for friends and family to visit, or does she have other ideas?

Being an environmentalist and avid gardener, Janet wants to be near her garden after death. Additionally, her kids expressed that they would like to keep her close to them.

In this case, Janet has the options of natural organic reduction, flame cremation, and alkaline hydrolysis as a disposition method. These options can result in granular remains, solidified  remains, or soil (in the case of natural organic reduction).

Janet chooses alkaline hydrolysis with solidified remains so her family can easily divide her 80 or so stones with family and friends and place them in her garden, as well as their respective gardens.

To download the Navigating Modern Deathcare PDF to use with a Deathcare planning professional, click here.


The framework for Navigating Modern Deathcare and this article were created and written by Stephanie Poirier, Partner Success Manager at Parting Stone.