Sun Biz: Paying respects, burial and cremation have reversed roles

Jim and Barbara Snell of the Snell-McLean Funeral Home, L.L.C., in Palisade are surrounded by cabinets containing cremation urns in a room at the funeral home.

The days when paying respects to the dead with a large funeral service complete with rose-covered caskets, well-
suited pallbearers and tinted-window hearses are becoming less frequent.

Burial and cremation have reversed roles in the past two decades both county and statewide, with more deaths being handled by cremation than by burial, according to the state and funeral-home owners. The trend has become more prevalent the past year as the economic downturn has played out, some business owners said.

The latest statistics from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment show that in Mesa County, 29.2 percent of deaths were handled with burial and 65.9 percent with cremation in 2007.

Comparatively, in 1987, 60.8 percent of deaths were handled by burial, while 27.2 percent were cremations.

Statewide, burials account for the arrangements of 33.1 percent of total deaths, while 58.7 percent are taken care of by cremation. In 1987, the percentage of burials statewide was 58.7, and cremations accounted for 27.2 percent of deaths.

“Burials are still prominent in the Midwest and the East,” said Barb Snell, co-owner of the Snell-McLean Funeral Home, which has locations in Palisade and Fruita.

“I believe a lot of people that live in the West are conscious about our open space, and they’d like to keep it that way.

Burial takes land. Cremation doesn’t. Cremation is also becoming more popular because it allows the family to be a little bit more economical.”

Burials average about $3,000, and cremations average $1,250, Snell said, speaking for her business.

And recently religion has been more accepting of cremation, one local businesswoman said.

“Cremation is definitely on the rise,” said Debbie Tucker, manager of Valley Mortuary in Grand Junction. “That’s been happening to the extent that the Catholic church is OK with it now, as long as the remains are inurned, which is buried so that the grave can be blessed.”

Tucker said she sees people planning services that are “more reflective of each person’s life.”

Some have certain wishes, to be buried in Levi jeans for instance, she said.

“Things are less formulaic,” Tucker said.

A tighter economy also fuels the trend to a higher number cremations.

“Now, compared to last year, we are significantly higher with the cremations,” Snell said, estimating cremation requests have increased by 10 to 15 percent.

Richard Lewis, manager for Martin Mortuary & Crematory, agreed cremations are increasing. He doesn’t buy the land-use argument.

“There may be a bit of a misconception that we’re running out of land,” Lewis said. “I don’t believe that. Another concept is that people are more price- conscious and aren’t seeing the value of a traditional-type funeral like they did in the past.”

He said cremation became more prevalent in 2001 in California and became common nationwide.

“I think it’s just a different thought process people have and different decisions they’re making in their lives. They see it as
simpler,” Lewis said.

Snell said she doesn’t believe the traditional way will go out the window entirely:

“We still have people who want to be buried and want the traditional way.”


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