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What Is the Difference Between a Burial, Memorial and Cremation

These days with the term "memorial service" more common, we are often asked just what the difference is between a funeral and a memorial service? A funeral service and a memorial service both serve the same purpose – they are the ritual through which we formerly say goodbye to our departed loved one. Both can be as long or short as required and focus on being a tribute and celebration of the life of the person departed.

A funeral service typically takes place with the body of the departed present, whereas a memorial service takes place without the actual body present. A funeral service can refer to a traditional graveside burial service, or it can refer to a funeral service conducted in a chapel when cremation is later performed. A funeral service most often is conducted within a week of the death occurring.

A memorial service generally takes place sometime after the death and disposition have occurred. It is usually a service specifically to memorialize the life of the deceased. If cremation has been performed, often a memorial service is conducted to inter or scatter the cremated remains, at the same time as the celebration of the deceased's life. A memorial service can also be held following a private funeral service. Sometimes a family will arrange a private family funeral service and then hold a memorial service at a later date when the family who could not attend the funeral can gather. A memorial service is often held when someone had particular ties to a community as a ritual to help people pay their last respects. Check out our extensive list of Melbourne Funeral Services to help you arrange a funeral for your loved one.

Five Differences Between Burial and Cremation

Aside from costs, there are other important differences between cremation and burial that families should consider when making final arrangements.

Flexibility of Options

A traditional funeral involves a burial and usually consists of a strict series of events that the bereaved follow. Most funeral directors are not particularly flexible when it comes to altering the schedule of events or augmenting the funeral service. Although funerals can take place at different venues, such as a funeral home, a place of worship or a cemetery, they all tend to be very similar.

Of course, there are benefits to such a structured event. For one, the funeral home handles most of the planning, meaning the family doesn't have to spend time and energy organizing an event while they are grieving a new loss. This streamlined process may help the family cut back on costs associated with customization while still allowing things like flowers, readings, and eulogies to be chosen to personalize the event. Funerals are traditional and sacrosanct, and few people regret them.

In contrast, cremation services are far more flexible. Some families include aspects of a traditional funeral such as a viewing before the cremation, while others prefer a straightforward, direct cremation and plan their own fully customized memorial services later on.

Timing of Services

Burials happen fast; even waiting two or three weeks to inter a casket is pushing the boundaries of appropriate funeral etiquette. Some cultural and religious traditions require that the deceased is interred in their final resting place within a day of passing, and most others expect not more than a week to go by before a proper burial takes place. The funeral ceremony must occur before the deceased is laid to rest, which means that loved ones have precious little time to plan and prepare for their final goodbyes.

On the other hand, services can occur before or any time after the cremation, which is much more convenient for loved ones with busy schedules. Since family and friends often live far from each other, many are forced to forgo traditional funerals due to difficulties associated with work and travel. A flexible timeline for cremation services makes it easier for loved ones to attend and pay their respects.

Disposition Options

A traditional funeral always ends in one way: internment. The deceased may be interred (buried) in the ground, or they may be entombed in an above-ground crypt. Sometimes funeralgoers witness this process as part of a graveside service.

Cremation allows family members to choose from several different disposition options. Unlike burials, cremation allows loved ones to hold onto the deceased's remains indefinitely or just while deciding on a final resting place. What many people do not realize is that cremains (cremated remains) can be placed in a cemetery in a few different ways. Burying ashes with a marker provides loved ones with a dedicated site where they can visit to remember the deceased. A columbarium is another option that is like a mausoleum but designed with smaller spaces called niches to safely hold urns. Some cemeteries even have urn gardens where cremains can either be buried or incorporated into elements of the landscape.

Finally, scattering is another popular option. The deceased might request that their ashes are spread in a significant place (or several), or surviving family members may decide on a location if no guidance was provided. Spreading a loved one's ashes into the world helps many grieving individuals find closure.

Methods of Memorialization

Cemeteries are becoming stricter regarding the kinds of memorials that can be used to mark graves. The giant, elaborate gravestones and monuments often found in the oldest and most prestigious cemeteries are no longer permitted. Each cemetery has its own rules and regulations for gravestones, including type (e.g. upright headstones, flat grave markers, grave ledgers), size, colour and material.

Similar rules may exist in cemeteries for cremated remains as well, but generally, there are more options for how a loved one's cremains can be memorialized. Urns to hold cremains come in all shapes, sizes and designs and can be customized to match the deceased's personality. A memorial bench in a favourite place is a popular request, and surviving family members can even commission jewellery that incorporates cremains so they can carry their late loved ones with them wherever they go.

Impact on the Grieving Process

Graves in cemeteries offer the bereaved a place to visit their deceased loved ones during times of mourning. Many people find that having a permanent place to pay their respects is very comforting. However, cremated loved ones can be grieved and remembered wherever their cremains lie as well, even if this place does not bear a marker or memorial. Regardless of whether a person has been buried or cremated, loved ones may grieve wherever they feel the deceased's spirit strongest.

Characteristics of a Coffin

Coffins initially appear rectangular, but they extend out where a person's shoulders would rest inside it, creating an uneven hexagon or octagon shape. The top and bottom where the feet and head lay are also tapered, with the top edge wider than the bottom one. This design is called "anthropoid," which means it is formed in the shape of a normal human body. They tend to have a flat lid that can be lifted off completely for funeral showings. Coffins are also lined inside with cloth, but unlike a casket, they have handles on the side instead of rails for carrying by pallbearers.

Differences Between a Coffin and a Casket

Aside from the difference in shape, lids, and railings, caskets and coffins differ in terms of pricing and materials.

  • Caskets tend to be made from higher quality wood or materials and overall have more expensive details. Casket materials can range in quality and cost, including caskets made out of plastic, medium-density fibreboard (MDF), various types of wood, copper, stainless steel, bronze, or fibreglass.
  • Coffins are usually made from MDF, though they can be made from iron, fibreglass, and steel. Here at Peter Tziotzis Orthodox Funerals, we provide religious and traditional funeral services.

Caskets are More Popular

Caskets are by far the most popular option in the U.S. and are much easier to obtain than coffins. You can purchase them through funeral homes as well as through major retailers like Walmart and Costco. Coffins, on the other hand, are not commonly offered for sale by funeral homes. They can be purchased online, and funeral homes must by law accept a coffin or casket, whether you bought it through them or not. You also have the option of making a coffin on your own, or you can hire a carpenter to make one. However, before you purchase or make a coffin, consult with your cemetery of choice to make sure they will accommodate burying a coffin instead of a casket.

Casket and Coffin Prices

The average cost for a casket is between $2,000 and $5,000. It's possible to find caskets with more elaborate details and higher-end materials like mahogany wood and bronze or copper embellishments for $10,000 up to around $30,000. The cheapest casket options made from steel and wood can be found for around $600 to $800. Coffins are cheaper than caskets to make because the shape means that less wood is necessary to build them. However, since they're harder to find for sale, you may need to have one special order, which can add substantially to their cost. Wooden coffins can range in price from $600 up to about $3,000, and since you'll most likely need to buy it online, you will have to factor in the cost of shipping too. If you make it yourself, you can expect to spend about $300 in lumber and materials for an average-size plain coffin.

Non-Traditional Coffins and Caskets

Adherents of "natural burial" or "green burial" prefer to be buried in a way that is more friendly to the environment. Although not every cemetery will accept this type of burial, which may be due to restrictions by local or state laws, more and more are open to this practice. In this type of burial, you have the option of being buried in a "casket" or "coffin" that is built from non-traditional materials, such as cardboard, paper, large leaves and branches, wicker, fabric, or other items. The idea behind this type of casket or coffin is that it will eventually degrade naturally into the earth along with your physical remains.

Elements of a Funeral


A visitation is an event that takes place before the funeral. It is an opportunity for the family, friends, and others who knew the deceased to gather together. It also gives mourners the chance to express their condolences to the family. The visitation often takes place the day before the funeral or just before the funeral. Need help in planning a funeral service? Check out Peter Tziotzis Orthodox Funerals in Melbourne.

Visitations are commonly held at the funeral home or church; however, they may also be held at the family home or some other appropriate venue. There may or may not be a viewing of the body held in association with the visitation.


Throughout history, music has played an important part in marking life events. The same is true for funeral music. Music is one of those elements of a funeral that helps us embrace our loss, deal with our feelings of sadness, and begin the journey of working through our grief. Funeral music also helps to set the tone for the service. If, for example, the service will be religious, then traditional hymns and spiritual music are appropriate. If the tone is joyous, then upbeat selections may work. Music can also be used to personalize the service. The deceased's favourite song will invoke certain memories for the loved ones. You have many options when it comes to selecting music. Anything within the bounds of good taste can be appropriate. 


Like music, funeral readings offer us the chance to express our feelings about the loss of our loved ones. Most funerals and memorial services have two or three readings, but there are no set rules. There are few limits to the type of readings. It is not uncommon to see poetry and song lyrics along with biblical passages. The point is, you are honouring someone you have lost, and you are expressing how you feel about the loss. Any passage that is tasteful and appropriate can be used regardless of the genre.

The Eulogy

The eulogy is a speech given by a friend, associate, or family member to honour the deceased's life. The eulogy may also be delivered by a clergy member officiating the ceremony or a funeral celebrant. A well prepared and delivered eulogy will evoke memories of the person who has died and offers comfort and joy to those in attendance. You are not limited to one eulogy. It is not uncommon to see services with as many as three. If you do opt for multiple eulogies, they should be kept brief.


Psychologists and experts in understanding grief often refer to the importance of symbols in helping us express our feelings. Both religious and secular symbols are a common part of funerals and memorial services. Which symbols are used as part of the service will depend on your cultural and spiritual beliefs. Flowers, candles, angels, and crosses are examples of symbols that evoke feelings among those who are in mourning. 


The funeral or memorial service is the perfect way to honour your loved one by having those who cared about him or her share memories. In fact, incorporating memories is a very effective way to personalize the service. You may ask that those close to the deceased share a special memory or speak about your loved one in addition to the eulogy. You may also display photographs or a tribute video. There are many ways you can incorporate memories into the service. Whatever works for your family and fits with your spiritual and cultural beliefs will be appropriate.

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