ASHES TO ASHES: Cremation on the rise in Massachusetts
Wicked Local Photo/Erin Baldassari
Mount Auburn Cemetery’s Walter Morrison Jr. says changing religious beliefs, lower cost and more education have all contributed to a rise in cremations.
A rise in requests for cremation is changing the way funeral homes and cemeteries do business in Massachusetts.
Since 1960, the rate of cremations has risen nationwide from 3.6 percent to nearly 41 percent, according to the National Funeral Directors Association.
Funeral directors and crematory operators north of Boston point to a lower cost, changing religious beliefs and broader awareness of the options available with cremation as factors contributing to the trend’s growth.
With more people choosing cremation, funeral homes and cemeteries have had to alter business models by offering more options to consumers.
“The model is changing,” said Anthony O’Donnell, a fourth-generation funeral director at his family’s Peterson-O’Donnell Funeral Home in Danvers. “Now, we place a higher value financially and professionally in the fact that we are a service industry, and we are selling our services more than products.”
In his last 13 years as funeral director, O’Donnell has personally seen an escalation in cremations, making up about 40 percent of the family business and mirroring national statistics.
At the Peterson-O’Donnell Funeral Home, a simple cremation with no services costs about $1,500, compared to a traditional wake and funeral with a casket, which can cost up to $10,000.
“Most people choosing cremation fall in between that,” O’Donnell said. “They still want to have a wake. They want the body embalmed. They want to use a rental casket, and maybe they want a DVD tribute.”
Because funeral homes offer so many options with a cremation, Fred Dello Russo Jr. of the Dello Russo Funeral Home in Medford says the change has not affected his business’s bottom line. However, it has expanded the range of options offered by the funeral home.
Of the 20 percent of clients that choose cremation, Dello Russo says a majority of them also choose to hold some type of service prior to the cremation.
“Often times, they’ll have some form of a traditional wake,” said Dello Russo. “They’ll have an open casket to view the deceased. They’ll have some type of religious service here at the funeral home or at their parish church.”
Cemeteries, too, have started developing new ways to meet a growing demand for cremation and to plan intelligently for the future by maximizing their burial space.
Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge offers shared memorial spaces for cremated remains, which can accommodate 20 to 50 individuals. In those spaces, several people share a burial space and one memorial, with each of their names inscribed on the stone.
“There is more of an emphasis on developing space specifically for cremated remains, which gives us more flexibility,” said Bree Harvey, vice president of cemetery and visitor services for Mount Auburn Cemetery.