190624_cremation_ray

J.L. Robertson, owner and general manager of Rupp Funeral Home, observes a collection of cremation urns offered by the business. Cremation as an option to traditional burials appears to be leveling off somewhat after reaching the 50 percent mark locally and nationally, but it is predicted to reach 80 percent in two decades.

Cremation has risen in popularity for memorializing a loved one, although funeral directors counsel that the decision shouldn’t be made rashly.

Two St. Joseph funeral homes report the popularity of cremations in the area is currently running about even with traditional burials. And remembering a kinsman in a unique way is becoming broad.

In Missouri, that could soon include the lawful outdoor cremation of human remains. A senate bill known as the Jedi Disposal Act now sits on the desk of Gov. Mike Parson, awaiting his signature.

But making the correct move should involve the input of more than one family member, according to the funeral homes. For instance, staff at Meierhoffer Funeral Home & Crematory indicate some families are opting to cremate the body before a funeral service, while others prefer to wait until afterward. Many times people are uninformed about the process when they arrive to make arrangements.

“They don’t know that choosing cremation isn’t giving up,” said Eric Montegna, Meierhoffer’s general manager. “There are so many options.”

To compensate for lack of knowledge, Montegna said staff is trained to ask a series of open-ended questions as a guide for the final choice of whether to pursue cremation. He said many people only plan for funerals a few times in their lives, so their existing knowledge stems most commonly from word of mouth or from the media.

“The public is becoming more educated,” said Todd Meierhoffer, president of Meierhoffer.

Price is not the primary driver for most decisions to cremate, he said.

Once the process is finished, “people don’t know what to do with the cremated remains,” Meierhoffer said. “There is no urgency with cremation.”

The funeral home already has completed a first phase of 300 cremated interments over five years. Future phases are designed to easily accommodate the expected continuation of cremains by families on the funeral home grounds. That complements the increase of cremation options that have flourished in the past quarter century.

Meierhoffer said there’s presently about a $2,000 difference in the range of cremation costs that undercut the price of traditional burials.

“Our job is not to dictate,” he said of the counseling.

There is a growing trend among families to come to funeral homes armed with research. Montegna said families will be better off arriving with more information.

The tendency for preserving someone in long-term memory through cremains has taken on new proportions. Examples include using the ashes in conjunction with pendants, bracelets or other types of jewelry. Other possibilities include bench estates for placing ashes of succeeding family generations.

J.L. Robertson, owner and general manager of Rupp Funeral Home, said the frequency of cremations in Missouri hovered around 18 percent 25 years ago and is now slightly below half, leveling off roughly at pace with the national trend, and with burials thus still more popular. There are predictions of an 80 percent cremation rate being attained by 2040.

“It’s still relatively new,” Robertson said. “We’re finding more and more people want to memorialize” through cremation, he added, with some families combining it with traditional services.

A family’s care of cremains can become a crucial issue. Families should consider the factors involved with storing the ashes at home. Some have been known to be kept in storage units.

Meierhoffer and Rupp have both handled requests for scattering of ashes at certain locations and can recommend using only a particular percentage for that purpose. Both funeral homes say some of the wishes call for donating a loved one’s body for medical research, with cremation to follow one or two years later.

Meanwhile, the two funeral homes have a low opinion of the outdoor cremation bill. An outdoor facility, properly licensed and permitted, could use an outdoor funeral pyre to perform cremations. Prior written notice must be provided to law enforcement, and a licensed funeral director or designee must supervise the activity.

“We certainly have no plans for it,” Montegna said.

Robertson said supporters have spent much time on the legislation. He has concerns about whether the procedure can be done correctly and if those in charge are appropriately licensed.

“I don’t think it’s appropriate,” he said. “It’s not within the culture of Missouri to do that.”

The bill has been dubbed the “Jedi Disposal Act” and would make Missouri the first state to allow outdoor cremations. Proponents say the act has been performed by some cultures since the dawn of time.

Ray Scherer can be reached

at ray.scherer@newspressnow.com. Follow him on Twitter: @SJNPScherer.