The Cremation Society of Maryland operates a crematorium in Catonsville. (Hamil R. Harris/The Washington Informer)
The Cremation Society of Maryland operates a crematorium in Catonsville. (Hamil R. Harris/The Washington Informer)

The novel coronavirus has now taken nearly 4,000 lives in the United States, and as holding funerals become increasingly difficult amid social distancing and restrictions on gatherings, more are considering cremations and delaying memorial services until a safer time.

Considered virtually unholy decades ago, cremation has overtaken burials in the past four years, according to data provided by the National Funeral Directors Association. Morticians and funeral home directors say the coronavirus pandemic has expedited this option’s rise to the top, as many families are forced to prioritize economics over tradition.

This year, the association predicts cremation will become the most popular option in Maryland for the first time, The Baltimore Sun reported.

In 2009, Joseph H Brown added a crematorium to his funeral establishment in West Baltimore so that families can witness the cremation of their loved ones. According to an official at the Cremation Society of Maryland in Catonsville, people can be cremated with or without a casket.

But Rev. Henry P. Davis, pastor of the First Baptist Church of Highland Park, said he hasn’t seen an uptick in cremations.

“What we are seeing is that people are having small, intimate services and they are planning larger in the memorial services sometime in the future,” Davis said. “I am encouraging families to have a small service at the funeral home and a memorial service in the future.”

The National Funeral Directors Association (NFDA) has been consulting with the Centers for Disease Control that has now issued guidelines on appropriate funeral practices in the wake of the Corona pandemic and the biggest change is restricting the number people than can attend a service.

Walker Posey, spokesman for the NFDA and owner of Posey Funeral Directors in South Carolina, told Fortune magazine that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s official guidelines include special instructions for how to prepare bodies of those who have died from the virus.

One of the biggest challenges of abiding by the guidelines, he said, is avoiding contact with the body of someone who has died of COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the novel coronavirus.

Time magazine reported that there were 56,007 cremations in Wuhan, China, where the virus was first identified, in the fourth quarter of 2019, according to Chinese officials — 1,583 more than during the same period in 2018 and 2,231 higher than in 2017.

One of the main reasons Davis thinks that people are choosing cremations over traditional burial is because of economics. A traditional burial can cost more than $10,000 while a cremation can cost about $1,000, according to industry data.

The question of cremations was posed to Roger Barrier who operates a website, Preach It Teach It.

“As best as I can tell, there is no Bible passage that attempts to give guidelines regarding acceptable burial procedures,” Barrier said. “No matter which burial practices one follows, the results are always the same: ‘Dust to dust, ashes to ashes.’”

Interestingly enough, that phrase isn’t found anywhere in the Bible. Barrier said the closest thing is in Job 34:14-15: “If it were his intention and he withdrew his spirit and breath, all mankind would perish together and man would return to the dust.”

Hamil R. Harris

Hamil Harris is an award-winning journalist who worked at the Washington Post from 1992 to 2016. During his tenure he wrote hundreds of stories about the people, government and faith communities in the...

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