The burning question: cremation or burial

As burial spots in the Cayman Islands grow scarcer and government faces the daunting question of where to find more burial land, Caymanians are looking to cremation as an option.

Cremation versus burial has been a difficult and much debated choice for as long as the practice of cremation has existed, with religion playing a major part in the discussion.

For many Caymanians, cremation is out of the question because of their Biblical views. Others said it was not an option they considered because it was not available until recently.

Offering a solution to the long-standing problem of diminishing graveyard space, Cayman’s first crematorium was opened by Bodden Funeral Services in 2016 on Walkers Road.

“It isn’t just Cayman, there are people all around the world that don’t want to be burned.… What it really boils down to is people’s personal views,” said Scott Ruby, general manager and funeral director for Bodden Funeral Services. “Both generational Caymanians and non-Caymanians are choosing to be cremated.”

Seventy-four people, half of whom were Caymanian, have been cremated since the crematorium opened, he said.

The cremation process

Cremation takes just under three hours, Mr. Ruby explained, and families are invited to view the process.

Once cremation is chosen, a numeric identification tag is attached to the toe of the deceased.

The crematorium is brought up to operational temperature, which can reach 2,400 degrees Fahrenheit. The body is placed in a casket, inserted into the crematorium, the door is closed, and the timers are switched on. Afterward, the ashes are collected, sifted for metal and packaged.

“It’s just like a convection oven,” explained Mr. Ruby. It does not have a smoke stack but a pressure release. If any smoke is detected by the machine, it sends off an alarm and shuts the whole process down.

According to Mr. Ruby, a burial by cremation can cost $2,000, which includes embalming, casket and church program. A burial vault alone costs up to $1,200.

Shortage of burial plots

Cemeteries on Grand Cayman are filling up and most are already full, said Mr. Ruby, so trying to get a spot next to a loved one is not an option in some cemeteries anymore.

The main West Bay district cemetery and the old Bodden Town cemetery are both effectively full. There is still space in Prospect and North Side, but this does not help a person who died in Bodden Town and wants to be buried beside relatives, Mr. Ruby said.

“If we would have put more thought into conservation and places earlier, they would have had more room now.…  Right now, there is still a little room, but every time we bury someone, that gets taken up. I did have people come in that did not have a family plot asking what to do. They have been directed into other cemeteries,” he said.

According to a 2015 government report, the main West Bay district cemetery ran out of space in 2012. Meanwhile, the North West Point cemetery, also in West Bay, is due to close in 2026. A third cemetery in West Bay, the smaller Boatswains Bay, has space for 167 vaults and will not close until 2052. The report stated that Bodden Town’s old cemetery was full and a new parcel of land for burial had been purchased alongside it.

The Biblical perspective

“I do want to clearly establish that when a person is dead, though the dead body remains, the ‘person’ has gone to his or her eternal reward, whether heaven or hell. Regardless of how we treat the body of the deceased, it does not affect the ‘person’ in any way whatsoever,” said Torrance Bobb, senior pastor at the First Assembly of God church.

He said the defining aspect about laying a body to rest, especially in a Christian tradition and culture, is that it be done with dignity, respecting the life of the deceased, and the emotional, spiritual and physical well-being of the immediate relatives and friends.

“One should be guided by the desires of the deceased, but also the feelings and concerns of relatives and other persons significant to the deceased,” Pastor Bobb said. “While many, because of funeral costs, burial space, transporting the body of the deceased and other reasons, opt for cremation, most people will find the traditional burial is much more acceptable for closure and coping with the grieving process.

“The Jewish tradition is not to cremate, rather it is to bury the deceased’s body in their entirety,” said Rabbi Berel Pewzner, of the Chabad Cayman Jewish community.

He said the Jewish perspective on burial is the body is sacred, because it is the “temple of the soul” and is the medium by which people do good in this world.

Judaism regards the human form and the physical body as having been “created in the image of God” and, therefore, holy, the rabbi said. Hence, the laws that prohibit mutilating the body. In death, the body, which held life and the Godly soul, retains its holiness.

With laws addressing its treatment from the moment of death, Jewish tradition is about how the body is prepared for burial and how it is buried, he said.

“The Lord God ‘formed man of dust from the ground’ – and must therefore return to the earth. This is expressed in the words that God tells Adam, the first man, ‘For dust you are, and to dust you will return.’ Cremating a body destroys most of the body, making burial of the flesh impossible, and thus violates the biblical command,” said Rabbi Pewzner.

According to Mr. Ruby, when he inspects the Bible in terms of the question of cremation, he said Genesis 23 speaks of a body interred, but very little is said about cremation.

“If it’s a matter of faith and how you feel Biblically, definitely speak to your pastor,” Mr. Ruby said.

Bishop Juliette Fagan of Vision Miracle Church of God, believes that cremation goes against the teachings of the Bible and that the modern church should not embrace it because it destroys the body and soul.

The whole body should be buried to preserve not only the physical being but also the soul and spirt of the person, she said. She uses the example of Jesus’s crucifixion, saying his whole body was entombed and three days later he was able to rise from the dead.

The Roman Catholic church still recommends, and prefers, the custom of burying the bodies of the faithful, according to the Archdiocese of Detroit for the Catholic Churches in the Cayman Islands. The church allows cremation as long as it is not an “intentional denial of the church’s teaching regarding the resurrection of the body.”

The order of Christian funerals is arranged such that cremation of the deceased takes place after the funeral liturgy and not before it. However, when this is not possible, the cremated remains are permitted to be present for the funeral liturgy.

The cremated remains must always be treated with respect, the same respect attributed to the body. After the funeral, they are to be interred or entombed, preferably in a Catholic cemetery or mausoleum. The Rite of Committal should accompany this action. They should never be separated or scattered or disposed of in any way other than a dignified interment or entombment.

The people’s choice

The Compass spoke to several local residents about their views on cremation.

“It’s less costly and unlike burial, there is no huge funeral service. There is no viewing of body and no casket; also less distress on family seeing loved ones in a casket for the last time,” said Marilyn Nasirun.

“We running out of space in the cemetery? Then use stack cement drawers like what is done in Cuba,” said Twyla Vargas. “Give people a name and vault number.”

“Cremation is cleaner and cheaper rather than rotting in ground,” said Lyn Carter.

“From dust I came, and to dust I shall return,” said Jennifer Martinez, who said she would opt for cremation.

“Give me my flowers when I’m alive,” said Rose Arnold. “Cremation is less costly, burial is a waste of land space.”

1 COMMENT

  1. “According to Mr. Ruby, a burial by cremation can cost $2,000, which includes embalming, casket and church program. ” Interesting statement. My father died a few years ago in the states and he was cremated. The funeral home stated they do not embalm the deceased when they are being cremated as it was not necessary.

    • Meisha , that’s what I notice too , that the price had to be justified because it is the Cayman Islands. No need for embalming or casket . But the choice should be made by the deceased , and we should make sure that this process is as clean as what he is saying that it is . Then here in the US i think it cost US$ 800 for one cremation.

  2. With the religious concerns for some and lack of space, perhaps this is a time where government should consider greater flexibility around at home burials. This obviously is not for everyone and wouldn’t work for people who are under a mortgage agreement or who don’t have the space required to obtain planning approvals. While it may strike some as an odd suggestion, it was common in the past.