Pushin’ Up Daisies: To Vault or Not to Vault

By Tracy Renee Lee

I was speaking with a loved one recently. Our topic of conversation was to determine if he would add a burial vault to his wife’s burial plan. While conversing, it occurred to me that perhaps the purpose of a vault, compared to that of a casket, is confusing to those who are not funeral professionals.

Casket: a receptacle of wood, metal or plastic into which the dead human body is placed for burial.

The casket has only one basic function – to move a dead human body from one place to another in a dignified and safe manner. Contrary to popular belief, the casket does not protect the dead human body once it is in the grave. Its sole purpose is to protect the body prior to burial.

“Casket features are entirely stylistic. There are no casket features that can preserve a body forever and no features that improve a casket’s basic function (basic function: to move the dead human body from one place to another in a dignified and safe manner.) Many caskets feature a rubber gasket or some kind of sealer, which provides an air-tight seal between the lid and body of the casket. According to the Federal Trade Commission’s Funeral Rule, caskets described as “gasketed,” “protective” or “sealer” caskets are designed to protect the casket, not the (human) body, and are features that are never required by law. In fact, a casket that is hermetically sealed increases the rate of body decomposition. And, if a casket is to be entombed in a mausoleum or crypt, the cemetery will actually break the rubber seal to prevent accelerated decomposition. The Funeral Rule forbids claims that caskets or special casket features can preserve a body forever.” (All You Need to know about Caskets, Everplans.com)

Burial Vault: a lined and sealed outer receptacle that houses the casket. It protects the casket from the weight of the earth and heavy maintenance equipment that will pass over the grave. It also helps resist water and preserves the beauty of the cemetery or memorial park by preventing the ground from settling.

The protective qualities of vaults are paramount in deciding whether to utilize one. The definition states very plainly the vaults purpose; it is what it does not say, however, that motivates one to reconsider its addition to their burial plan. Protecting the casket from the weight of the earth and heavy maintenance equipment, and preserving the beauty of the cemetery, is a very polite way of not saying that without a burial vault a casket is too weak to hold up the weight of the dirt and therefore collapses onto your decedent. Additionally, should heavy grave digging or maintenance equipment drive over your loved one’s grave, its excessive weight will crush him/her.

The mental picture of uncontrolled water flooding his wife’s casket, dirt falling onto her body, and the crushing of her body by the weight of heavy machinery passing over her, was more than my loved one could bear. “I just can’t live with the thought that dirt will be touching her face,” he said, as tears escaped down his cheeks. He added, “For me, it doesn’t matter, but for her, it does.”

Such a loving and caring statement of true devotion from one spouse for another touched my heart to its depths. I fought unsuccessfully to hold back my tears of sorrow for his situation.

We finished our conversation with costs, the unfortunate bi-line of funeral service, and he left. His wife is gravely ill. I dread the days that will soon see the implementation of his decisions. I know that his dread surpasses my own.

To vault or not to vault, only you can decide. At least now, you understand the purpose of vaulting, I hope.