Order What You Want, Not What Someone Wants to Sell You
An important thing to remember when planning the funeral and burial of your loved one is that the modern idea of a “traditional” funeral and burial is a concoction of the death care industry, and, more than preserving any long-held customers, this tradition is designed to be as profitable as possible for the funeral home. Here are some ideas that your funeral director or cemetery sales person may not tell you about because, well, they are usually not quite as expensive as tradition.
First, there is no law – except in rare circumstances in which a body may be traveling long distances for burial – requiring embalming. In fact, in most parts of the world, embalming is considered an unbelievably wasteful atrocity. Contrary to popular belief, embalming does not preserve a body and, in fact, it simply assures that the area around the grave will be polluted with harmful, unnatural chemicals for years to come as a body degrades and leaks. For best results most consumer activists who follow the death care industry advise you to simply say no to embalming in every case. Some funeral homes charge a “refrigeration fee” to customers who forego embalming, and that fee is often the same as an embalming service charge. If your funeral home does this, tell the funeral director to reduce the refrigeration fee substantially or you will take your business elsewhere. Embalming, while mostly unnecessary, does involve highly skilled, professional talent. Refrigeration does not.
Consider direct burial. Funeral homes and cemeteries will not encourage this, of course, because it is their least profitable service. But, in general, it’s a sound idea, financially speaking. Simply ask your funeral home to place the body in one of the least expensive casket models available (or, better yet, have an even less expensive casket shipped in from one of the many third-party sellers available online), and then ask for the body to be sent directly to the cemetery for burial. Yes, that means you would skip the “traditional” funeral ceremony and the “traditional” viewing of the body. But those services are not for everybody, and, of course, they only add – sometimes dramatically – to the funeral home’s bill. And, still further, a direct burial in the strictest sense would mean that you would also skip the traditional “graveside service” just before burial. Keep in mind that you could, of course, decide to conduct one service – either at a chapel or the cemetery – and not the other. Modern tradition often requires services at both places, but that tradition is mostly a result of funeral homes and cemeteries figuring out over the years how to get along in business by simply sharing the wealth of a family’s death care expenses. There is no rule that requires families to stage two separate ceremonies for a death. And, of course, there is no rule that requires a memorial service to be held at a funeral home or cemetery. Finally, in many areas of the United States, there is no formal requirement that burial be done in a cemetery. With the permission of the landowner—and assuming no local restrictions –burial is legal and acceptable on any private property.
All of the above can be also said of cremation: ordering direct cremation is sure to make your funeral director groan a little when you are not in site, but it is, nonetheless, an option. And don’t fall into the trap of ordering an expensive casket for the cremation – as some customers have been known to do. Most states require — at the behest of death care industry lobbyists — that a body be placed in some kind of container for cremation, but usually a large cardboard box is all that’s required. And, just as with direct burial, there is no requirement that customers hire a funeral home or cemetery to host a memorial service and, likewise, even burial is optional. With a few exceptions there are no legal restrictions on what may be done with cremation ashes. They can be scattered across any body of water or across any private property with the permission of the landowner, they can be stored in a home, and they can even be buried on any private property – again, with the permission of the landowner.
If you find the idea of a simple and inexpensive burial appealing, you are not alone. There is a growing marketplace for “eco-burials” of a huge variety of types. These involve biodegradable caskets (such as that to the left), trees planted with the bodies placed amidst their roots, cremation ashes turned into diamonds, and the list goes on. As they explore these new options, however, customers will do well to remain vigilant to assure good prices and, perhaps more importantly, to assure that the services they buy are truly what they want and not just something that a salesman wants them to want. Without this vigilance, the new style of “eco-burials” could eventually become a new set of “traditions” forced upon the world mostly for the sake of one industry’s enhanced profits.