Funeral Alternatives

Funeral services as most of us would define them are not for everyone. The solemnity, “pomp and circumstance,” solemn readings and eulogies that have come to be associated with funerals do not fit the lives and life styles of today’s population. If this is the case for someone you know and love (or for yourself) it is advisable to put your wishes in writing so they are followed.

As a funeral director, I have been pleasantly amazed by the change in funeral service folders, music, elements of the service, equipment desired, and environment of the “new age” celebration of life. Some “traditional” funeral customs continue today although there is an increasing number of services that incorporate both traditional and and non traditional aspects. Readings are often contemporary and non-scriptural, music also is often contemporary. Although the atmosphere is more casual than in days past, the giving and receiving of support, care, concern, and love remain constants.

It has taken us funeral professionals a longer time to become totally comfortable with the changes in desired services. Companies that provide service folders, memorial cards, guest books and the like, have begun to include laminated book marks and other products all designed in contemporary styles and and verses. Placing a picture of the deceased on the memorial cards and other merchandise provides a more intimate feeling for friends and family members of the deceased.

Most of us have similar memories of the funeral luncheons prepared by members of the parish. No matter where the funeral, the menu never varied much: sliced ham and roast beef, bread, buns, Jello salad with fruit and miniature marshmellows, and a selection of deserts. Although these still exist, there is a trend to less formal meals and greater celebration.

This new century brings with it an increase in family care of the deceased rather than the care of funeral homes/directors. There is a heightened awareness of the contamination of the earth by the toxic (and often carcinogenic) embalming fluids that remain in the body and leach into the soil and water supplies with decomposition of the body. Green Burials are growing in acceptance and in order to meet the demands, green cemeteries are sprouting up (no vaults and only bio-degradable caskets allowed). Family members are exercising their rights to care for the deceased, rather than having the body carted off to unknown funeral directors. Bathed and comfortably attired bodies are remaining in homes while friends and others stop by to pay their respects and offer support to those who have prepared the body. Vans work well for the transportation of the deceased. The body may be in a simple bio-degradable casket, a heavy cardboard box that has been decorated by family and friends, or simply covered with a shroud. Once at the burial site, the body is placed in the grave. There are no vaults or grave liners. The body is lowered with straps or a casket with straps or ropes and those present assist in filling in the grave. . The need for a licensed funeral director is reduced to possibly picking up the deceased at the place of death (hospital, nursing home and the like) and filing the death certificate information. Everything else is taken care of by the family and friends.

Unbelievable at it sounds, families struggle to find support for natural burial. State Departments of Health and Divisions of Mortuary Science continue to use scare tactics that imply danger to those who care for the unembalmed body. There is no evidence whatsoever that a dead human body is a health hazard (especially within the first several days after death and when dry ice and other means are used to keep the body “fresh.”

This is the century for us to literally think outside of the box. There are as many options for after death care as the mind can imagine. If your loved one (or if you yourself) does not want a funeral, so be it; look into the options. Call the Nature Conservancy for answers, be aware of advocacy groups in your locale who may assist you in making plans. Carpi Diem (Seize the moment) and make this last service for your family member or friend, what he/she wanted it to be.