Military Interments In 1862, President Lincoln signed into law legislation authorizing the establishment of national cemeteries and…That the President of the United States shall have power, whenever in his opinion it shall be expedient, to purchase cemetery grounds and cause them to be securely enclosed, to be used as a national cemetery for the soldiers who shall die in the service of the country.

Fourteen cemeteries were established that year. These national cemeteries started what has become the National Cemetery Administration.

By the summer of 1862 it was increasingly evident to the governments and armies of both the United States and the confederacy that the war, entered with such confidence by both sides in 1861, would be a long and difficult struggle. Casualty lists of the dead, the wounded and the sick reflected all too poignantly the intensity and completeness of the great struggle which was testing and trying the very existence of a young nation. Metropolitan areas such as New York City, though distant from areas of armed conflict, saw the establishment of military hospitals to care for some of the wounded and sick from the battlefields of war.

Gettysburg, Pennsylvania
November 19, 1863

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that this nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate — we can not consecrate — we can not hallow — this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

After the Civil War, search and recovery teams visited hundreds of battlefields, churchyards, plantations and other locations seeking wartime interments that were made in haste. By 1870, the remains of nearly 300,000 Civil War dead were reinterred in 73 national cemeteries.

Still, and many years later, a grateful nation continues to honor its fallen sons… from then to now the passage of time continuously seeks out new honored soles…

Being in ‘harms way’ was a natural calling for myself; it was my job and I did it without question. When it came time for my son to do his job, I fathomed his calling as I was trained to do — i just “sucked it up!” Not so long ago though my wife jolted me into reality in writing these profound words of wisdom on matters that, in hindsight, are the tormented thoughts and anguish of all parents when their children prepare to head into ‘harms way’ … and my tears flowed for hours.

Encourage or Discourage?

We always try to encourage our children. What kind of parent would we seem if we took a different approach and discouraged them? As strange as it may seem I have found myself lately in a dilemma of not knowing which is the right thing to do.

My son joined the Army Reserves, Infantry Division with the Princess Louise Fusiliers in October of 2004. The following summer while he was in C.F.B. Gagetown doing his Soldier’s Qualification and Infantry Training Courses I received a call from him telling me that he had put his name down to volunteer to go to Afghanistan. My first reaction was panic, was he absolutely crazy? Did he realize what he was doing? I calmed down and thinking more rationally realized that he had only joined reserves nine months previously, had only the most basic of courses under his belt and was only 19 years old, they surely would not choose him to go. Over the next months, I did not worry about this too much, however that was soon about to change.

On a Thursday evening of April this spring my son went to his regular Reserve evening I was at home relaxing and watching television, a call from the Armories where he works came in, “Mom, my D.A.G. papers are green, I’m going to Afghanistan!”, you could practically hear this kid jumping around in his combat boots. I cannot describe what I felt at that moment as I could hear the excitement in his voice and I knew that this was something that he had wanted and I was happy for him but at the same time my heart dropped. I really did not know what to do with this information, my brain was thrilled for him, very proud that he was doing a job that the Military thought he was qualified enough to do, very proud that he wanted to help the people of Afghanistan, very impressed at this brave child I had raised in the past nineteen years, but, at the same time I am his mother and my heart said differently. This is my child, how can I possibly be excited or thrilled that he was going into harm’s way, how could I possibly encourage him when I was scared too death for him?

May 1st was creeping forward, that was the day he was to be at the Battle School in Aldershot, Nova Scotia to begin his Task Force Training for Afghanistan, the previous weeks were a blur of getting all his kit list together, shopping for what he would need, making his bill payment arrangements, getting vaccinations up to date, etc. The next seven months he would be training, training hard and it would leave no down time for him for him to do any of these things. About a week and a half before he was due to go we were sitting one evening and he turned to me and told me that he did not think that he could do it. Talking with him I learned that his concerns were not about going or being in Afghanistan but were the first phase of the course which was the physical fitness end, he didn’t think he was good enough as they would be setting the standards high. I told him that he would do just fine, this is what he wanted and that he had the drive and determination to get through it. If he quit before he started he would always wonder if he could do it, to go and try his best, not to set the goal as Afghanistan but to set the goal as to getting past each phase of the training. A word of encouragement, that’s what I’m supposed to do is it not?

The next months were busy for him but difficult for me, he was training in everything from weapons, specialized battlefield first aid, Afghani language, and so much more. It seemed a lot to deal with in such a limited time period. Coming home some weekends he was telling me what the training involved and it was beginning to become more and more real to me as to what he would be facing. I still kept encouraging him even if he had a really hard week and seemed to be really discouraged himself. During this time the news reports from Afghanistan made it clear that the situation was steadily getting worse, I was now watching Repatriation ceremonies bringing our Soldiers home to Canada in flag draped caskets. I began doubting my encouragement, maybe this was something that I shouldn’t be doing, and after all what if something were to happen to him while he was deployed, would I ever be able to deal with the fact that I gave him that encouragement? That maybe if I hadn’t he would be safe? During this time that I seemed to be struggling with this there was an article in our local newspaper that a mother of one of the reservists also on Task Force with my son had written and she was so discouraging towards her son and what he was doing and I thought” How can you say those things to him, that seems so cruel”. I then realized that as mothers of these young brave men and women about to face something that we cannot possibly comprehend we all have our own ways of dealing with it, there was no right or wrong way.

Towards the end of the summer my son had gotten home on leave from a phase of his training in Wainright, Alberta and I had asked him if he had heard about the latest deaths of our Soldiers, and was he still sure that he still wanted to go. He looked at me and said “Mom, it’s not even about 9/11 anymore”. He didn’t have to say anything else, I understood that it was now about our soldiers losing their lives and the doubts I was having were gone.

Am I still terrified for his safety? Yes.

Do I still wish that our Soldiers were not over there in harm’s way? Yes.

Do I think that our troops should be pulled out as the Canadian polls show? No.

Ask our soldiers what they want, I’ve learned the answer to that and I think they should have our support and encouragement 110%.

It will still be the hardest thing that I ever have to do as a mother, seeing him get on that plane about to fly into some kind of hell that I am certain that he isn’t even sure of yet, but I will now be able to do it with an understanding of why and a pride in my heart that I cannot express in words. Encourage or discourage? There is only one answer to that.

As the days grow shorter and shorter and my nights alone with my thoughts grow ever-so-painstakingly long, my son prepares to leave. I am constantly reminded of the words spoken in the movie Saving Private Ryan; in part, in fiction but equally tearing at my sole and my life.

Gen. George C. Marshall wrote:

My dear Mrs Ryan: It’s with the most profound sense of joy that I write to inform you your son, Private James Ryan, is well and, at this very moment, on his way home from European battlefields. Reports from the front indicate James did his duty in combat with great courage and steadfast dedication, even after he was informed of the tragic loss your family has suffered in this great campaign to rid the world of tyranny and oppression. I take great pleasure in joining the Secretary of War, the men and women of the U.S. Army, and the citizens of a grateful nation in wishing you good health and many years of happiness with James at your side.

Nothing, not even the safe return of a beloved son, can compensate you, or the thousands of other American families, who have suffered great loss in this tragic war. I might share with you some words which have sustained me through long, dark nights of peril, loss, and heartache. And I quote:

“Dear Madam: I have been shown in the files of the War Department a statement of the Adjutant-General of Massachusetts that you are the mother of five sons who have died gloriously on the field of battle. I feel how weak and fruitless must be any words of mine which should attempt to beguile you from the grief of a loss so overwhelming. But I cannot refrain from tendering to you the consolation that may be found in the thanks of the Republic they died to save.

I pray that our heavenly Father may assuage the anguish of your bereavement, and leave you only the cherished memory of the loved and lost, and the solemn pride that must be yours to have laid so costly a sacrifice upon the altar of freedom.

Yours very sincerely and respectfully,
Abraham Lincoln.”

Yours very sincerely and respectfully,
George C. Marshall, General, Chief of Staff

A proud mom of a Princess Louise Fusilier

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Scattering of Ashes First, the remains of a cremated body are not “ashes,” as the term is commonly referred to. The remains are bone fragments that, can be too large to scatter if they have not been mechanically reduced. They do not immediately dissolve when scattered. They normally cannot be disbursed and blown away when scattered; so be mindful of that.

Second, while it is permissible in most states to scatter cremated remains, there are indirect legal requirements. No state law allow cremated remains to be scattered on private property without the consent of the property owner. (Common sense really dictates here though; what can you do on private property without the consent of the property owner? …nothing that I know of.) Many national and state parks have permit requirements and, sometimes location limitations for the scattering of those remains.

All that said — there are no “cremains police” in any state to ensure proper etiquette, permits, or permission are obtained and used. There are no health, safety or environmental issues to be concerned about and as such your own moral compass/judgment can be your guide to effectively do whatever you want within the reasons of common sense.

It’s a good practice to get the permission of the landowner to do anything on private land and when it comes to non-specific public land, don’t ask, don’t tell is as fitting advice as any. No laws say “yes” and no laws say “no.” Be advised that cremated remains can be stark white, a little like aquarium gravel, and therefore rather conspicuous, not at all like the “ashes from a campfire or fireplace”. So you may wish to consider a shallow burial unless you’re scattering in water. It is also highly advisable to use the road (or area) less traveled for the scattering ceremony; cremation and/or scattering is offensive to many people and cultures.

Within all the literary writings at all levels; federal, state, and local legislation – the only commonality agreed point of principle I have found is that the container which carries the remains must be disposed of separately – preferably is a waste receptacle.

It’s useful to mention that while most people searching for scattering advice tend to search regionally looking for State-based information… cremation (thus scattering) is not a state matter. You will mostly (if at all) only find information regarding State run or National Parks which can confuse your information findings. Most often you should be reviewing the local city or town ordinance and bylaws where the scattering ceremony is likely to take place.

Sacred Universe attempts to be as legally accurate as it can be for advice in every state and city. In fact, because scattering of ashes isn’t usually a state matter (with the exceptions of state parks and lands) we have included State Park Memorialization articles in the cremation chapter for your region which may contain additional information. City or town ordinance and bylaws will supercede these chapters “if available” and if not, most any public lands will normally align to the guidelines of the State park in your region.

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Navy Burial at SeaAccording to federal regulations:

Sec. 229.1 Burial at sea.

(a) All persons subject to title I of the Act are hereby granted a general permit to transport human remains from the United States and all persons owning or operating a vessel or aircraft registered in the United States or flying the United States flag and all departments, agencies, or instrumentalities of the United States are hereby granted a general permit to transport human remains from any location for the purpose of burial at sea and to bury such remains at sea subject to the following conditions:

(1) Except as herein otherwise provided, human remains shall be prepared for burial at sea and shall be buried in accordance with accepted practices and requirements as may be deemed appropriate and desirable by the United States Navy, United States Coast Guard, or civil authority charged with the responsibility for making such arrangements;

(2) Burial at sea of human remains which are not cremated shall take place no closer than 3 nautical miles from land and in water no less than one hundred fathoms (six hundred feet) deep and in no less than three hundred fathoms (eighteen hundred feet) from

(i) 27º 30′ 00” to 31º 00′ 00” North Latitude off St. Augustine and Cape Canaveral, Florida;
(ii) 82º 20′ 00” to 84º 00′ 00” West Longitude off Dry Tortugas, Florida; and
(iii) 87º 15′ 00” to 89º 50′ 00” West Longitude off the Mississippi River Delta, Louisiana, to Pensacola, Florida.

All necessary measures shall be taken to ensure that the remains sink to the bottom rapidly and permanently; and

(3) Cremated remains shall be buried in or on ocean waters without regard to the depth limitations specified in paragraph

(a)(2) of this section provided that such burial shall take place no closer than 3 nautical miles from land.
(b) For purposes of this section and Secs. 229.2 and 229.3, “land” means that portion of the baseline from which the territorial sea is measured, as provided for in the Convention on the Territorial Sea and the Contiguous Zone, which is in closest proximity to the proposed disposal site.
(c) Flowers and wreaths consisting of materials which are readily decomposable in the marine environment may be disposed of under the general permit set forth in this section at the site at which disposal of human remains is authorized.
(d) All burials conducted under this general permit shall be reported within 30 days to the Regional Administrator of the Region from which the vessel carrying the remains departed.

… based on the Marine Protection, Research and Sanctuary Act of 1972, human remains transported from United States ports or on United States vessels or aircraft may be buried at sea under specified conditions. These include cremated as well as non-cremated remains.

Requirements for burying remains at sea are listed below. Burials in inland waters are regulated according to the Clean Water Act. For inland waters burial, a permit is required from the appropriate state agency.

Please note the requirement that the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) be notified within 30 days after burial.

Requirements for Preparation for Burial

Human remains shall be prepared for burial at sea and buried in accordance with accepted practices and requirements as may be deemed appropriate and desirable by the United States Navy, United States Coast Guard, or civil authority charged with the responsibility for making such arrangements. For example, local health departments may require burial or cremation permits.

The United States Navy Burial at Sea Program provides additional information.

Disposal Location and Measures – Non-cremated Remains

Burial at sea of human remains that are not cremated shall take place at least 3 nautical miles from land and in water at least 600 feet deep. Certain areas, including east central Florida, the Dry Tortugas, Florida and west of Pensacola, Florida to the Mississippi River Delta, require water at least 1800 feet deep. Refer to the Code of Federal Regulations at 40 CFR 229.1 (PDF) (1 p, 149K, About PDF) for details. All necessary measures shall be taken to ensure that the remains sink to the bottom rapidly and permanently.

Disposal Location and Measures – Cremated Remains

Cremated remains shall be buried in or on ocean waters without regard to the depth limitations specified for non-cremated remains in paragraph 2 above provided that such burial takes place at least three nautical miles from land.

Decomposable Flowers and Wreaths

Flowers and wreaths consisting of materials that are readily decomposable in the marine environment may be placed at the burial site.

Notice to EPA within 30 days

All burials conducted shall be reported within 30 days to the EPA Region in writing. The following information should be included and mailed or faxed to the Region 4 contact at the bottom of this page. You can copy the information below or complete and print the Region 4 burial at sea form.

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When a loved one dies, grieving family members and friends often are confronted with dozens of decisions about the funeral – all of which must be made quickly and often under great emotional duress. What kind of funeral should it be? What funeral provider should you use? Should you bury or cremate the body, or donate it to science? What are you legally required to buy? What other arrangements should you plan? And, as callous as it may sound, how much is it all going to cost?

Each year, Americans grapple with these and many other questions as they spend billions of dollars arranging more than 2 million funerals for family members and friends. The increasing trend toward pre-need planning – when people make funeral arrangements in advance – suggests that many consumers want to compare prices and services so that ultimately, the funeral reflects a wise and well-informed purchasing decision, as well as a meaningful one.

A Consumer Product

Funerals rank among the most expensive purchases many consumers will ever make. A traditional funeral, including a casket and vault, costs about $6,000, although “extras” like flowers, obituary notices, acknowledgment cards or limousines can add thousands of dollars to the bottom line. Many funerals run well over $10,000.

Yet even if you’re the kind of person who might haggle with a dozen dealers to get the best price on a new car, you’re likely to feel uncomfortable comparing prices or negotiating over the details and cost of a funeral, pre-need or at need. Compounding this discomfort is the fact that some people “overspend” on a funeral or burial because they think of it as a reflection of their feelings for the deceased.

Pre-Need

To help relieve their families of some of these decisions, an increasing number of people are planning their own funerals, designating their funeral preferences, and sometimes even paying for them in advance. They see funeral planning as an extension of will and estate planning.

Planning

Thinking ahead can help you make informed and thoughtful decisions about funeral arrangements. It allows you to choose the specific items you want and need and compare the prices offered by several funeral providers. It also spares your survivors the stress of making these decisions under the pressure of time and strong emotions.

You can make arrangements directly with a funeral establishment or through a funeral planning or memorial society – a nonprofit organization that provides information about funerals and disposition but doesn’t offer funeral services. If you choose to contact such a group, recognize that while some funeral homes may include the word “society” in their names, they are not nonprofit organizations.

One other important consideration when planning a funeral pre-need is where the remains will be buried, entombed or scattered. In the short time between the death and burial of a loved one, many family members find themselves rushing to buy a cemetery plot or grave – often without careful thought or a personal visit to the site. That’s why it’s in the family’s best interest to buy cemetery plots before you need them.

You may wish to make decisions about your arrangements in advance, but not pay for them in advance. Keep in mind that over time, prices may go up and businesses may close or change ownership. However, in some areas with increased competition, prices may go down over time. It’s a good idea to review and revise your decisions every few years, and to make sure your family is aware of your wishes.

It’s a good idea to review and revise your decision every few years.

Put your preferences in writing, give copies to family members and your attorney, and keep a copy in a handy place. Don’t designate your preferences in your will, because a will often is not found or read until after the funeral. And avoid putting the only copy of your preferences in a safe deposit box. That’s because your family may have to make arrangements on a weekend or holiday, before the box can be opened.

Prepaying

Millions of Americans have entered into contracts to prearrange their funerals and prepay some or all of the expenses involved. Laws of individual states govern the prepayment of funeral goods and services; various states have laws to help ensure that these advance payments are available to pay for the funeral products and services when they’re needed. But protections vary widely from state to state, and some state laws offer little or no effective protection. Some state laws require the funeral home or cemetery to place a percentage of the prepayment in a state-regulated trust or to purchase a life insurance policy with the death benefits assigned to the funeral home or cemetery.

If you’re thinking about prepaying for funeral goods and services, it’s important to consider these issues before putting down any money:

  • What are you are paying for? Are you buying only merchandise, like a casket and vault, or are you purchasing funeral services as well?
  • What happens to the money you’ve prepaid? States have different requirements for handling funds paid for prearranged funeral services.
  • What happens to the interest income on money that is prepaid and put into a trust account?
  • Are you protected if the firm you dealt with goes out of business?
  • Can you cancel the contract and get a full refund if you change your mind?
  • What happens if you move to a different area or die while away from home? Some prepaid funeral plans can be transferred, but often at an added cost.

Be sure to tell your family about the plans you’ve made; let them know where the documents are filed. If your family isn’t aware that you’ve made plans, your wishes may not be carried out. And if family members don’t know that you’ve prepaid the funeral costs, they could end up paying for the same arrangements. You may wish to consult an attorney on the best way to ensure that your wishes are followed.

The Funeral Rule

Most funeral providers are professionals who strive to serve their clients’ needs and best interests. But some aren’t. They may take advantage of their clients through inflated prices, overcharges, double charges or unnecessary services. Fortunately, there’s a federal law that makes it easier for you to choose only those goods and services you want or need and to pay only for those you select, whether you are making arrangements pre-need or at need.

The Funeral Rule, enforced by the Federal Trade Commission, requires funeral directors to give you itemized prices in person and, if you ask, over the phone. The Rule also requires funeral directors to give you other information about their goods and services. For example, if you ask about funeral arrangements in person, the funeral home must give you a written price list to keep that shows the goods and services the home offers. If you want to buy a casket or outer burial container, the funeral provider must show you descriptions of the available selections and the prices before actually showing you the caskets.
Many funeral providers offer various “packages” of commonly selected goods and services that make up a funeral. But when you arrange for a funeral, you have the right to buy individual goods and services. That is, you do not have to accept a package that may include items you do not want.

According to the Funeral Rule:

  • you have the right to choose the funeral goods and services you want (with some exceptions).
  • the funeral provider must state this right in writing on the general price list.
  • if state or local law requires you to buy any particular item, the funeral provider must disclose it on the price list, with a reference to the specific law.
  • the funeral provider may not refuse, or charge a fee, to handle a casket you bought elsewhere.
  • a funeral provider that offers cremations must make alternative containers available.

What Kind of Funeral Do You Want?

Every family is different, and not everyone wants the same type of funeral. Funeral practices are influenced by religious and cultural traditions, costs and personal preferences. These factors help determine whether the funeral will be elaborate or simple, public or private, religious or secular, and where it will be held. They also influence whether the body will be present at the funeral, if there will be a viewing or visitation, and if so, whether the casket will be open or closed, and whether the remains will be buried or cremated.

Among the choices you’ll need to make are whether you want one of these basic types of funerals, or something in between.

“Traditional,” full-service funeral

This type of funeral, often referred to by funeral providers as a “traditional” funeral, usually includes a viewing or visitation and formal funeral service, use of a hearse to transport the body to the funeral site and cemetery, and burial, entombment or cremation of the remains.

It is generally the most expensive type of funeral. In addition to the funeral home’s basic services fee, costs often include embalming and dressing the body; rental of the funeral home for the viewing or service; and use of vehicles to transport the family if they don’t use their own. The costs of a casket, cemetery plot or crypt and other funeral goods and services also must be factored in.

Every family is different, and not everyone wants the same type of funeral.

Direct burial

The body is buried shortly after death, usually in a simple container. No viewing or visitation is involved, so no embalming is necessary. A memorial service may be held at the graveside or later. Direct burial usually costs less than the “traditional,” full-service funeral. Costs include the funeral home’s basic services fee, as well as transportation and care of the body, the purchase of a casket or burial container and a cemetery plot or crypt. If the family chooses to be at the cemetery for the burial, the funeral home often charges an additional fee for a graveside service.

Direct cremation

The body is cremated shortly after death, without embalming. The cremated remains are placed in an urn or other container. No viewing or visitation is involved, although a memorial service may be held, with or without the cremated remains present. The remains can be kept in the home, buried or placed in a crypt or niche in a cemetery, or buried or scattered in a favorite spot. Direct cremation usually costs less than the “traditional,” full-service funeral. Costs include the funeral home’s basic services fee, as well as transportation and care of the body. A crematory fee may be included or, if the funeral home does not own the crematory, the fee may be added on. There also will be a charge for an urn or other container. The cost of a cemetery plot or crypt is included only if the remains are buried or entombed.

Funeral providers who offer direct cremations also must offer to provide an alternative container that can be used in place of a casket.

Choosing a Funeral Provider

Many people don’t realize that they are not legally required to use a funeral home to plan and conduct a funeral. However, because they have little experience with the many details and legal requirements involved and may be emotionally distraught when it’s time to make the plans, many people find the services of a professional funeral home to be a comfort.

Consumers often select a funeral home or cemetery because it’s close to home, has served the family in the past, or has been recommended by someone they trust. But people who limit their search to just one funeral home may risk paying more than necessary for the funeral or narrowing their choice of goods and services.

Comparison shopping need not be difficult, especially if it’s done before the need for a funeral arises. If you visit a funeral home in person, the funeral provider is required by law to give you a general price list itemizing the cost of the items and services the home offers. If the general price list does not include specific prices of caskets or outer burial containers, the law requires the funeral director to show you the price lists for those items before showing you the items.

Sometimes it’s more convenient and less stressful to “price shop” funeral homes by telephone. The Funeral Rule requires funeral directors to provide price information over the phone to any caller who asks for it. In addition, many funeral homes are happy to mail you their price lists, although that is not required by law.

When comparing prices, be sure to consider the total cost of all the items together, in addition to the costs of single items. Every funeral home should have price lists that include all the items essential for the different types of arrangements it offers. Many funeral homes offer package funerals that may cost less than purchasing individual items or services. Offering package funerals is permitted by law, as long as an itemized price list also is provided. But only by using the price lists can you accurately compare total costs.

Be sure to consider the total cost of all the items.

In addition, there’s a growing trend toward consolidation in the funeral home industry, and many neighborhood funeral homes are thought to be locally owned when in fact, they’re owned by a national corporation. If this issue is important to you, you may want to ask if the funeral home is locally owned.

Funeral Costs

Funeral costs include:

1. Basic services fee for the funeral director and staff

The Funeral Rule allows funeral providers to charge a basic services fee that customers cannot decline to pay. The basic services fee includes services that are common to all funerals, regardless of the specific arrangement. These include funeral planning, securing the necessary permits and copies of death certificates, preparing the notices, sheltering the remains, and coordinating the arrangements with the cemetery, crematory or other third parties. The fee does not include charges for optional services or merchandise.

2. Charges for other services and merchandise

These are costs for optional goods and services such as transporting the remains; embalming and other preparation; use of the funeral home for the viewing, ceremony or memorial service; use of equipment and staff for a graveside service; use of a hearse or limousine; a casket, outer burial container or alternate container; and cremation or interment.

3. Cash advances

These are fees charged by the funeral home for goods and services it buys from outside vendors on your behalf, including flowers, obituary notices, pallbearers, officiating clergy, and organists and soloists. Some funeral providers charge you their cost for the items they buy on your behalf. Others add a service fee to their cost. The Funeral Rule requires those who charge an extra fee to disclose that fact in writing, although it doesn’t require them to specify the amount of their markup. The Rule also requires funeral providers to tell you if there are refunds, discounts or rebates from the supplier on any cash advance item.

Calculating the Actual Cost

The funeral provider must give you an itemized statement of the total cost of the funeral goods and services you have selected when you are making the arrangements. If the funeral provider doesn’t know the cost of the cash advance items at the time, he or she is required to give you a written “good faith estimate.” This statement also must disclose any legal, cemetery or crematory requirements that you purchase any specific funeral goods or services.

The Funeral Rule does not require any specific format for this information. Funeral providers may include it in any document they give you at the end of your discussion about funeral arrangements.

Services and Products

Embalming

Many funeral homes require embalming if you’re planning a viewing or visitation. But embalming generally is not necessary or legally required if the body is buried or cremated shortly after death. Eliminating this service can save you hundreds of dollars. Under the Funeral Rule, a funeral provider:

  • may not provide embalming services without permission.
  • may not falsely state that embalming is required by law.
  • must disclose in writing that embalming is not required by law, except in certain special cases.
  • may not charge a fee for unauthorized embalming unless embalming is required by state law.
  • must disclose in writing that you usually have the right to choose a disposition, such as direct cremation or immediate burial, that does not require embalming if you do not want this service.
  • must disclose in writing that some funeral arrangements, such as a funeral with viewing, may make embalming a practical necessity and, if so, a required purchase.

Caskets

For a “traditional,” full-service funeral:
A casket often is the single most expensive item you’ll buy if you plan a “traditional,” full-service funeral. Caskets vary widely in style and price and are sold primarily for their visual appeal. Typically, they’re constructed of metal, wood, fiberboard, fiberglass or plastic. Although an average casket costs slightly more than $2,000, some mahogany, bronze or copper caskets sell for as much as $10,000.

When you visit a funeral home or showroom to shop for a casket, the Funeral Rule requires the funeral director to show you a list of caskets the company sells, with descriptions and prices, before showing you the caskets. Industry studies show that the average casket shopper buys one of the first three models shown, generally the middle-priced of the three.

Caskets vary widely in style and price.

So it’s in the seller’s best interest to start out by showing you higher-end models. If you haven’t seen some of the lower-priced models on the price list, ask to see them – but don’t be surprised if they’re not prominently displayed, or not on display at all.

Traditionally, caskets have been sold only by funeral homes. But with increasing frequency, showrooms and websites operated by “third-party” dealers are selling caskets. You can buy a casket from one of these dealers and have it shipped directly to the funeral home. The Funeral Rule requires funeral homes to agree to use a casket you bought elsewhere, and doesn’t allow them to charge you a fee for using it.

No matter where or when you’re buying a casket, it’s important to remember that its purpose is to provide a dignified way to move the body before burial or cremation. No casket, regardless of its qualities or cost, will preserve a body forever. Metal caskets frequently are described as “gasketed,” “protective” or “sealer” caskets. These terms mean that the casket has a rubber gasket or some other feature that is designed to delay the penetration of water into the casket and prevent rust. The Funeral Rule forbids claims that these features help preserve the remains indefinitely because they don’t. They just add to the cost of the casket.

Most metal caskets are made from rolled steel of varying gauges – the lower the gauge, the thicker the steel. Some metal caskets come with a warranty for longevity. Wooden caskets generally are not gasketed and don’t have a warranty for longevity. They can be hardwood like mahogany, walnut, cherry or oak, or softwood like pine. Pine caskets are a less expensive option, but funeral homes rarely display them. Manufacturers of both wooden and metal caskets usually warrant workmanship and materials.

For cremation:
Many families that opt to have their loved ones cremated rent a casket from the funeral home for the visitation and funeral, eliminating the cost of buying a casket. If you opt for visitation and cremation, ask about the rental option. For those who choose a direct cremation without a viewing or other ceremony where the body is present, the funeral provider must offer an inexpensive unfinished wood box or alternative container, a non-metal enclosure – pressboard, cardboard or canvas – that is cremated with the body.

Under the Funeral Rule, funeral directors who offer direct cremations:

  • may not tell you that state or local law requires a casket for direct cremations, because none do;
  • must disclose in writing your right to buy an unfinished wood box or an alternative container for a direct cremation; and
  • must make an unfinished wood box or other alternative container available for direct cremations.

Burial Vaults or Grave Liners

Burial vaults or grave liners, also known as burial containers, are commonly used in “traditional,” full-service funerals. The vault or liner is placed in the ground before burial, and the casket is lowered into it at burial. The purpose is to prevent the ground from caving in as the casket deteriorates over time. A grave liner is made of reinforced concrete and will satisfy any cemetery requirement. Grave liners cover only the top and sides of the casket. A burial vault is more substantial and expensive than a grave liner. It surrounds the casket in concrete or another material and may be sold with a warranty of protective strength.

State laws do not require a vault or liner, and funeral providers may not tell you otherwise. However, keep in mind that many cemeteries require some type of outer burial container to prevent the grave from sinking in the future. Neither grave liners nor burial vaults are designed to prevent the eventual decomposition of human remains. It is illegal for funeral providers to claim that a vault will keep water, dirt or other debris from penetrating into the casket if that’s not true.

Before showing you any outer burial containers, a funeral provider is required to give you a list of prices and descriptions. It may be less expensive to buy an outer burial container from a third-party dealer than from a funeral home or cemetery. Compare prices from several sources before you select a model.

Preservative Processes and Products

As far back as the ancient Egyptians, people have used oils, herbs and special body preparations to help preserve the bodies of their dead. Yet, no process or products have been devised to preserve a body in the grave indefinitely. The Funeral Rule prohibits funeral providers from telling you that it can be done. For example, funeral providers may not claim that either embalming or a particular type of casket will preserve the body of the deceased for an unlimited time.

Cemetery Sites

When you are purchasing a cemetery plot, consider the location of the cemetery and whether it meets the requirements of your family’s religion. Other considerations include what, if any, restrictions the cemetery places on burial vaults purchased elsewhere, the type of monuments or memorials it allows, and whether flowers or other remembrances may be placed on graves.

Cost is another consideration. Cemetery plots can be expensive, especially in metropolitan areas. Most, but not all, cemeteries require you to purchase a grave liner, which will cost several hundred dollars. Note that there are charges – usually hundreds of dollars – to open a grave for interment and additional charges to fill it in. Perpetual care on a cemetery plot sometimes is included in the purchase price, but it’s important to clarify that point before you buy the site or service. If it’s not included, look for a separate endowment care fee for maintenance and groundskeeping.

If you plan to bury your loved one’s cremated remains in a mausoleum or columbarium, you can expect to purchase a crypt and pay opening and closing fees, as well as charges for endowment care and other services. The FTC’s Funeral Rule does not cover cemeteries and mausoleums unless they sell both funeral goods and funeral services, so be cautious in making your purchase to ensure that you receive all pertinent price and other information, and that you’re being dealt with fairly.

Veterans Cemeteries

All veterans are entitled to a free burial in a national cemetery and a grave marker. This eligibility also extends to some civilians who have provided military-related service and some Public Health Service personnel. Spouses and dependent children also are entitled to a lot and marker when buried in a national cemetery. There are no charges for opening or closing the grave, for a vault or liner, or for setting the marker in a national cemetery. The family generally is responsible for other expenses, including transportation to the cemetery. For more information, visit the Department of Veterans Affairs’ website at www.cem.va.gov. To reach the regional Veterans office in your area, call 1-800-827-1000.

In addition, many states have established state veterans cemeteries. Eligibility requirements and other details vary. Contact your state for more information.

Beware of commercial cemeteries that advertise so-called “veterans’ specials.” These cemeteries sometimes offer a free plot for the veteran, but charge exorbitant rates for an adjoining plot for the spouse, as well as high fees for opening and closing each grave. Evaluate the bottom-line cost to be sure the special is as special as you may be led to believe.

For More Information

Most states have a licensing board that regulates the funeral industry. You may contact the board in your state for information or help. If you want additional information about making funeral arrangements and the options available, you may want to contact interested business, professional and consumer groups. Some of the biggest are:

AARP Fulfillment
601 E Street, NW
Washington, DC 20049
1-800-424-3410
www.aarp.org
AARP is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization dedicated to helping older Americans achieve lives of independence, dignity and purpose. Its publications, Funeral Goods and Services and Pre-Paying for Your Funeral, are available free by writing to the above address. This and other funeral-related information is posted on the AARP website.

Council of Better Business Bureaus, Inc.
4200 Wilson Blvd., Suite 800
Arlington, VA 22203-1838
www.bbb.org
Better Business Bureaus are private, nonprofit organizations that promote ethical business standards and voluntary self-regulation of business practices.

Funeral Consumers Alliance
33 Patchen Road
South Burlington, VT 05403
1-800-765-0107
www.funerals.org
FCA, a nonprofit, educational organization that supports increased funeral consumer protection, is affiliated with the Funeral and Memorial Society of America (FAMSA).

Cremation Association of North America
401 North Michigan Avenue
Chicago, IL 60611
(312) 644-6610
www.cremationassociation.org
CANA is an association of crematories, cemeteries and funeral homes that offer cremation.

International Cemetery and Funeral Association
1895 Preston White Drive, Suite 220
Reston, VA 20191 1-800-645-7700
www.icfa.org
ICFA is a nonprofit association of cemeteries, funeral homes, crematories and monument retailers that offers informal mediation of consumer complaints through its Cemetery Consumer Service Council. Its website provides information and advice under “Consumer Resources.”

International Order of the Golden Rule
13523 Lakefront Drive
St. Louis, MO 63045
1-800-637-8030
www.ogr.org
OGR is an international association of about 1,300 independent funeral homes.

Jewish Funeral Directors of America Seaport Landing
150 Lynnway, Suite 506
Lynn, MA 01902
(781) 477-9300
www.jfda.org
JFDA is an international association of funeral homes serving the Jewish community.

National Funeral Directors Association
13625 Bishop’s Drive
Brookfield, WI 53005
1-800-228-6332
www.nfda.org/resources
NFDA is the largest educational and professional association of funeral directors.

National Funeral Directors and Morticians Association
3951 Snapfinger Parkway, Suite 570
Decatur, GA 30035
1-800-434-0958
www.nfdma.com
NFDMA is a national association primarily of African-American funeral providers.

Selected Independent Funeral Homes
500 Lake Cook Road, Suite 205
Deerfield, Illinois 60015
1-800-323-4219
www.selectedfuneralhomes.org
Selected Independent Funeral Homes is an international association of funeral firms that have agreed to comply with its Code of Good Funeral Practice. Consumers may request a variety of publications through the association’s affiliate, Selected Resources, Inc.

Funeral Service Consumer Assistance Program
PO Box 486
Elm Grove, WI 53122-0486
1-800-662-7666
FSCAP is a nonprofit consumer service designed to help people understand funeral service and related topics and to help them resolve funeral service concerns. FSCAP service representatives and an intervener assist consumers in identifying needs, addressing complaints and resolving problems. Free brochures on funeral related topics are available.

Funeral Service Educational Foundation
13625 Bishop’s Drive
Brookfield, WI 53005
1-877-402-5900
FSEF is a nonprofit foundation dedicated to advancing professionalism in funeral service and to enhancing public knowledge and understanding through education and research.

Solving Problems

If you have a problem concerning funeral matters, it’s best to try to resolve it first with the funeral director. If you are dissatisfied, the Funeral Consumer’s Alliance may be able to advise you on how best to resolve your issue. You also can contact your state or local consumer protection agencies listed in your telephone book, or the Funeral Service Consumer Assistance Program.

You can file a complaint with the FTC by contacting the Consumer Response Center by phone, toll-free, at 1-877-FTC-HELP (382-4357); TDD: 1-866-653-4261; by mail: Consumer Response Center, Federal Trade Commission, 600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20580; or on the Internet at www.ftc.gov using the online complaint form. Although the Commission cannot resolve individual problems for consumers, it can act against a company if it sees a pattern of possible law violations.

Planning for a Funeral

  1. Shop around in advance. Compare prices from at least two funeral homes. Remember that you can supply your own casket or urn.
  2. Ask for a price list. The law requires funeral homes to give you written price lists for products and services.
  3. Resist pressure to buy goods and services you don’t really want or need.
  4. Avoid emotional overspending. It’s not necessary to have the fanciest casket or the most elaborate funeral to properly honor a loved one.
  5. Recognize your rights. Laws regarding funerals and burials vary from state to state. It’s a smart move to know which goods or services the law requires you to purchase and which are optional.
  6. Apply the same smart shopping techniques you use for other major purchases. You can cut costs by limiting the viewing to one day or one hour before the funeral, and by dressing your loved one in a favorite outfit instead of costly burial clothing.
  7. Plan ahead. It allows you to comparison shop without time constraints, creates an opportunity for family discussion, and lifts some of the burden from your family.

Prices to Check

Make copies of this page and check with several funeral homes to compare costs.

“Simple” disposition of the remains:
Immediate burial
Immediate cremation
If the cremation process is extra, how much is it?
Donation of the body to a medical school or hospital
“Traditional,” full-service burial or cremation:
Basic services fee for the funeral director and staff
Pickup of body
Embalming
Other preparation of body
Least expensive casket
Description, including model #
Outer Burial Container (vault)
Description
Visitation/viewing — staff and facilities
Funeral or memorial service — staff and facilities
Graveside service, including staff and equipment
Hearse
Other vehicles
Total
Other Services:
Forwarding body to another funeral home
Receiving body from another funeral home
Other Services:
Cost of lot or crypt (if you don’t already own one)
Perpetual care
Opening and closing the grave or crypt
Grave liner, if required
Marker/monument (including setup)

GLOSSARY OF TERMS

Courtesy of the California Department of Consumer Affairs, Cemetery and Funeral Bureau

Alternative Container: An unfinished wood box or other non-metal receptacle without ornamentation, often made of fiberboard, pressed wood or composition materials, and generally lower in cost than caskets.

Casket/Coffin: A box or chest for burying remains.

Cemetery Property: A grave, crypt or niche.

Cemetery Services: Opening and closing graves, crypts or niches; setting grave liners and vaults; setting markers; and long-term maintenance of cemetery grounds and facilities.

Columbarium: A structure with niches (small spaces) for placing cremated remains in urns or other approved containers. It may be outdoors or part of a mausoleum.

Cremation: Exposing remains and the container encasing them to extreme heat and flame and processing the resulting bone fragments to a uniform size and consistency.

Crypt: A space in a mausoleum or other building to hold cremated or whole remains.

Disposition: The placement of cremated or whole remains in their final resting place.

Endowment Care Fund: Money collected from cemetery property purchasers and placed in trust for the maintenance and upkeep of the cemetery.

Entombment: Burial in a mausoleum. Funeral Ceremony A service commemorating the deceased, with the body present.

Funeral Services: Services provided by a funeral director and staff, which may include consulting with the family on funeral planning; transportation, shelter, refrigeration and embalming of remains; preparing and filing notices; obtaining authorizations and permits; and coordinating with the cemetery, crematory or other third parties.

Funeral Planning Society: See Memorial Society.

Grave: A space in the ground in a cemetery for the burial of remains.

Grave Liner or A concrete: cover that fits over a casket in a grave. Some liners cover tops and sides of the casket. Others, referred to as vaults, completely enclose the casket. Grave liners minimize ground settling.

Graveside Service: A service to commemorate the deceased held at the cemetery before burial.

Interment: Burial in the ground, inurnment or entombment.

Inurnment: The placing of cremated remains in an urn.

Mausoleum: A building in which remains are buried or entombed.

Memorial Service: A ceremony commemorating the deceased, without the body present.

Memorial Society: An organization that provides information about funerals and disposition, but is not part of the state-regulated funeral industry.

Niche: A space in a columbarium, mausoleum or niche wall to hold an urn.

Urn: A container to hold cremated remains. It can be placed in a columbarium or mausoleum, or buried in the ground.

Vault: A grave liner that completely encloses a casket.

The FTC works for the consumer to prevent fraudulent, deceptive, and unfair business practices in the marketplace and to provide information to help consumers spot, stop, and avoid them. To file a complaint or to get free information on consumer issues, visit ftc.gov or call toll-free, 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357); TTY: 1-866-653-4261. The FTC enters Internet, telemarketing, identity theft, and other fraud-related complaints into Consumer Sentinel, a secure online database available to hundreds of civil and criminal law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and abroad.

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Paying Final Respects

When a loved one dies, grieving family members and friends often are confronted with dozens of decisions about the funeral ­— all of which must be made quickly and often under great emotional stress.

What kind of funeral should it be? What funeral provider should you use? Should you bury or cremate the body, or donate it to science? What are you legally required to buy? What about the availability of environmentally friendly or “green” burials? What other arrangements should you plan? And, practically, how much is it all going to cost?

Each year, people grapple with these and many other questions as they spend billions of dollars arranging funerals for family members and friends.

Many funeral providers offer various “packages” of goods and services that make up different kinds of funerals. The Federal Trade Commission, the nation’s consumer protection agency, wants you to know that when you arrange for a funeral, you have the right to buy goods and services separately. That is, you do not have to accept a package that may include items you do not want.

The Funeral Rule

The Funeral Rule, enforced by the FTC, makes it possible for you to choose only those goods and services you want or need and to pay only for those you select, whether you are making arrangements when a death occurs or in advance. The Rule allows you to compare prices among funeral homes, and makes it possible for you to select the funeral arrangements you want at the home you use. (The Rule does not apply to third-party sellers, such as casket and monument dealers, or to cemeteries that lack an on-site funeral home.)

The Funeral Rule gives you the right to:

Buy only the funeral arrangements you want. You have the right to buy separate goods (such as caskets) and services (such as embalming or a memorial service). You do not have to accept a package that may include items you do not want.

Get price information on the telephone. Funeral directors must give you price information on the telephone if you ask for it. You don’t have to give them your name, address or telephone number first. Although they are not required to do so, many funeral homes mail their price lists, and some post them online.

Get a written, itemized price list when you visit a funeral home. The funeral home must give you a General Price List (GPL) that is yours to keep. It lists all the items and services the home offers, and the cost of each one.

See a written casket price list before you see the actual caskets. Sometimes, detailed casket price information is included on the funeral home’s GPL. More often, though, it’s provided on a separate casket price list. Get the price information before you see the caskets, so that you can ask about lower-priced products that may not be on display.

See a written outer burial container price list. Outer burial containers are not required by state law anywhere in the U.S., but many cemeteries require them to prevent the grave from caving in. If the funeral home sells containers, but doesn’t list their prices on the GPL, you have the right to look at a separate container price list before you see the containers. If you don’t see the lower-priced containers listed, ask about them.

Receive a written statement after you decide what you want, and before you pay. It should show exactly what you are buying and the cost of each item. The funeral home must give you a statement listing every good and service you have selected, the price of each, and the total cost immediately after you make the arrangements.

Get an explanation in the written statement you receive from the funeral home that identifies and describes any legal, cemetery or crematory requirement that compels the purchase of any funeral goods or services for which you are being charged.

Use an “alternative container” instead of a casket for cremation. No state or local law requires the use of a casket for cremation. A funeral home that offers cremations must tell you that alternative containers are available, and must make them available. They might be made of unfinished wood, pressed wood, fiberboard, or cardboard.

Provide the funeral home with a casket or urn you purchase elsewhere. The funeral provider cannot refuse to handle a casket or urn you bought online, at a local casket store, or somewhere else — or charge you a fee to do it. The funeral home cannot require you to be there when the casket or urn is delivered to them.

Make funeral arrangements without embalming. No state law requires routine embalming for every death. Some states require embalming or refrigeration if the body is not buried or cremated within a certain time; some states don’t require it at all. In most cases, refrigeration is an acceptable alternative. In addition, you may choose services like direct cremation and immediate burial, which don’t require any form of preservation. Many funeral homes have a policy requiring embalming if the body is to be publicly viewed, but this is not required by law in most states. Ask if the funeral home offers private family viewing without embalming. If some form of preservation is a practical necessity, ask the funeral home if refrigeration is available.

Cost Considerations

The casket and the funeral home’s fee for the basic services of the funeral director and staff are typically the most expensive items in a full-service funeral. Comparison shop before you decide on a casket and funeral home; you may find a wide variation in pricing. If cost is a consideration, look at lower-price caskets and outer burial containers offered by the funeral home, local casket providers, or online retailers. Caskets and outer burial containers with warranties may not be worth the extra cost because no casket or container can delay the decomposition of human remains indefinitely, and the Funeral Rule prohibits statements to the contrary.

If you don’t want to hold a viewing, you can avoid charges for embalming and “other preparation of the body,” and the charges for a viewing. Most states do not require embalming except in special cases. The Funeral Rule requires that an explanation of any charge for embalming be included in the written statement you receive immediately after making the funeral arrangements.

Immediate burial and direct cremation usually are the least expensive options. The cost of permits, preparing death notices, and coordinating cemetery or crematory arrangements must be included in the price for direct cremation and immediate burial. If you choose cremation, ask if the direct cremation price includes any crematory fee. If you want additional services, including the use of staff and facilities for a memorial service, the funeral home may charge an additional fee.

In most states, you are not legally required to use a funeral home to conduct a funeral. These functions may be handled by a religious or other organization, or by your family. In addition, veterans, their immediate family members, public health workers, and some civilians who provide military-related service are entitled to burial in a national cemetery with a grave marker. Burial for the veteran is free, but the family is responsible for all funeral home expenses, such as the funeral ceremony or memorial service, and transportation to the cemetery. Many states have low-cost cemeteries for veterans.

The Funeral Rule in brief:

You have the right to choose the funeral goods and services you want (with some exceptions).

  • The funeral provider must give you a General Price List (GPL) that states your right to choose what you want in writing.
  • If state or local law requires you to buy any particular good or service, the funeral provider must disclose it on the price list, with a reference to the specific law.
  • The funeral provider cannot refuse to handle a casket or urn you bought elsewhere — or charge you a fee to do that.
  • A funeral provider who offers cremations must make alternative containers available.
  • You can’t be charged for embalming that your family didn’t authorize, unless it’s required by state law.

Planning Your Own Funeral

Planning your own funeral arrangements can be a thoughtful and considerate way to ease the burden on your family. Planning lets you shop and compare goods and services without time constraints. You can find the best prices, make sensible decisions, and discourage emotional overspending on elaborate arrangements that family members might be tempted to purchase in their bereavement. Share your plans with family members so they understand your desires and have the information they need.

Many people say that discussions with a lawyer about preparing or updating their will, living will or powers of attorney (including a durable power of attorney for health care) — or conversations with a financial advisor about investment strategies for retirement — prompt them to think about making arrangements for their own funerals. Attorneys and financial consultants can be good sources of information about planning funerals, as are the following organizations:

AARP
601 E Street, NW
Washington, DC 20049
888-687-2277
www.aarp.org
AARP is a membership organization for people 50 years of age and older. Funeral-related information also is available at www.aarp.org/families/grief_loss/.

Council of Better Business Bureaus, Inc.
4200 Wilson Blvd., Suite 800
Arlington, VA 22203-1838
703-276-0100
www.bbb.org/alerts/family.asp
Better Business Bureaus are private, nonprofit organizations that promote ethical business standards and voluntary self-regulation of business practices.

Cremation Association of North America
401 North Michigan Avenue
Chicago, IL 60611
312-245-1077
www.cremationassociation.org
CANA is an association of crematories, cemeteries, and funeral homes that offer cremation.

Funeral Consumers Alliance
33 Patchen Road
South Burlington, VT 05403
800-765-0107
www.funerals.org
FCA is a nonprofit educational organization that supports increased funeral consumer protection. Their website has free pamphlets on funeral planning, plus a directory of local volunteer funeral planning groups.

Funeral Ethics Organization
87 Upper Access Road
Hinesburg, VT 05461
802-482-3437
www.funeralethics.org
FEO, an independent nonprofit educational organization, promotes ethical dealings in death- related transactions and provides mediation assistance to resolve consumer complaints.

Green Burial Council
8 Estacada Court
Santa Fe, NM 87508
888-966-3330
www.greenburialcouncil.org
GBC, an independent, nonprofit that encourages environmentally sustainable death care practices as a means of acquiring, restoring, and stewarding natural areas, assists consumers in identifying “green” cemetery, funeral, and cremation services.

International Cemetery and Funeral Association
107 Carpenter Drive, Suite 100
Sterling, VA 20164
800-645-7700
www.icfa.org/consumer.html
ICFA is a nonprofit association of cemeteries, funeral homes, crematories, and monument retailers that offers informal mediation of consumer complaints through its Cemetery Consumer Service Council. Its website provides information and advice in its Consumer Resource Guide.

International Order of the Golden Rule
PO Box 28689
St. Louis, MO 63146-1189
800-637-8030
www.ogr.org
OGR is an international association of about 1,300 independent funeral homes.

Jewish Funeral Directors of America
150 Lynnway, Suite 506
Lynn, MA 01902
781-477-9300
www.jfda.org
JFDA is an international association of funeral homes serving the Jewish community.

National Funeral Directors Association
13625 Bishop’s Drive
Brookfield, WI 53005
800-228-6332
www.nfda.org/consumerresources.php
NFDA is an educational and professional association of funeral directors, which provides consumer information on its website at www.nfda.org/consumerresources.php. NFDA also sponsors the NFDA Help Line, which is designed to help consumers resolve complaints about NFDA members.

National Funeral Directors and Morticians Association
3951 Snapfinger Parkway, Suite 570
Decatur, GA 30035
800-434-0958
www.nfdma.com
NFDMA is a national association primarily of African-American funeral providers.

Selected Independent Funeral Homes
500 Lake Cook Road, Suite 205
Deerfield, IL 60015
800-323-4219
www.selectedfuneralhomes.org/information
SIFH is an international association of funeral firms that have agreed to comply with its Code of Good Funeral Practices.

Solving Problems

If you have a problem concerning funeral matters, it’s best to try to resolve it first with the funeral director. If you are dissatisfied with the funeral services you receive, the Funeral Consumers Alliance offers advice on how best to resolve a problem. In addition, the FEO, the NFDA Help Line, and the ICFA Cemetery Consumer Service Council may be able to provide informal mediation of a complaint. You also can contact your state or local consumer protection agencies. Check the Blue Pages of your telephone directory for the phone number or check www.naag.org for a list of state Attorneys General.

In addition, you can file a complaint with the FTC. Visit ftc.gov or call 1-877-FTCHELP (382-4357); TDD: 1-866-653-4261. Although the Commission cannot resolve individual problems for consumers, it can act against a company if it sees a pattern of possible law violations.

For More Information
For more comprehensive information about the Funeral Rule, see Funerals: A Consumer Guide, at www.ftc.gov/funerals. The Guide, written by the FTC, includes a price checklist, glossary of terms, a description of services, information sources, and a list of questions to ask funeral professionals.

The FTC works for the consumer to prevent fraudulent, deceptive, and unfair business practices in the marketplace and to provide information to help consumers spot, stop, and avoid them. To file a complaint or to get free information on consumer issues, visit ftc.gov or call toll-free, 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357); TTY: 1-866-653-4261. The FTC enters Internet, telemarketing, identity theft, and other fraud-related complaints into Consumer Sentinel, a secure online database available to hundreds of civil and criminal law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and abroad.

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Grieving the Human Experience We spend a good portion of our lives working diligently to acquire those things that make life rich and meaningful; friends, a wife or husband, children, a home, a job, material comforts, money (let’s face it), and security. What happens to us when we lose any of these persons or things which are so important to us?

Quite naturally we grieve over the loss of anything important. Sometimes, if the loss is great, the very foundations of our life are shaken, and we are thrown into deep despair. Because we know so little about the nature of grief, we become panicky when it strikes us, and this serves to throw us deeper into despondency. What ought we to know about the “grief process ,” so that we can better cope with it?

Does people’s faith have anything to do with the way they grieve over whatever it is they lose? For instance, when we lose a job, or lose a loving friend, or fail in school, or are disliked by the people at the office because of our unpopular convictions, does our grief at these times have anything to do with our faith?

Faith plays a major role in grief of any kind. But not in the way some people think. They often seem to have the idea that a person with strong faith does not grieve and is above this sort of thing. Moreover, these people imply that religious faith advocates stoicism. They might even quote the two words from Scripture, “Grieve not!” They forget to quote the rest of the phrase in which these two words are found: “Grieve not as those who have no hope” (1 Thess. 4:13).

But religious faith – at least the Jewish Christian faith – has never said that a truly religious person does not grieve. What it has said is that there are good ways and bad ways to grieve, and that what a person considers to be of most importance in life will definitely affect the way he or she grieves.

Grief If we include our “little griefs” along with our “large griefs,” we can say that grief is as natural to every person as breathing. It is inevitable! You cannot live without experiencing it in a thousand different ways. Such a seemingly inconsequential thing as your husband’s phoning at the last minute, just before guests are arriving for dinner, to say that he has to work late throws you into a mild form of grief. Or perhaps the boss under whom you have worked happily for ten years is suddenly transferred, and the new one is pompous and overbearing. This is a form of grief. How you handle these “little griefs” will in some measure tell you how you will probably handle the larger griefs when they come.

It is now possible to predict fairly well some of the things that will happen to all of us when some thing or some one very essential to our particular way of life is taken away. Before we describe the pattern which most of us follow, however, let us be sure we can picture grief in several more forms. We certainly mean to include grief related to death in this discussion; but we can observe the same grief process at work in many other kinds of losses as well.

For instance, one of the more common grief situations arises out of our mobile culture. In America one out offive people moves every year, because of change of employment or promotion. The uprooting of families on the American scene has been going on long enough for us to be able to identify certain forms of emotional instability which result from it. The uprooted family is cut off from stabilizing relationships in the community which every child and adult needs so much. Every member of the family is adversely affected as they are rudely pulled away from people and things which have grown dear to them. There is every reason to raise the question whether corporations which transfer their key employees every two to five years are doing a wise thing, either for the family or ultimately for industry itself.

Let us look at a particular family that has been transferred three times in several years. They have lived in the present town for two years, and their children after some difficulty have finally found themselves in relation to their playmates and their school. The company now “invites” the father to move for the fourth time. The mother in this family says that they have never before felt such a sense of belonging as they have in their present town. They had hoped they could stay there a long time. But her husband is on his way to a vice-presidency, and the corporation operates on the assumption that it is good for its executives to move frequently.

Grieving In the light of our new knowledge of psychosomatic medicine, we are not so sure it is a good idea. We who have spent years teaching in hospitals and medical centers see a great many sick or upset people who have come into the hospital in close relation to such an uprooting experience. I have seen children who are thrown into turmoil three months before the move and for three months or more after the move. Certainly such practices contribute to the instability of our society, and business institutions would do well to take a second look at the long-term results of such constant moving.

Or think of the problem of divorce. Certainly divorce is a situation which creates grief in the hearts of those who have now lost someone who once was dear to them. It is almost like a living death to see the one whom you continue to love turning his back on you, figuratively slapping you in the face.

Another Form of Grief may be Retirement

Not all people look forward to arbitrary retirement at any age. They feel that they are good for at least another ten years. They hope their employers will make an exception in their case. But when that birthday comes they, too, receive the summons. And many of these people leave their jobs with a heavy heart, having lost all reason for living.

We think of grief in relation to a man in his forties who is laid off indefinitely because of a business recession.

Then there is the person who has worked diligently to gain advancement, who has worked overtime and weekends to demonstrate ability to fill a particular position. After several years that job is finally open, and he is sure he will be chosen. But the boss remembers he has a nephew who needs a job, and the nephew takes over. Is this a cause for grief? Of course it is!

Another grief situation may center around the children of a family. A child is lost not through death, but through marriage. He takes all his belongings from his room, and the house is lifeless. A house once filled with laughter and joy is now as quiet as a tomb. Or another child may turn against her mother and father and live her life in a manner completely contrary to their teachings. Or perhaps a college-age son or daughter who is deeply in love and making plans for marriage discovers his or her future mate has been untrue; and the wedding plans must be canceled.

A list of losses would be inexhaustible. We can lose our health, our eyesight, our hearing. We can lose our home through fire or tornado or through financial ruin. In some families grief comes with the loss of a pet which has been a part of everything that has gone on in that household for ten years or more. Any of these things, and many more, sets in motion a cycle of grief.

Grief is a Natural Part of the Human Experience

Grieving for a Babyf We face minor grief almost daily in some situation or another. To say a person is deeply religious and therefore does not have to face grief situations is ridiculous. Not only is it totally unrealistic, but it is also incompatible with the whole Christian message.

The one Bible verse every Sunday-school child knows by heart is the two-word verse “Jesus wept.” These words describe a man who, when grief came, was able to weep, for He wanted and needed to express the feelings within Him.

But when we say, “Grieve not,” then we imply we are to be Stoics like the Greeks of old. But we do not subscribe to the philosophy of the Stoics. Christians should know the difference between Stoicism and Christianity. The Scriptures, both Old and New Testaments, see grief as normal and potentially creative. I suggest that in this eightword portion of Scripture we put a comma after the first word so that it now reads, “Grieve, not as those who have no hope,” and then I would add, “but for goodness’ sake, grieve when you have something worth grieving about!”

We ministers discovered some years ago that many of the people with whom we counseled were suffering from some form of sorrow they had not as yet been able to work through. As we began to try to understand the problems of our parishioners in distress, we sensed they were reacting to the loss of some precious relationship or possession in much the same way as people react to the loss of a loved one through death.

We also began to sense that people in sorrow-from whatever cause-tend to follow a pattern which includes several stages. The idea of stages of grief was first suggested to us by Dr. Erich Lindemann, professor ofpsychiatry at Harvard, who described the grief process in an article entitled “Symptomatology and Management of Acute Grief,” published in The American Journal of Psychiatry years ago. In this remarkable study he demonstrated the difference between normal grief reactions and abnormal or morbid grief. He showed the importance of helping the griefstricken person face up to the struggle of “working through” grief. The person has to be helped to “extricate himself from the bondage to the deceased and find new patterns of rewarding interaction.” He then described five things he saw in acute grief: (1) somatic distress, (2) preoccupation with the image of the deceased, (3) guilt, (4) hostile reactions, and (5) loss of patterns of conduct.

Dr. Lindemann’s studies encouraged clergymen to deal more objectively with grief reactions in their parishioners. They soon found that parishioners who faced up to their loss by wrestling openly and honestly with the problem came through the grieving experience stronger, deeper, and better able to help other people with their grieving.

Of course, this wrestling with problems connected with loss also caused the parishioner to reevaluate her own religious convictions. This meant that the parishioner began to question aspects of her faith ad often went through periods of doubt in which she questioned the relevance of the Christian faith to personal problems. If, however, she was able to maintain some kind of relationship with God through regular worhsip and through fellowship with people of the congregation who really cared about her, then she looked upon the struggle as a growth experience which actually deepened her faith. Like Job of old, she was beset on all sides, but she refused to give up her basic faith. Through the centuries people who have been able to face grief in the knowledge that God still cares about them have said that grief can be counted among the great deepening experiences of life.

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Cremation Administered by the cemetery interests, cremation has become just another way of making a buck, principally through the sale of the niche and urn plus “perpetual care” for the ashes. Cemetery men are most reluctant to relinquish the ashes for any other form of disposition; one told me rather plaintively, “If everyone wanted to take the ashes away and scatter them or bury them privately, we’d soon be out of business.” The crematoria, competing for the good will of the undertakers upon whom they depend for business, naturally play along with them in the matter of building up their services and merchandise.

Arguments for and against cremation were discussed at a recent convention of the National Association of Cemeteries, to which were invited top officials of the Cremation Association of America. The theme of the meeting was “Profit Through Cremation Without a Crematory.” A procremation speaker pointed out that although few cemeteries have their own crematoria, “their operators can derive substantial profit if they accent the memorialization aspects of cremation… Actually, in fact, most of the inquiries the C.A.A. receives come from cemetery men whose main feeling is that they’re not so much interested in who sells the razor as in who sells the blades.” The C.A.A., he said, is “endeavoring to show the cemetery men in an economic sense just what we show the public in a spiritual sense: that cremation is by no means the end-all.” Another spoke of the space-saving aspects: “Within a given area for interment spaces, for example, the cemetery can sell a greater number of spaces for cremated remains than for regular caskets. The greater number of smaller sales within that given area can make up the difference, and then some. That of course means profit. . . . Land purchase costs can be avoided. So can expensive and controversial battles with public bodies on rezoning.”

Arguments against cremation were advanced by a veteran sales director for one of Los Angeles’s largest cemeteries, which operates its own crematory. He cited figures on costs in the Los Angeles area to support his point that cremation is a demonstrably cheaper process than ground burial, even when the cost of the niche and urn is figured in, and therefore much less profitable. The cost of cremation averages $60 (although the public authorities charge only $15 at the county’s retort); containers for cremated remains average $55; interment spaces for the containers average only $85 as against an average $325 for regular graves. He said the most expensive space for a container in a columbarium is about $250, whereas the most expensive grave is about $1,000. “The economics of pro-cremation arguments are very questionable to me,” he said. “A big volume of cremations, at a lower price for each, may total up to a profit exceeding that from a small volume of regular burials. But you work harder and there certainly is a shocking overhead in administration.”

In spite of the admonitions of the Cremation Association, it remains true that families who choose cremation also tend to choose cheaper and less elaborate caskets. This may be because those who favor cremation incline in all matters towards rationality; it may be because of a rather natural disinclination to pay a lot of money for an embalmed and bronze-encased memory picture that is to be burned up in a few days. It is not surprising that there has always been a strong current of opposition to cremation among the undertakers, who are painfully aware of the financial hazards it presents to their end of the funeral business. As one wrote, “Cremations in volume will ruin any funeral director’s business. We cremate quite a few cases, and no matter how you figure it, we make a reasonable margin of profit only on about 6 per cent of the cases we cremate.”

Characteristically, they seek to counter the trend towards cremation by playing on the emotions of the survivors, portraying the procedure as hideous and horror-filled. A funeral director, Writing in Mortuary Management, describes how this can be done: “When anybody asks me about cremation,

I simply tell them the truth: that it can be the cheapest way of disposing of a body, but that anyone who had ever witnessed a cremation wouldn’t cremate a pet dog. I drop it right there, unless they ask me why I say that, and then I give them a blow-by-blow description of what happens in the retort. About four out of five back off immediately, and ex:press no further interest in cremation!”

Those with a direct financial stake in cremation, the owners of crematoria and the niche and urn salesmen, do not, of course, see it this way. On the contrary, they wax lyrical over “the clean, beautiful method of resolution by incandescence rather than the unspeakable horrors of decay . . . we think of our loved one as in his ethereal body, as

The Forest Lawn “Art Guide” has a good deal to say about the proper care of cremated ashes, and contains many a warning to those who might contemplate either scattering them, keeping them at home, or privately burying them. It reads in part like a Declaration of Principles for a Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Cremated Remains: “Only by crushing or grinding can these hard, white bone-shapes be reduced to fine grit or ash, a practice as horrifying as any wilful mutilation. It is lack of understanding of this, and of the true nature of cremated remains, that has led to the deplorable vogue for ‘scattering: . . . In the past and in areas where protective legislation has not been enacted, receptacles containing cremated remains have sometimes been kept in homes, and have been lost through fire [I], burglary, or other unforeseen occurrences, resulting in lasting remorse. Even more regrettable are the results of the practice known as ‘scattering: Recognizable fragments of the human frame that come hurtling out of the skies, wash ashore on beaches, or roll about underfoot in gardens and parks appall the strangers who encounter them, and cause lifelong heartache to those who have had any share in such disposition of a loved one’s remains.” Follows, of course, a description of the niches for sale at Forest Lawn, marblefront, bronze-front or glass-faced, «designed to hold a bronze urn of artistic design.”

The cemetery and columbarium people will, understandably, go to all sorts of lengths to nip in the bud any trend towards the English practice of scattering. Their first concern is to make sure that the ashes are not reduced to scatterable proportions; a simple matter of failing to apply enough heat during the cremation to completely destroy the bony structure (thus guaranteeing that «recognizable fragments of the human frame” will appear among the ashes) and of failing to pulverize the ashes as recommended by English cremation authorities. Their second concern is with the aforementioned «protective legislation,” by which is meant legislation «protecting” the cremated remains from the next of kin of those decedents who have expressly directed that their ashes be scattered or privately buried.

California is one of four states in which cemetery lobbyists have succeeded in passing such legislation. (The others are Alaska, Indiana and Washington.) California is, from the point of view of the niche-and-urn business, a key state, for there is a very marked regional factor in the incidence of cremation in the United States. In 1960 almost half of the total number of cremations in this country-z8,ooo out of 59,00o-took place in Pacific coast states. In California one out of six decedents is cremated, and the proportion is higher in the big cities.

The law in California does not contain an explicit prohibition against scattering or private burial of the ashes. It works like this: After a decedent has been cremated, the next of kin may arrange for removal of the ashes from the crematory, but only by designating a recognized cemetery or columbarium to which he wishes them shipped. Removal of the ashes for any other disposition is a misdemeanor, “‘ punishable by fine or imprisonment; if two or more persons participate iii the removal, they could be prosecuted for conspiracy, a felony. If the next of kin fails to designate a cemetery or columbarium, the crematory customarily begins to charge a monthly storage rate for the ashes of $1.50.

If he demands that the ashes be turned over to him, he will be told by the crematory that this is «against the law.” However if he protests loudly enough, the crematorium will almost certainly give in and hand over the ashes (thus presumably becoming a party to the felonious conspiracy) because the last thing the cemetery interests want is a legal test case on this question.

This peculiar piece of legislation, on the statute books since 1939, went unchallenged until 1961, when an amendment to the law was introduced by State Senator Fred Farr of Carmel and Assemblyman Nicholas Petris, which would permit the next of kin to obtain possession of cremated remains for private burial or scattering. The hearings that ensued were instructive because they demonstrated beyond question the enormous power of the cemetery interests and their ability to influence legislation in the face of reason, popular demand and expert testimony. Both Mr. Farr and Mr. Petris received an unprecedented flow of mail from constituents in support of their amendment. Many of the letters were from people who had firsthand experience with the problem of trying to rescue ashes of relatives from the tenacious cemetery. One correspondent related a conversation he had had with a cemetery salesman: “This man, a professional hard-sell artist, said that their groups had it fixed so the bill would be tabled in committee, and added that if for some unknown reason the bill did slip by, it would not do the slightest good because the crematories would hand back the skull and bones intact to the customer and tell him to scatter them. He said the cemeteries were not in business to scatter ashes to the winds, and that they would lick this bill hands down.”

On the eve of the hearing, Senator Farr learned that the lobbyists were indeed circulating among the legislators photographs purportedly of cremated remains, displaying knucklebones, bits of shin and other unappetizing remnants. These, they claimed, would become commonplace features of the California landscape if the proposed bill should pass.

The following morning, three stalwart matrons, supporters of the Farr-Petris amendment, appeared at the entrance to the State Capitol in Sacramento. They were carrying an odd assortment of objects. One had a large box, inscribed CREMATED REMAINS OF MR. , another carried an old-fashioned coffee-bean grinder, and the third wielded a claw hammer. A guard stopped them, and asked the lady with the claw hammer, “What are you taking that in for?” “To open this box of the cremated remains of Mr. —,” she answered. “And what’s the coffee grinder for?” asked the astonished guard. “To grind up the cremated remains of Mr. —,” explained one of the ladies helpfully. The guard, open-mouthed, let them pass.

Senator Farr’s purpose was a visual demonstration. On opening the box, he found not the gruesome hunks of human bone shown in the photographs but a grayish compound of fine and coarse ash, most of it the consistency of cornmeal, in which were contained some brittle bone fragments up to three inches in length. These he proceeded to put through the coffee grinder, preparing several trayfuls as evidence for other members of the committee. The San Francisco Chronicle reported, “As he passed the small box of ashes around to committee members, some of the dust of ‘John Doe’ wafted from the box, hung in the air for a few seconds, then settled on the highly polished table.”

Senator Farr’s demonstration succeeded in demolishing the first major argument of opponents of his amendment. With equal ease, he laid waste to their two remaining contentions: that scattering human ashes would endanger the public health, and that to permit dispersion of the remains would hamper crime detection in cases of suspected poisoning. A public health officer testified that human ashes are sterile and could not possibly create a public health problem. A pathologist said, “Many romantic stories tell of conviction following analysis of cremation ashes, but no documented case of this type exists. Anyone claiming such should be required to produce proof, which I hold cannot be done. The only time that proper medicolegal post-mortem examination can be done is prior to cremation. Such ashes have no importance in law enforcement or crime detection.”

Yet, when all the dust had settled, the bill was shelved by a vote of 4 to 3, and referred to a committee for a two-year study. In spite of the efforts of the sponsors, the study was never made. Mr. Nicholas Petris declared the measure lost because of a combination of fear, superstition and enormous lobby pressure. He added that he personally abhors cremation-the very thought makes him shudder; furthermore it is contrary to the doctrine of the Greek Orthodox Church to which he belongs. But, he said, he intends to disinter this bill anyway, because of the civil liberties issue involved; the law as it now stands robs Californians of the right to arrange for such disposition as they see fit of their own mortal remains.

At this writing, the final outcome of the legislation is unknown. It can be predicted with certainty that the cemetery interests will fight long and hard to maintain their selfconferred role of protectors of the defenseless little packages of human ash.

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Cremation

Cremation is not an end in itself, but the process which prepares the human remains for inurnment in a beautiful and everlasting memorial. Chapel of the Chimes booklet, endorsed by Cremation Association of America

A common reaction of people who learn for the first time some of the facts and figures connected with the American way of death is to say, “None of that for me! I’m going to beat this racket. I just want to be cremated, and avoid all the fuss and expense.”

Cremation sounds like a simple, tidy solution to the disposal of the dead. It is available in most parts of the United States and (although frowned on by Catholics and some branches of the Jewish faith) is sanctioned by the majority religions. It appeals to the nature lover and the poeticminded, who visualize their mortal remains scattered over sunny hillside or remote seashore. It is applauded by rationalists, people concerned with sanitation, land conservation and population statistics, and by those who would like to see an end to all the malarkey that surrounds the usual kind of funeral. It has appeal for the economy-minded; logically, one would think the expense would be but a tiny fraction of that incurred by earth burial. Many people are under the vague impression that the undertaker can be bypassed altogether, and embalming dispensed with; that the crematorium will, no doubt, arrange to place the body in a suitable container, and consign it to the flames; that the only expense incurred will be the crematorium’s charge, something under $100.

It is true that in most countries where cremation is on the increase, the objectives of economy and simplicity are well served. In England, for example, where the number of cremations rose from 3 in 1885 to 107,159 in 1951 and today is the mode of disposal of 35 per cent of the dead, the cost is in the neighborhood of $10. Specifications for the coffin to be used are of the simplest, “easily combustible wood, not painted or varnished”; to facilitate scattering the ashes they are “removed from the cremator, and after cooling pulverized to a fine texture.” The ultimate disposition of 90 per cent of English cremated remains is scattering, or “strewing,” as the clergy prefer to call it. Sometimes the ashes are scattered over the ocean or from a plane over the countryside; more often, by a crematory attendant, in a Garden of Remembrance, consecrated ground specially set aside for the purpose. Most crematoria and cemeteries maintain such a garden; in some there is a nominal charge of about $1.50. The practice of scattering was formally approved by the Church of England in 1944.

The vogue for cremation is a very recent development in England. The cremation “movement” was initiated there in the nineteenth century. Its adherents included many distinguished physicians and chemists; intellectuals; radicals and reformers; a few members of the aristocracy. Among the organizers of the first Cremation Society in 1874 were Sir Henry Thompson, Bart., Surgeon to the Queen; Anthony Trollope, Spencer Wells, Millais, the Dukes of Bedford and Westminster. Naturally, that thorny old critic of the status quo, George Bernard Shaw, was strongly in favor of cremation, and he sums up the argument for it with his usual pithiness: “Dead bodies can be cremated. All of them ought to be; for earth burial, a horrible practice, will some day be prohibited by law, not only because it is hideously unaesthetic, but because the dead would crowd the living off the earth if it could be carried out to its end of preserving our bodies for their resurrection on an imaginary day of judgment (in sober fact, every day is a day of judgment).”

There were at first strong objections to cremation from some of the clergy, who thought that it would interfere with the resurrection of the body; this point was neatly disposed of by Lord Shaftesbury when he asked, “What would in such a case become of the Blessed Martyrs?” In the 1870S and 1880s, cremation advocates campaigned on a number of fronts for legality and public acceptance of the practice. They published expository material urging support for their cause; they experimented with various types of furnaces; they went so far as to cremate each other in defiance of the authorities, thus subjecting themselves to public censure and even to criminal prosecution. It was not until 1884 that they won a court decision declaring cremation to be a legal procedure, but there was still much opposition from church and public; police protection was sometimes necessary when a cremation was to take place. In short, acceptance of cremation as a sensible and also a respectable disposition of the human dead was only won as the result of a hard-fought, uphill struggle.

The early partisans of cremation, willing to flout the law and risk imprisonment to simplify and rationalize disposal of the dead, would whirl in their urns could they but see what has become of their favorite cause today in America. For cremation, like every other aspect of the disposal of the dead, has long since been taken over by the funeral industry, which prescribes the procedures to be followed and establishes its own regulations to which the customers must adhere. Therefore, he who seeks to avoid the purchase of a casket, embalming and the full treatment will not succeed by the mere fact of choosing cremation rather than burial. Also, he is much more likely to end up in an urn housed in a niche in an elaborate “columbarium,” complete with Perpetual Care, than to be scattered or privately buried in some favorite country spot.

“If you can’t lick ‘em, join ‘em” would seem to sum up the funeral industry’s attitude to cremation. There is a Cremation Association of America, but it has no resemblance to its English predecessor, It is in fact merely an association of persons, principally cemetery operators, who are in the cremation business. Simplicity and economy are not their goals; far from it. The philosophical outlook of the Association is expounded in some material issued by the Education and Information Committee:

  • Is a funeral director necessary?
  • His services are exactly the same as for other forms of care, and his services are needed for the first call, embalming, casket selection and conduct of the service.
  • What kind of casket is best for cremation?
  • Inasmuch as the casket serves its primary purpose in creating a memory picture at the time of the funeral service, this is a matter for each family to decide. In general, it is recommended that the casket be the same as for any other form of interment.
  • What is done with cremated remains?
  • Cremation is not disposition; it is only a method for preparing the remains for memorialization. They are still human remains, and should be placed in a dedicated place such as a columbarium, mausoleum or other place where they will receive continuing care.
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Funeral Costs In 1960, Americans spent, according to the only available government estimate, $1.6 billion on funerals, setting thereby a new national and world record. The $1.6 billion is, as we shall see, only a portion of what was actually spent on what the death industry calls “the care and memorialization of the dead.” Even this partial figure, if averaged out among the number of deaths, would amount to the astonishing sum of $942 for the funeral of every man, woman, child and stillborn babe who died in the United States in 1960.

The $1.6 billion figure that is given for our national burial bill is furnished by the U. S. Department of Commerce census of business under the heading “personal expenditure for death expense.” Since it includes personal expenditures only, it does not include burial expenditures by cities and counties and by private and public institutions for the burial of indigents, welfare recipients and persons confined in public ingtitutions, nor does it include burial expenditures by the armed forces for military personnel. How much do these public expenditures amount to annually? Nobody knows, for there is no centrally maintained source of information. The burial of indigents, for example, is a matter of city or county concern. There are some 3,000 counties in the United States, and among them there is a wildly disparate variation in costs and procedures. Some counties contract with funeral directors for casket, service and burial for as little as $70, some pay as much as $300 for casket and service alone. Other local authorities manufacture their own coffins and bury their indigent dead without the intervention of a private funeral director.

Another substantial item of funeral expense which is not included in the Department of Commerce figure of $1.6 billion is the cost of shipping the dead by train or plane. These charges must be considerable; one in ten of all the dead are shipped elsewhere for burial. Train fare for a corpse is double the cost of a single first-class ticket for a live passenger. Air transport is, as one might expect, becoming the preferred means of carriage for the modishly attired corpse, and on any day of the year not less than one hundred and fifty of these may be counted jetting their way to their various destinations. The standard rate for air shipment of human remains is two and one-half times the rate for other air freight; the average transcontinental fare for a dead body is $255.78. How much is spent annually for the transportation of the dead? The airlines won’t tell you, the railroads don’t seem to know, nor does any agency of thegovemment.

Another item not included in the Department of Commerce figures is funeral flowers. These account for a good bit more than half of the dollar volume of all sales by retail florists in the United States.

Lastly, the Department of Commerce statistics leave out of account entirely the very considerable amounts spent each year by Americans who in increasing numbers buy graves and mausoleum crypts for future occupancy. This mushrooming business is known in cemetery parlance as “pre-need” selling. “Pre-need” sales, although they now run into hundreds of millions of dollars annually, are nowhere reflected in the available national data on funeral expenditures.

It would be a conservative guess that these extras, if added to the Commerce Department’s base figure of $1.6 billion, would bring the nation’s burial bill to well over $2 billion. A little over three-fourths of all funerals are what the industry calls “regular adult funerals.” The remainder are limited service funerals for infants and limited fee funerals for indigents and servicemen, handled by contract with government agencies. The Department of Commerce figure of $1.6 billion averages out to $1,160 for each regular adult funeral. The more realistic figure of $2 billion yields a nationwide average of $1,450 for the disposition of the mortal remains of an adult American.

Figures in the millions tend to startle, in the billions to numb the brain. Is $2 billion a lot or a little for a nation as rich and populous as the United States to pay for the disposal of its dead? The funeral men think on the whole it is rather a small sum. They like to compare it with the nationalliquor bill, or the national tobacco bill.

Less biased observers might think that $z billion is rather a lot, even if it is less than we spend on whiskey or cigarettes. It might be more instructive to compare what we spend to bury the dead with what we spend for the health and welfare of the living.

Personal expenditures for all higher education-tuition, books, and living expenses for 3.6 million students enrolled in colleges and graduate schools in 196o-came to $1.9 billion, which is a little less than Americans spent to bury 1.7 million dead in the same year. We pay doctors more ($4.6 billion) but dentists less ($ 1.9 billion) than we spend on funerals. The cost of providing medical care for the aged, the 17 million Americans who are 65 or older, under a medical-hospital insurance program, would be less than the annual cost of dying in the United States. The Federal government spends less each year for conservation and development of natural resources than we spend on funerals. Americans spend more on funerals than they spend on police protection ($1.8 billion) or on fire protection ($1 billion).

Funeral people, confronted with the charge that they are responsible for the staggering cost of dying, loudly protest their innocence; how can it be their fault, if fault it be? they say. It is up to the individual family to decide how much to spend on a funeral, and if Americans spend more on death than they spend on higher education or conservation, that’s only because funeral buyers are exercising their inalienable right to spend their money as they choose.

“How much should a funeral cost?” says Mr. Wilber Krieger, managing director of the National Selected Morticians. “That’s like asking how much should I pay for a house or how much for a car. You can buy at all prices.” Most funeral advertising stresses the same thought: “The decision of how much to spend for a funeral always rests with the family.” “A funeral should cost exactly what you desire, for the cost and selection is entirely in your hands.”

Funeral Costs Very occasionally, somebody within the industry will spill the beans. Such a one was W. W. Chambers, self-styled “slab-happy” mortician of Washington, D. C., a self-made man who built a million-dollar mortuary empire. “It’s the most highly specialized racket in the world,” he declared, testifying before a Congressional committee in 1947. “It has no standard prices; whatever can be charged and gotten away with is the guiding rule. My competitors don’t like my habit of advertising prices in black and white, because they’d rather keep the right to charge six different prices for the same funeral to six different people, according to what they can pay. Why, some of these bums charge a family $90 to bury a poor little baby in a casket that costs only $4-50.” Scoffing at the suggestion that an undertaker is a “professional man,” Chambers said any good plumber could learn how to embalm in sixty days. He added that he could embalm a human body for 40 cents and an elephant for $1.50.

Mr. Chambers’s views are frequently echoed by the man on the other side of the Arrangements Conference table, the funeral customer. A railroad worker writes, “They really do not use a gun to hold you up, but they sure do everything else. This thing happened to a friend of ours; now I am only talking about people in very ordinary circumstances. To make a long story short, the whole thing cost $1,200.” A lawyer in Akron, Ohio: “It has long been my belief that American funeral directors exploit the grief of a bereaved family, as well as empty their pockets.” A retired carpenter, in the quavering hand of the very old: “I have just buried a sister and it cost $900 just for the undertaker. I cannot see why it would cost so much. I cannot for the life of me see why we feel that we must spend anywhere from $400 up for a casket with silver handles, box springs, etc., which we put in the ground and cover with dirt. What we pay for a socalled decent burial, a man could buy a good lathe with its intricate parts. Where a metal casket is just stamped and welded metal. To dig a grave here in Philadelphia cost my niece $90 and it was done with a steam shovel. Also here in Penna you must have a concrete box in which to place the casket. They told us, ‘It’s a law: It looks as though the morticians are out to get you at all turns. You say to yourself, I won’t buy a lot and I will save the cost of a lot and the concrete box and the digging of the grave. But some of them say you must be embalmed and placed in a casket before they will cremate you.”

I have read hundreds of letters like these. More than five thousand have poured into the San Francisco Bay Area Funeral Society from all parts of the country since the appearance of an article in a national magazine describing the Society’s program for simple and dignified funerals at low cost. A wide gulf seems to separate these indignant customers from the funeral men who assure us that “the decision of how much to spend always rests with the family.”

Thirty-five years ago a detailed study of funeral costs was undertaken under the sponsorship of the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company, which appropriated $25,000 for the work.

The director of the survey, Mr. John C. Gebhart, made this observation: “The business practices of the funeral director have always been shrouded in mystery. There is probably no form of commercial enterprise about which the public is in such complete ignorance:’

The Gebhart study was an attempt, the first and only one of broad scope, to unravel the mystery and to present a comprehensive view of the burial business in all its aspects.

The question was posed: “Do present funeral charges fall with undue severity upon those least able to incur them?” The answer, contained in some 300 pages of statistical tables and interpretation, is a resounding “Yes.”

The study was commissioned after a quarter of a century of frustrated attempts by the company to protect its policyholders from victimization by undertakers. \lo As early as 1903, social workers were complaining that the undertakers invariably managed to find out the amount of industrial insurance carried by the deceased, and then made sure that their bills were sufficiently large to absorb all of the insurance money available.

Two years later, in 1905, Mr. Haley Fiske, vice-president of Metropolitan, sent a letter to all the company’s superintendents and assistant superintendents, ordering them to refuse information to undertakers, to discourage their attendance at the office, and to make it easy for claimants to get their own papers and money without the “help” of a solicitous undertaker: “You can often drop a word of advice against extravagance in funerals. Above all make it plain that a claimant needs no help or influence in order to collect insurance; that he or she is welcome to come alone and will receive all the more attention for doing so; and that there is no reason ever why they should give their policies to undertakers as security or tell undertakers what the amount of the insurance is; and you can make sure that none of our men furnish such information. You can give them a written certificate that a policy is in force on the life at the date of death without stating the amount. In short we ought to do everything possible to protect our policyholders and to help them make the money go as far as it will. . . .” He adds testily, “This letter is intended to be mandatory as well as advisory.”

In spite of this directive to its employees, Metropolitan found that undertakers continued to skim off all that could be skimmed from the insurance money accruing to survivors.

Another approach was attempted. Metropolitan now sought to work directly with the Undertakers Association for the purpose of establishing standard rates and services. “It was pointed out that if any considerable number of undertakers were willing to offer standard rates, the company would be prepared to duly notify its policyholders of the names and addresses of such undertakers and of the conditions under which they would furnish funerals.” The Undertakers replied characteristically with one of their matchless flights into semantic obscurantism, mutilating beyond recognition words like “ethics” and “professional”: “The Association deems it inexpedient to meet with your plans, owing to the fact that to do so would be in direct opposition to the most important factor in our Code of Ethics, which relates to advertising goods and prices. The Association has always aimed to improve and place our calling on a professional basis, and to start in and advocate the advertising of goods and prices, we consider would be derogatory to our profession.”

Finding itself blocked at every turn in its attempts to protect policyholders from extortionate funeral charges, Metropolitan in 1926 initiated its study. An independent Advisory Committee on Burial Survey was established, drawn from religious groups, the professions, and the burial industry itself. The committee must have been sorely tried from time to time in the course of its work; a detailed questionnaire seeking information about prices, directed to some 23,000 undertaking establishments, drew only a 2 per cent response. “It-was found impossible to make any statistical use of the material submitted.”

Luckily, the Advisory Committee had access to an alternate source of information-Metropolitan’s 20 million industrial policyholders. A painstaking examination of thousands of their funeral bills revealed the key to funeral pricing, summed up in a phrase that occurs again and again in the Gebhart study: “They charge what the traffic will bear.” It was found, moreover, that the burden of burial costs fell most heavily on the poorest families.

Mr. Gebhart had high hopes for the effect his disclosures would have. Never was crystal ball more clouded than the one in which he saw the funeral industry taking steps to cut prices as a result of his work: “The cost finding study is already culminating in a movement (by the undertakers) which will lead to a marked reduction in funeral costs.” The cost of dying has instead risen in a straight line, at a 45degree angle, outstripping by a considerable margin the cost of living (see chart). Burial costs have more than tripled since his optimistic words were committed to print.

About once every decade in the last fifty years the complacency of the undertaking business has been shattered by magazine and newspaper exposes of the high cost of dying and the exploitation of bereavement. There is no evidence that these -have had the slightest effect on funeral costs, which have continued serenely to rise in the wake of each outcry. One reason for this has been the lack of a vehicle for organized protest and action by the consumer (one wishes there were some other word to describe the buyer of funerals). Another is the lack of solid statistical and economic data to work with.

There has been no serious attempt at a general study of funeral costs in the United States since Gebhart. The Federal government agencies-Social Security Administration, Railroad Retirement Board, Civil Service Commission and Veterans Administration-which payout hundreds of millions of dollars annually in burial allowances, have not the slightest idea of what the consumer actually pays for burial services, and, except for the Veterans Administration through its contract burial program, ‘I> make no effort to protect the beneficiaries from exploitation by funeral directors. The Bureau of Labor Statistics has not in the past included burial costs in its cost of living index (there are, however, indications that it may be preparing to do so in the future). Universities and foundations have likewise neglected the funeral cost problem. The field, then, has been left by default to the funeral directors, who from time to time publish cost studies which leave something to be desired from the standpoint of accuracy and objectivity.

The few investigations that have been conducted-sporadic, inadequately financed, usually confined to a single community or a single group-indicate that funerals continue to bankrupt the families of workers and that undertakers continue to appropriate insurance money intended for the survivors, the only difference being that there is today a great deal more insurance money around for them to grab.

Funeral Costs The 1947 Centralia, Illinois, mine disaster, in which 111 men were killed, proved a bonanza for the undertakers of that community. The United Mineworkers Journal angrily reported, “The Centralia undertakers moved in like ghouls,” and spoke of the “unconscionable greed that literally followed the victims to their graves and mulcted the surviving dependents of sizable sums from the Welfare Fund death gratuity and state compensation they received.” An investigation by the U. S. Coal Mines Administration revealed that funeral charges levied against the widows of the miners averaged $732.78. All but six of the funerals (94-6 per cent) cost more than $500; 24 ranged in price from $900 to $1,178.50. The undertakers’ total take was around $80,000. Examination of the individual bills showed a wild disparity between amounts charged for substantially identical services. A “bronze metallic casket” cost one family $645, while a “gray metal casket” of cheaper construction was billed at $835. The “standard service” charge, exclusive of casket, ranged from $690 for a $976.30 funeral to $395 for a $545.15 funeral.

The community rallied to the aid of the miners’ families.

AFL hod carriers dug and filled the graves without charge -and the undertakers showed this fraternal contribution on their bills as a “credit” of $10, deducted from their own charge for the standard service. To add insult to injury, when the undertakers were approached by other businessmen in the town for a contribution to the Centralia Miners Relief Fund, they made their donations in the form of discounts on the funeral bills-from $11.85 on a $567 funeral to $22.50 on a $937.50 funeral.

The attitude of funeral industry leaders to the behavior of their colleagues in Centralia sheds some light on the “ethical standards of the profession.” I asked Mr. Wilber Krieger whether any steps had been taken within the industry to discipline the Centralia undertakers. He answered most indignantly that in his opinion they had committed no transgression, they had in no way violated any code of ethics. On the contrary, they had risen nobly to the emergency, had worked long and hard to provide funeral service for the dead miners. “They served those families as they wished to be served.” The prices charged did not seem out of line to Mr. Krieger; in any event, he said, this was a private matter between the widows and the funeral directors, and would never have become the subject of Government investigation had it not been for a few troublemakers in the mine workers’ union.

Not only the victims of sweeping community disasters feel the financial blows inflicted by the cost of modern funerals. Surveys by labor unions of funeral expenses incurred by their members reveal an uncanny correlation between available insurance or death benefit and funeral bill. For example, the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, Local 65, of New York reports that where the member had been earning an average of $70 a week, and left a death benefit of $1,000, the funeral bill frequently amounted to $900 to $1,000. For those earning $85 a week, and receiving a death benefit of $1,500, the funeral bill was more commonly at the level of $1,200 to $1,500.

Labor union officials with responsibility for administering pension funds are becoming increasingly aware of the problem, and some are beginning to wonder who–the undertaker or the union member’s family-is the principal beneficiary of their efforts to bargain for increased death payments. The AFL-CIO Industrial Union Digest says:

Certainly organized labor can ill afford to sit on its hands-and for reasons quite apart from the purely ethical. The New York State Insurance Department, for example, reports that in 1958 the 1,020 welfare and pension funds in the state jointly administered by labor and management and whose benefits were covered by insurance carriers paid out $11,914,349 to the beneficiaries of deceased workers. Seventy-five percent, or some eight million dollars, of that amount was siphoned off by undertakers. The picture is probably about the same for the rest of the country. Without perhaps realizing it, organized labor, through its many welfare and pension plans, is thus helping to subsidize the burial industry.

It must not be inferred, from what has been said, that undertakers are by nature a special, evil breed, more greedy or more grasping than practitioners of other trades. As individuals I found them to be a rather jolly lot, no better and no worse than the run of people you would find at a Kiwanis or Rotary meeting. All of them, however, are in thrall to the peculiar economic situation that has developed within the industry.

There is in the undertaking business, as presently organized, a fantastic amount of waste, disorganization and inefficiency, for which the customer is expected to pay. Gebhart noted this peculiarity in his 1927 report:

Most of the waste in the burial industry is attributable to the multiplicity of funeral directors and manufacturers of burial goods. During the past 25 years the “demand” for funeral service, as limited by the death rate, has remained stationary, while the industry has expanded rapidly. Expansion in total volume of business has only been possible by selling more goods and more expensive goods to the same number of customers. . . . Even the extravagant charges on the part of certain undertakers are largely due to an effort to make a living out of a very small volume of business.

The situation within the industry has not changed appreciably in the intervening years. In contrast to the general trend of business in the direction of ever-greater concentration and size, the trend in the funeral industry has been in the opposite direction. A proliferation of funeral establishments in the last eighty years, in the face of a steadily declining death rate, has brought about a most unfavorable situation for the trade.

Thus in 1880 there were 993,000 deaths and 5,100 funeral establishments, giving each a potential clientele of 194 cases per year. By 1960 the number of funeral establishments had grown almost fivefold, to 25,000, each new one bigger and more lavishly appointed than the last, and they had to share a mere 1,700,000 deaths, for an average of fewer than 70 cases each per year. It is easy to see how, with the business so thinly distributed, there is an ever-present compulsion to make each sale a big one, to regard each opportunity as a golden one. The field is, without question, absurdly overcrowded.

What seems to have happened is that the undertaking population, while increasing roughly in proportion to the increase in the general population, neglected to take into account that the death rate, which was 19 per thousand in 1880, would by 1960 be exactly halved. By now, of course, the funeral directors have learned that while other businessmen eagerly scan the booming population figures and project them in planning for the future, they must gloomily confine themselves to the column headed “deaths per annum.” They can comfort themselves, however, with the thought that in this department 1960′s total of 1.7 million was the best since 1918, when the influenza epidemic helped make a record number of 1.8 million cadavers available to the trade. Mr. Wilber Krieger reports a hopeful trend: “We are coming to the end of a line, we cannot continue to expand the span of life for people indefinitely. It has to turn down. . . . Funeral directors that I’m meeting are telling me that there is a slight increase in mortality rate. So perhaps this trend that was forecast by a market analyst is becoming evident even a little ahead of his schedule.” by insurance carriers paid out $11,914,349 to the beneficiaries of deceased workers. Seventy-five percent, or some eight million dollars, of that amount was siphoned off by undertakers. The picture is probably about the same for the rest of the country. Without perhaps realizing it, organized labor, through its many welfare and pension plans, is thus helping to subsidize the burial industry.

It must not be inferred, from what has been said, that undertakers are by nature a special, evil breed, more greedy or more grasping than practitioners of other trades. As individuals I found them to be a rather jolly lot, no better and no worse than the run of people you would find at a Kiwanis or Rotary meeting. All of them, however, are in thrall to the peculiar economic situation that has developed within the industry.

There is in the undertaking business, as presently organized, a fantastic amount of waste, disorganization and inefficiency, for which the customer is expected to pay. Gebhart noted this peculiarity in his 1927 report:

Most of the waste in the burial industry is attributable to the multiplicity of funeral directors and manufacturers of burial goods. During the past 25 years the “demand” for funeral service, as limited by the death rate, has remained stationary, while the industry has expanded rapidly. Expansion in total volume of business has only been possible by selling more goods and more expensive goods to the same number of customers . . . Even the extravagant charges on the part of certain undertakers are largely due to an effort to make a living out of a very small volume of business.

The situation within the industry has not changed ape preciably in the intervening years. In contrast to the general trend of business in the direction of ever-greater concentration and size, the trend in the funeral industry has been in the opposite direction. A proliferation of funeral establishments in the last eighty years, in the face of a steadily declining death rate, has brought about a most unfavorable situation for the trade.

Thus in 1880 there were 993,000 deaths and 5,100 funeral establishments, giving each a potential clientele of 194 cases per year. By 1960 the number of funeral establishments had grown almost fivefold, to 25,000, each new one bigger and more lavishly appointed than the last, and they had to share a mere 1,700,000 deaths, for an average of fewer than 70 cases each per year. It is easy to see how, with the business so thinly distributed, there is an ever-present compulsion to make each sale a big one, to regard each opportunity as a go!den one. The field is, without question, absurdly overcrowded.

What seems to have happened is that the undertaking population, while increasing roughly in proportion to the increase in the general population, neglected to take into account that the death rate, which was 19 per thousand in 1880, would by 1960 be exactly halved. By now, of course, the funeral directors have learned that while other businessmen eagerly scan the booming population figures and project them in planning for the future, they must gloomily connne themselves to the column headed “deaths per annum.” They can comfort themselves, however, with the thought that in this department 1960′s total of 1.7 million was the best since 1918, when the influenza epidemic helped make a record number of 1.8 million cadavers available to the trade. Mr. Wilber Krieger reports a hopeful trend: “We are coming to the end of a line, we cannot continue to expand the span of life for people indefinitely. It has to turn down. . . . Funeral directors that I’m meeting are telling me that there is a slight increase in mortality rate. So perhaps this trend that was forecast by a market analyst is becoming evident even a little ahead of his schedule.”

Funeral Costs So many undertakers competing for so few funerals should create, one would expect, a buyer’s market, leading to lower prices. The opposite, we know, has occurred, and funeral prices have increased sinfully in the last fifty years. This paradoxical state of affairs can be explained in part, but not entirely, by the special features of the funeral transaction, discussed in the previous chapter, which strip the customer of the bargaining advantages he would normally enjoy in a competitive market.

The truth of the matter is that price competition in the funeral business has in many parts of the country been stifled virtually to extinction by price-fixing agreements. Since price-fixing agreements are illegal under the antitrust laws, there can be no question of the undertakers in a given area getting together and publishing a minimum price schedule.

How, then, is it done? It is no secret that members of local associations of funeral directors, usually at the city or county level, arrive at an understanding that «the lowest price at which the funeral director will be fairly compensated” in the given area is «X’ dollars. This figure is arrived at by estimating the «average overhead per case” in the area.

Average overhead per case,” as used in undertaking circles, is a fictitious figure compounded of guesswork and hope. Each undertaker estimates his own average per case by totaling expenses for the previous year (labor costs, rent, equipment, depreciation, etc.), adding to it his estimate of the value of his own time, plus in some cases his hoped-for profit, and dividing the total by the number of adult funerals he handled in the previous year. These estimates are pooled and from them is produced the average.

In one area (where the matter is, as of this writing, under investigation by antitrust lawyers), the average overhead is estimated to be $475. The wholesale cost of the cheapest coffin sold in this area is $40. Add this to the overhead, and $515 becomes the “lowest price at which the funeral director will be fully compensated” for his cheapest funeral. This becomes the established minimum price at which a funeral is offered by the conforming funeral directors. Once the line is set for the minimum casket and service, there is no attempt to fix prices for the higher-priced caskets. In fact above the area minimum there is no uniformity, and a casket selling for $895 in one establishment may be found in another priced at $1,195.

The participating undertakers attempt to hold the line by publicizing the overhead cost figures, by reminding their brethren that he who sells for less than $515 (except of course in cases deserving of charity) is hurting not only himself but all other funeral directors in the area as well.

Generally speaking, these arrangements are of greatest benefit to the smaller operators, the 60 per cent who average about one funeral a week, the 95 per cent who conduct fewer than 300 in the course of a year, whose very existence depends upon an effective shield from competition. The larger establishments, having lower operating expenses per case, benefit also; but they, and the chain operators who are beginning to emerge in this once highly individualized business, are the ones who first become restive under the restraints upon competition and who have in some areas already upset the applecart by advertising low-cost funerals.

When this happens, the little men who control the state associations of funeral directors can be counted on to move into action with the biggest guns they can find, which is like trying to plug a leak by blasting it with heavy artillery. In 1961 Mr. Nicholas Daphne, one of San Francisco’s largest operators, was expelled from the California Funeral Directors Association, charged with a breach of ethics. The transgression which drew the penalty was advertising $150 funerals, at a time when other San Francisco undertakers were trying to hold the line at $500 for a minimum funeral service. Related to this charge was another: Daphne had contracts with two funeral societies to furnish low-cost funerals for their members.

Daphne’s expulsion from the Association became frontpage news in San Francisco. He was featured in national magazines as a friend of the consumer, doing battle against the price fixers and the monopolists. His already prosperous business prospered even more mightily. Then Forest Lawn of Los Angeles, whose mortuary handles over 6,000 funerals a year (one hundred times the volume of the average undertaker), took Daphne’s ouster as its cue to blast the Association for its ban on price advertising. It resigned from the state association in a burst of publicity and followed up by blanketing Los Angeles with hundreds of billboards bearing the simple legend “Undertaking: $145.” Utter-McKinley, a competitor with a chain of 16 mortuaries in the Los Angeles area, was not slow to respond, and soon hundreds of new billboards were uttering: “Undertaking: $100.” Surveying the wreckage left in the wake of Daphne’s expulsion, Mortuary Management was moved to comment gloomily, “Like the Cuban invasion-ill-timed, improperly planned, mishandled. The intentions were honorable but the results disastrous.”

No matter what the eventual development of the funeral industry-whether it remains overcrowded and inefficient or moves, as seems inevitable, in the direction of the large supermarket type of operation-there is cold comfort for the consumer. Once having driven out their small competitors, there is no reason to believe the big-volume concerns will demonstrate a more tender regard for the pocketbooks of their customers than has traditionally been the case in the Dismal Trade.

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Funerals Many relatives ask us about assistance in funeral arrangements especially when a death has been unexpected and the family are left in utter shock and denial, or in a stage of confusion and anger. Many patients request that their bodies be donated to medical schools or they ask for cremation, to the dismay of their families.

It is of utmost importance that we – the living and healthy – make our wishes known to our families (and lawyers) and that we all have a last will prepared before illness or death occurs. In this manner the family can calmly express their views and objections at a time when we are not emotionally upset. We all should choose a funeral home ahead of time and – if we should so desire – join a memorial society which can assist us at the time of need.

Donations of organs have to be done immediately after death occurs and the family should have the necessary information as to whom to notify in the case of sudden death, in order to gratify the wishes of the deceased.

When all this information has to be collected at the time of death it is often too time-consuming and compromise solutions result which are often disappointing and quite costly to the family.

Do you feel that the American ritual of viewing the deceased and elaborate funerals, etc., is destructive?

I think people should express their own wishes in regard to funerals. Unfortunately there are many social pressures which often require all too often elaborate and expensive funerals and are really unnecessary. We have to understand that funerals are meant to gratify the needs of the family and the relatives and not the deceased. My personal belief is that the viewing of the body is only necessary if the family has not been prepared for the death of their relative, as in the case of a sudden unexpected death. In this circumstance it is important that the family can view the body before the funeral in order to face the reality of the beloved one’s death. Otherwise, if there has been a prolonged illness, I regard the viewing of the body an unnecessary ritual. I also believe personally in very simple funerals with a closed casket and brief meeting with the family and relatives which gives them an opportunity to talk together about the deceased, to share memories and a meal together. I think that the elaborate expensive display of an open casket with all the makeup in the slumber room enforces the belief that the person is only asleep and in my personal opinion would only help to prolong the stage of denial.

What do you think about funerals? Do you believe they prolong agony or result in acceptance?

I believe a simple ritual is necessary to publicly and openly face the reality of the death; to be together once more and to share memories together. But the elaborate unnecessary ritual with all its commercial aspects not only prolongs the agony of the family, but adds further expensive costs to the already horrendous expenses that the family often has had to endure during a long illness.

My family and I are funeral directors. We’re generally close to those we serve, and especially with children we try to take extra time to talk and listen. What counseling advice would you have for us?

Funeral directors have often misused the family’s feelings of guilt and unfinished business in order to commercialize their products and to have greater profits in their business. This part of the funeral business I intensely dislike. There are funeral directors who are not exclusively commercially oriented and who truly care for the families of the people they serve. I find it very sad that we have to have such elaborate and expensive funerals which serve no purpose except, perhaps, to alleviate some guilt feelings on the part of the family. I think if funeral directors would listen to the needs of the families, also the financial needs and requests for simplicity, they could help tremendously and they would have a much better reputation. Also, funeral homes should be open for visits by young people, church groups, and high school children-to help them consider death as a part of life.

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