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Funerals, cremation, home funerals, green burial, memorial services

Saying goodbye to the dead, during the pandemic

The coronavirus forces us to change our burial traditions.

• "To all people, being close to your loved ones when they pass is important. But to Black people, being able to have a funeral and eulogy is sometimes the only time day workers and frontline workers get to be important. It’s the only day other than a wedding day that everything is about you. To be denied that celebration of life—we call them homegoings, rather than funerals—I knew we would be devastated for years to come. The numbers have dropped, but the trauma has not." ~T. D. Jakes on How White Evangelicals Lost Their Way (Emma Green, The Atlantic, 5-31-21)
Funeral Planning in the Time of COVID-19 (Emily Gurnon, Next Avenue, 4-7-2020) Experts offer alternatives for services and connecting with others.
What Loss (Love Grief Memory Mourning) Looks Like (Dani Blum and Jaspal Riyait, NY Times, 4-6-21) "During the pandemic, funerals and memorial services have been curtailed, leaving many of us unable to celebrate a lost loved one's memory in traditional ways. To acknowledge our collective losses, The Times asked readers to share photos of objects that remind them of those who died over the last year, whether from the coronavirus or other causes. These images and interviews form a virtual memorial." The objects they chose may surprise you. Share an Object of Remembrance Show the Times staff the artifacts that help you memorialize those you lost during the pandemic. Your submission may be included in their virtual memorial.
A Funeral Home Director's View of the Pandemic (Alexandra Kathryn Mosca, Next Avenue, 4-27-2020) The pain that she and colleagues feel, turning away the grieving, the heroic job funeral directors are being overwhelmed with.
Burials without funerals, grief without hugs: Coronavirus is changing how we say goodbye (Peter D. Kramer, USA Today, 4-2-2020 Gone are huge public funerals and wakes in funeral homes filled with mourners who cry and laugh, linger and reminisce. In their place across much of the country are family-only funeral home visitations of 10 or fewer, livestreamed memorials and plans to gather when the world gets back to normal....Maggie Farley wants to remember the way her father lived – the Denver probate lawyer's sense of humor, integrity and decades fighting for affordable housing – not how he died of COVID-19 with no family permitted at his hospital bedside. “Dying alone is the hardest part, but it's also really hard to grieve alone,” Farley said. “People think that doing a video conference or talking to the friends on Zoom or Zoom cocktail hour is awkward and alienating, but grieving alone is really isolating."
A Funeral Home Director's View of the Pandemic (Alexandra Kathryn Mosca, Next Avenue, 4-27-2020) A narrative account of how hard it is for families who may not even be able to see their loved ones before they are buried, who can’t hold or attend funerals, and what the life of a funeral director must be like these days – how very on overload they are. Heroes, along with the health care workers--and how bad they feel turning away family.
I’m a funeral director. The pandemic has made saying goodbye painfully lonely. (Char Barrett, Outlook, Washington Post, 4-1-2020) "Funeral directing is already an odd profession. But during the coronavirus pandemic, it has become surreal. While our work is deemed essential — by the authorities and by all of humanity, day in, day out — the outbreak has changed virtually everything for us...with this outbreak, families are no longer in control when someone dies. Covid-19 is in control....Our modern death-denying culture has made us fearful of our dead. Usually, we can balance fear with love, and show compassion to those who died as well as those left behind in grief. Covid-19, sadly, is now making us fear the living, as well."
Online Funeral Businesses Take Off Amid Coronavirus (Margot Boyer-Dry, Wall Street Journal, 5-9-2020) "At the suggestion of a friend, Danielle Anders from Reno, Nev., recently held a virtual memorial for her 24-year-old son, Dominic....GatheringUs helped moderate the event, setting up a welcome screen, playing a slideshow and contextualizing the family’s choice in music, explaining its significance through the chat window as it played....Ms. Anders, who wasn’t sure what to expect from an online memorial, found the service to be a surprisingly powerful experience...Going online made it possible to assemble Dominic’s friends and family across the country, she says. “It allowed so many more people to be a part of it than might have been if we had done it in person, even in regular times.”
Offering Sympathy From a Distance in the Time of Coronavirus (Margie Zable Fisher, Next Avenue, 3-19-2020) When a friend is grieving a loss, here are ways to provide support.
Gathering Us A lasting online space that brings communities together after a death. Post a free obituary, crowdfund for expenses or a charity, create gatherings and inform your community.
Disruption comes for death (Allie Volpe, Vox, 4-23-2020) Cremation is on the rise. Whimsical and environmentally friendly businesses are changing the final frontier. Pods were first designed in Italy in 2003 and sold online since 2014... Solace's specially designed urns scream minimalism — a sleek, recyclable white box. The company, which serves the Portland, Ore., and Seattle metro areas, charges a flat rate of $895 for collection, cremation and delivery of remains, including fees and taxes. Prearrangements—essentially, reserving a slot for cremation in advance of death—have increased by 70% since January.
First We Must Weep (Rabbi Sharon Brous) A rabbi's moving sermon on how we mustn't mourn just for our own -- we must mourn for all the lost, including the pour soul who died alone, with no one to mourn for him. Hold the long view, even in the midst of tragedy. "Though the arc of the moral universe is long, it bends toward justice."
Cemetery workers scramble to bury the dead during pandemic: 'It's just too much for us' (Christopher Maag, NorthJersey.com, USA Today, 5-11-2020) “I’ve never in all my years experienced anything as bad as this,” said Gary Sciarrino, 64, who has managed the East Ridgelawn Cemetery in Clifton for more than 30 years. “It’s just too much for us.” Normally the cemetery performs about 40 burials and 190 cremations a month, Sciarrino said. This April, workers here buried 148 people. They cremated 448. To keep up, Sciarrino added another shift to his crew.Cemeteries in New York and New Jersey are particularly overwhelmed. “It’s all hands on deck.”
As coronavirus upends funerals in Colorado and elsewhere, there’s hope the pandemic will spur openness about grief (Jessica Seamon, Denver Post, 5-10-2020) At Seven Stones cemetery in Littleton there’s been an uptick in pre-planning for funerals, said Becky Holm, director of customer care at Seven Stones cemetery in Littleton, Colorado. 'As funerals are limited to 10 people under social-distancing guidelines, many people are having loved ones cremated and waiting until later to hold celebration-of-life ceremonies. Others are going ahead with the ceremonies, but filming or livestreaming the services for those who can’t be there. “People are going to find a way to grieve the loss of their loved one no matter the parameters that are placed on them,” Holm said.
Funerals go virtual in the pandemic. Here's how to plan one with meaning and honor the dead (Ryan Prior, CNN, 4-16-2020) A small contingent of Alicia de Artola's family gathers to pay tribute to her late grandmother. More than 100 others participated in the Mass online. Alicia de Artola said the virtual funeral for her grandmother drew about 50 participants or households via Zoom, and another 50 or so via a Facebook livestream at the same time. (Photos show how it worked.) The whole family used their imagination and skills to make the virtual funeral as immersive as possible, so they could suspend disbelief during the ceremony.
Situation Update: Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) (National Funeral Directors Association) The CDC Coronavirus Guidance for Funeral Directors has been broken out into different sections for easier navigation.

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Planning for a funeral

Note: Federal law requires that funeral homes provide prices over the phone. If a funeral business offers you a package price, ask for a detailed breakdown--there may be services you will want to refuse. See Planning for a funeral (advice from the Federal Trade Commission).


TIP: The FTC Funeral Rule (Federal Trade Commission) "The Funeral Rule, enforced by the Federal Trade Commission (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." Further discussed: (1) You have the right to select only the goods and/or services you want. (2) You cannot be charged for embalming unless you authorize it. (3) You don't need to buy a casket if you decide to cremate a loved one.


TIP: "Though most funeral homes will encourage embalming after eight hours, they cannot force you to choose it, and some will refrigerate the body instead for up to a week."~ Miller and Berger, A Beginner's Guide to the End

What's the difference between a casket and a coffin? See Coffins, caskets and urns.
Common Funeral Myths (Funeral Consumers Alliance)
Funeral Planning Checklist (a list of all of the issues to consider when planning a funeral, from National Caregivers Library)
Advance Death Care Directive (Sacred Crossings) A 24-page planning booklet for after-death care, funeral and disposition. Personally plan your own funeral, so your family doesn't have to guess what you would want.
I bought a 'pre-need' funeral package for my mother. She didn't mind (Bert Stratton, LA Times, 5-14-17) See also Are You Ready to Die? A Home Funeral Checklist Another helpful (and different) checklist!
Shopping for funeral services (Federal Trade Commission)
Your rights as a funeral consumer, state by state (Funeral Consumers Alliance)
Funeral Pricing Checklist (make copies of this page and check with several funeral homes to compare costs, recommends the Federal Trade Commission. This is part of Shopping for Funeral Services (Consumer information, FTC). See also Calculating the Actual Cost of a Funeral and Funeral Fees.
U.S. Funerals Guides by State
Executive Producing Your Own Goodbye ( Jane Condon, Modern Loss, 3-31-16) My father-in-law was a planner his entire life. The end was no exception. The funeral as a celebration of life.
Funeral Insurance (Gail Rubin, A Good Good-bye). The pros and cons of "pre-need funeral insurance" sold through funeral homes (tying you to them) and "final expense insurance" (a small whole life policy that typically ranges from $3,000 to $50,000 in benefits), both of which are different from regular life insurance (which may not pay out when the money is needed). And what to beware of.
Planning a Funeral: 8 Things Funeral Directors Want You to Know (Gail Rubin, Sixty + Me, 1-16-17) Rubin's motto: "Talking about sex won't make you pregnant, and talking about funerals won't make you dead. Start a conversation today!"
• Or establish a Payable-on-death bank account -- or "Totten Trust" (AllLaw).

How not to suck at pre-paying for your funeral (Karin Price Mueller, Consumerist, 1-14-14) Thanks to Gail Rubin for the last three tips.
Mortal remains (Thomas Lynch, Aeon, 1-25-13), an extract from The Good Funeral: Death, Grief, and the Community of Care by Thomas G Long and Thomas Lynch. "‘Grief work’, as Geoffrey Gorer called it years ago, is not so much the brain’s to do as the body’s. Long, criticizing Jessica Mitford for being uneasy about having the body present for a farewell service, and identifies four elements essential to a good funeral: 1) the presence of the dead, 2) people to whom the death matters, 3) "some narrative, some effort towards an answer, however provisional, of those signature human questions about what death means for both the one who has died and those to whom it matters," and 4) "it must accomplish the disposition of the dead...getting the dead where they need to go."

Types of Funerals
Pre-Paid Funeral Plans: Buyer Beware (ElderLaw Answers, 5-1-14)
Advantages and Disadvantages of PreNeed (Pre-Paid) Funeral and Burial Plans (National Care Planning Council, 9-24-09)
Tract (William Carlos Williams' lovely poem about how to perform a funeral)
R.I.P. Off (Barry Yeoman, in a piece that ran in AARP Magazine in 2008, on funeral-industry scandal that's fleecing thousands of Americans. Read this before buying any "pre-need funerals"--that is, pre-need contracts for funerals)
Planning Your Own Funeral (Federal Trade Commission) Good advice about what you can do to be helpful to your survivors and where not to leave your instructions, but be wary about pre-paying for the funeral, for several reasons.
What To Do When You Can't Afford a Funeral (Josh Slocum, Federal Consumers Alliance)
Who Has the Right to Make Decisions About Your Funeral? (Funeral Consumers Alliance, state laws on personal preferences)
My Funeral Choices (simple one-page worksheet, Caring Connections)
• • • 13+ Things A Funeral Director Won’t Tell You (Michelle Crouch, slideshow from Reader's Digest Magazine, June/July 2011). The first of many excellent money-saving secrets provided: Don't pre-pay for your funeral; the firm can go out of business. Keep your money in a pay-on-death account at your bank. Another tip: Many funeral homes don't offer a refrigerated holding room because they want you to pay for the more expensive option: embalming.
A Consumer's Guide To Arranging a Funeral (NY State Department of Health)\
Funeral Consumers Alliance (protecting a consumer's right to choose a meaningful, dignified, affordable funeral--this nonprofit is not connected with the funeral industry). Learn state laws. Order Before I Go Funeral Planning Kit. Keep up to date on the FCA blog, The Daily Dirge
Local affiliates of the Funeral Consumers Alliance
Final Rights: Reclaiming the American Way of Death by Joshua Slocum and Lisa Carlson.
The American Way of Death Revisited (an update on Jessica Mitford's classic, funny, unforgiving book about the funeral industry)
Alternative Funerals (transcript of Morning Edition show, NPR, 3-10-98)
Embalming -- what is it and is it required?. What are your rights as a consumer, and under what circumstances does it make sense? (ICCFA, from the funeral industry). You need it only if you have a public viewing of the body or plan to ship the body across state lines.
Do It Yourself Funerals, transcript of a session of NPR's Morning Edition, The End of Life: Exploring Death in America (reporter Jacki Lyden interviewing George Foy, father of a deceased infant, Lisa Carlson, president of Funeral and Memorial Societies of America, Jan Berman, daughter of a woman who died of AIDS, Thomas Lynch, mortician, poet, and author)
Funeral Music. Recommended selections, with links to music samples.
My Dad Oversaw Sound for the Super Bowl. So the Audio at His Funeral Needed to Be Epic. (Michael Estrin, Narratively, 5-20-16) . . . and no one was going to stop us.
Funerals360 Funeral planning checklist (registration required), casket and cremation information, for planning both in advance and immediately.
Funeral Ethics Organization (FEO) Consumer information, consumer rights, indigent assistance, etc. "Funeral Consumers Alliance has an excellent page on how to deal with funeral home complaints, but feel free to call us for advice for how best to word your complaint, if you wish. Or if your complaint is not about a funeral home but a cemetery or monument dealer instead, FEO probably has additional contacts to suggest. If you are someone from the funeral industry having a problem with another member of the industry, we'd like to hear from you, too. Call 802-482-6021.
The Good Funeral Guide blog (UK-based)
FTC keeps Funeral Rule lapses buried: Plain Dealing (Sheryl Harris, The Plain Dealer, 9-8-12). Undercover investigators for the Federal Trade Commission found violations in twelve Cleveland-area funeral homes, but issued its fines in secrecy. Why protect funeral homes instead of the public?
Straight answers to real questions about funerals (International Cemetery, Cremation, and Funeral Association)
How to Plan a Funeral (Caroline Mayer, Next Avenue, 9-24-12). To avoid being pressured into unnecessary purchases, follow these steps
Funerary Rituals & the Funeral Industry, Michael Kearl's Guide to Thanatology, the Sociology of Death and Dying. Part of Kearl's Death Index. Pretty academic stuff.• Jewish funerals, burial, cremation, and mourning, and other interesting links (Kavod v' Nichum)
Guide to Religious Funerals (Mark Brown, Plymouth, UK) The particulars of Britain's most popular religions and how they observe the passing of those with faith.
A Good Goodbye (Gail Rubin's site, 'funeral planning for those who don't plan to die')
Handbook for Mortals (full text online of consumer guide to end-of-life care by Joanne Lynn and Joan Harrold)
The High Cost of Dying: Funerals, Burials Can Be Expensive by John S. DeMott (AARP Bulletin). There are lower-cost options, and ways to resist sales pressure.
Letting Children Share in Grief (Catherine Saint Louis, NY Times, 9-19-12). New attitudes toward children and funerals--and grief camps, too.
The Perfect Stranger's Guide to Funerals and Grieving Practices: A Guide to Etiquette in Other People's Religious Ceremonies by Stuart Matlins
The High Cost of Dying: Funerals, Burials Can Be Expensive by John S. DeMott (AARP, reprinted in Funeral Alternativess). There are lower-cost options, and ways to resist sales pressure.
Ask a Mortician (Michael Washburn, Univ. of Chicago Magazine, in Utne Reader, July/Aug 2013). Mortician Caitlin Doughty, host of a popular YouTube channel called “Ask a Mortician,” is trying to help us to not be afraid of death and dying.
Native American Funeral Traditions (Gail Rubin, A Good Goodbye, 7-7-10)
Preparation of a Muslim's body for burial (IslamiCity)
Poems and Readings for Funerals and Memorials, compiled by Luisa Moncada.
Prayers, poems, and meditations on this website.
         Tell all my mourners
         To mourn in red --
         Cause there ain't no sense
         In my bein' dead.
                ~ Langston Hughes, "Wake"

"Joy be with you while you stay, and peace be with you on your way." ~ Irish Blessing
Dying: A Book of Comfort

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Veterans death, burial, and survivor benefits

The following sources vary in clarity, level of detail, and user-friendliness,
so check them all and let me know if you recommend something better.

Veterans resources (Funeral home Money & King's useful page: Who is eligible? How do you apply? Reimbursement of burial expenses. Burial Flags. Burial in national VA cemeteries. Headstones and markers. Presidential memorial certificates.)
Burial locations of veterans and their survivors, nationwide (Department of Veterans Affairs)
Survivors and Dependents Benefits (Death After Active Service) (U.S. Dept of Veterans Affairs) and a page to lead you to info particularly for benefits for a veteran, parent, spouse, or child
Veterans' burial benefits. Many state veterans cemeteries provide free burial for veterans and often for veterans' spouses.
Military Connections on Veteran Burial Benefits. Click on links for Military Funerals, Veteran Headstones or Marker, Presidential Memorial Certificate, and so on.
Survivors' veteran burial benefits (click on button for whether service member died in service or after)
Death Pension Benefits (for Widows,Widowers, and Dependent Children
How to Claim Veterans Death Benefits
Survivors and Dependents Benefits (Death After Active Service) (U.S. Dept of Veterans Affairs) and a page to lead you to info particularly for benefits for a veteran, parent, spouse, or child
Obtaining Military Records and Medals (U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs)
Military Funeral Honors (U.S. Dept. of Veterans Affairs) "Honoring Those Who Served"
Origin of the 21-Gun Salute and answers to other frequently asked questions (U.S. Army)
Benefit brochures (on several topics, Veterans Benefits Administration)
Pentagon Reorganizing How It Brings Home America's War Dead (Kelly McEvers, Morning Edition, NPR News Investigations, 3-31-04) Listen to story or read transcript.
Grave Science (Kelly McEvers, NPR, and Megan McCloskey, ProPublica, on NPR 3-6-14). The U.S. military's effort to recover and bring home the remains of its service members who were missing in action is slow, inefficient, and stymied by outdated methods.
A Veteran Had a Yard Sale to Pay for His Own Funeral. Two Men Helped Him Raise $58,000. (Jacey Fortin, NY Times, 9-30-18) David Dunkleberger and Ed Sheets spent about ten dollars at a yard sale held by Willie Davis, 66, a Navy veteran who explained that he was trying to raise money for a funeral. Mr. Davis had received a diagnosis of terminal cancer and was trying to get rid of his possessions. He figured it would cost thousands of dollars to pay for a funeral and a burial in Culpeper, Va., next to his parents. After Mr. Dunkleberger and Mr. Sheets left the yard sale in Johnstown, Pa., they could not stop thinking about Mr. Davis’s final wishes. “To me it was such a heartbreaking story,” Mr. Sheets said. “And the fact that he didn’t want to be a burden to anybody else — I just found that incredible.” So the two men set up a fundraising account to help cover the costs. A heartwarming story.

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Farewells to veterans

This WWII homeless veteran had no family. So 200 strangers showed up for her funeral. (Colby Itkowitz, WaPo, 6-10-16)
After seven decades, a missing World War II soldier’s remains are buried in Virginia (John Woodrow Cox, WaPo, 10-3-14)
Soldier Dead: How We Recover, Identify, Bury, and Honor Our Military Fallen by Michael Sledge. "The dense and often disturbing book shows the impact of soldiers' deaths on military staff."~Samantha Sordyl, Washington Post
In Flanders Fields (Wikipedia)
Fallen Soldier on My Delta Flight (Johnny Jet, 2013)
The Story of TAPS
Veteran’s funeral: ‘Doesn’t matter what war or who it is. It’s family.’ (Sara Wagner, Wane.com, 12-17-15)
My Grandfather’s Secret D-Day Journal (Barry Svrluga, Washington Post, 5-30-19) A powerful story in which voices from the past and present reveal a lifetime's emotional history, with a journal from the past bringing the horrors of D-Day vividly to life.
History Interpreters Keep Alive Memories of Fallen D-Day Soldiers (Bill Hinchberger, Epoch Times, 6-5-19) Cambridge and Normandy count among the 26 U.S. military cemeteries and 30 memorials in more than a dozen countries administered by the American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC), a U.S. government agency. Most commemorate the service of Americans in World Wars I and II. The generations who lived through those wars have nearly died off, so the agency's mission and “target audiences” have shifted. “ABMC is making a transition from a mourning to a commemorative agency,” with stories keeping alive memories of the event.
War and Remembrance: The Story of the American Battle Monuments Commission by Thomas H. Conner.
The Foreign Burial of American War Dead: A History by Chris Dickon. Normandy, Flanders Field, and other overseas cemeteries of the American Battle Monument Commission (ABMC) are well known, but lesser-known burial sites of American war dead exist all over the world--in Australia and across the Pacific Rim, in Canada and Mexico, Libya and Spain, most of Europe and as far north as the Russian Arctic. This history of American soldiers buried abroad since the American Revolution traces the evolution of American attitudes and practices about war dead and provides the names and locations of those still buried abroad in non-ABMC locations. By the author of Americans at War in Foreign Forces: A History, 1914-1945. By the time the U.S. had entered World Wars I and II, tens of thousands of Americans had already fought and died in those conflicts in the uniforms of other nations. Preceding their own nation to war, they influenced the course of events in those years and, though threatened with loss of citizenship, were ultimately met with the acceptance of their own government. This book tells their story.
Online War of 1812 Indexes and Records, part of Online Military Indexes and Records - USA (a genealogy guide). Covers War of 1812, Mexican War, Civil War, Spanish American War, World Wars I and II, Korean War, and Vietnam War.

A WWII vet’s body lay unclaimed at the morgue. Then neighbors did something beautiful. (Steve Hendrix, WaPo, 4-8-16)

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Funerals and other ceremonies for the dead,
including memorial services and celebrations of life

“There is no real ending. It’s just the place where you stop the story.”
~ Frank Herbert

Funeral wishes:Don’t leave it too late to talk about them (Humanist Ceremonies, UK)
--- Would you prefer a green burial, a traditional burial, a cremation, or direct cremation (no mourners present)? Or would you like to leave your body to medical research?
--- Would you prefer a non-religious or religious funeral?
--- Where would you like the funeral to be held?
--- Who would you like to conduct the funeral ceremony?
Happy funerals: A celebration of life? (Jon Kelly BBC News Magazine, 6-14-15) Instead of looking ahead to the afterlife, British funerals increasingly rejoice in memories of the deceased's triumphs, relationships and their favourite songs. There's a phrase for ceremonies like this - "a celebration of life". Interesting story and photos and a sidebar on popular funeral music for these Celebrations of Life: Monty Python's Always Look on the Bright Side of Life, Who Wants to Live Forever and Don't Stop Me Now (Queen), the theme tunes to Coronation Street, Downton Abbey and Strictly Come Dancing.
Take Me Out to the Ballgame. "This week I attended the funeral of a man I did not know well but had worked with and admired. It was the funeral we all would like to have, a tribute to a long life well lived and well loved. The speakers were his four children, each with wonderful stories of his and her own particular and individual relationship with him. The last daughter said that he sang her to sleep every night with "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" and that his favorite food was chocolate chip cookies and milk. So at the end of the service we all sang "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" and then as we left there were platters of chocolate chip cookies for each of us to enjoy in his memory." ~Nell Minow, on Facebook, June 2014 (reprinted by permission). You'll find more on funerals on Nell's blog/website: End of Life Stories. (a safe place to share stories of love and loss, devastating grief, exhausting care-giving, memorials, advanced directives, mourning, hope, and despair. "What you wish you had known or done differently, what you wish those around you had known or done differently, and what went right. We will never tell you to move on or find closure.") The coronavirus forces us to change our burial traditions.

• "To all people, being close to your loved ones when they pass is important. But to Black people, being able to have a funeral and eulogy is sometimes the only time day workers and frontline workers get to be important. It’s the only day other than a wedding day that everything is about you. To be denied that celebration of life—we call them homegoings, rather than funerals—I knew we would be devastated for years to come. The numbers have dropped, but the trauma has not." ~T. D. Jakes on How White Evangelicals Lost Their Way (Emma Green, The Atlantic, 5-31-21)
Funerals 360/End of Life Guides. Your legal rights and options in end-of-life vary depending on your location. Select a state on the 360 map to learn about the local regulations on advance directives, designated funeral agents, death with dignity, home funerals, personal preferences laws, and financial assistance -- everything funerals -- available from the state or local government.
Parting. Compare local funeral homes for price and quality. Choose a location and click on Search.
Federal Trade Commission: Funeral Costs and Pricing Checklist. Use checklist when visiting funeral homes.
At His Own Wake, Celebrating Life and the Gift of Death (Catherine Porter, NY Times, 5-25-17) Tormented by an incurable disease, John Shields knew that dying openly and without fear could be his legacy, if his doctor, friends and family helped him. Two days before he was scheduled to die, John Shields roused in his hospice bed with an unusual idea. He wanted to organize an Irish wake for himself. It would be old-fashioned with music and booze, except for one notable detail — he would be present.
Funerals in the House Chamber (History, Art, & Archives, US House of Representatives) Funerals in the House Chamber
Always Go to the Funeral (Deirdre Sullivan, All Things Considered, NPR, 8-8-05) "Always go to the funeral" means that I have to do the right thing when I really, really don't feel like it....I'm talking about those things that represent only inconvenience to me, but the world to the other guy. You know, the painfully under-attended birthday party. The hospital visit during happy hour." ('Sullivan says her father's greatest gift to her and her family was how he ushered them through the process of his death.')
The Unexpected Comfort of Livestreaming Funerals (Cranberries, End of Life Stories, 7-30-19) It's useful not only for those who can't attend but (if recorded) also for those whose grief and shock make them forget what was said.
Emmett Till’s Open Casket Funeral Reignited the Civil Rights Movement (Katie Nodjimbadem, Smithsonian, 9-2-15) In 1955, Jet magazine published photos of the disfigured and decomposed body of slain 14-year-old African American Emmett Till, rattling communities across the country and reigniting a widespread passion for the Civil Rights Movement. The actions of Till's young mother Mamie Till Mobley pushed her son’s tragic death into the international spotlight. "When Mamie held an open casket funeral on September 3, 1955, she urged the world to look at her son’s beaten, swollen body. The body, which was so disfigured that he was only identifiable by the initials on a ring on his finger, was viewed by thousands of people and photographed and published in newspapers and magazines.... “In order to come to grips with this tragedy, she saw Emmett as being crucified on the cross of racial injustice,” says Lonnie Bunch, founding director of the National Museum of African American History and Culture. “And she felt that in order for his life not to be in vain, that she needed to use that moment to illuminate all of the dark corners of America and help push America toward what we now call the Civil Rights Movement.”
Grandma's Coffin Keeper (Listen to Wen Huang on Snap Judgment, NPR) How far will you go to fulfill your grandma's dying (and very illegal) wish? When Wenguang Huang was nine years old, his grandmother became obsessed with her own death. Fearing cremation, she extracted from her family the promise to bury her after she died. This was in Xian, a city in central China, in the 1970s, when a national ban on all traditional Chinese practices, including burials, was strictly enforced. But Huang’s grandmother was persistent, and two years later, his father built her a coffin. He also appointed his older son, Wenguang, as coffin keeper, a distinction that meant, among other things, sleeping next to the coffin at night. From Wen Huang's book, The Little Red Guard: A Family Memoir. "Lyrical and poignant, funny and heartrending, The Little Red Guard is the powerful tale of an ordinary family finding their way through turbulence and transition."
Pyre (Amitava Kumar, Granta 130, 3-9-15) "I was fifty years old and had never before attended a funeral....That my mother’s corpse had been dressed as a bride was new and disconcerting, and I’d have preferred a plainer look; on the other hand, the body placed on the bamboo bier, its canopy covered with an orange sheet of cotton, was a familiar daily sight on the streets of my childhood. In my notebook that night I noted that my contribution to the funeral had been limited to lighting my mother’s funeral pyre. In more ways than one, the rituals of death had reminded me that I was an outsider."
Drinking with the Dead (Garrett McGrath, Narratively, 7-4-13) In a rollicking pub on the edge of the Bronx, an Irish-American enclave clings tight to the tradition of celebrating, rather than mourning, their dead. “Why would I want anyone being sad at my wake?”
A Fitting Farewell in Atlantic City (Stacey Freed, Modern Loss, 6-6-18) Here’s how we said goodbye to my clever, caustic, complicated mother.
Directing Your Final Exit: Lessons from Nora Ephron about Death and Dying (Susan Soper, Legacy.com blog, 7-23-12). And here's a Huffington Post story (with photos) about Nora Ephron's funeral
•  “They say such nice things about people at their funerals that it makes me sad to realize that I'm going to miss mine by just a few days.” ~ Garrison Keillor, Good Poems for Hard Times
Living Consciously, Dying Gracefully - A Journey with Cancer and Beyond by Nancy Manahan and Becky Bohan (how Diane Manahan chose to live life fully at the end and die at home)
The new death industry: funeral businesses that won’t exploit grief (Louise Tickle, The Guardian, UK, 1-8-18) From the ‘mushroom death suit’ to no funeral at all, entrepreneurs are transforming the burial sector. Woodland burials in wicker coffins are no longer novel, but the invention of the “mushroom death suit” – which utilises fungal spores – takes the eco-friendly approach to disposing of a body to a different level.
How secular Americans are reshaping funeral rituals (Simon Davis, The Gazette, 12-17-15) "With the notable exception of Eastern Orthodox churches, most Christian denominations no longer actively oppose cremation. Reform Judaism also permits it. Islam prohibits cremation but mandates burial without a casket. Buddhist and Hindu traditions have long encouraged cremation....even for religious families, it can be seamlessly incorporated into centuries-old traditions....'When a family chooses cremation, it’s (just) an extra step. You’ve got the Mass, you’ve got the wake, you go to the cemetery … but first we go to the crematory.'”
When Your Loved One’s Last Wish Was ‘No Funeral’ (Tré Miller Rodríguez, Modern Loss, 9-3-15)
And at the End, All the Comforts of the Carlyle (Corey Kilgannon, New York Times, 10-21-08, writing about a memorial service that "was a sophisticated, poignant and kick-up-your-heels affair, almost like something out of a Cole Porter song")
A Final Journey With Mom (Joe Hakes, Newsweek, My Turn, 11/10/07) When it was time to scatter her ashes, I was able to remember her all over again.
The new art of dying (Jessie Li, Axios, 8-10-19) Modern burials and death practices are changing how we die and where our bodies go after we die. More of us get cremated and our obits go online. But our final disposal? Variations include being shot into space (expensive), being turned into a diamond, green burial, green cremation, an end-of-life ceremony, digital tombstones, being reunited with a pet, a living wake (pre-death), live-streamed funeral, dispersal at Disney World).
Funerals remain a segregated business in the South. "Helpful Hands on Life's Last Segregated Journey" by Kim Severson (NY Times, 6-23-12). Severson interviews Charles Menendez on the art of embalming and the art of handling different types of grief. "If Sunday remains the most segregated day in the South, funerals remain the most segregated business," writes Severson. "In the same way that generations of tradition dictate the churches people attend, the races tend to bury their own."
Celebrating the History of African-American Funeral Traditions (Gail Rubin, A Good Goodbye, 2-1-17) Fascinating history as told by funeral director and funeral home owner Allen Dave.
In South L.A., professional pallbearers have an uplifting touch (Nita Lelyveld, Los Angeles Times 6-2-14). Look at that photo. "Cars stopped. A crowd gathered. All the neighbors came out. The man who died had not been rich, but who would know?"
The Heroes of Burial Road (Catherine Porter, with amazing photos & video by Daniel Berehulak, NY Times, 12-13-17) Nearly eight years after the earthquake, some Haitians remain blisteringly poor. Many cannot bury their loved ones. One group of men has stepped in. While most of one man's efforts in Haiti had focused on helping children avoid death, he had come to see they needed help after death too.
Taking Chance Home (Marine Lieutenant Colonel Strobl's simple and moving account of escorting the remains of Lance Corporal Chance Phelps home from Dover Air Force Base). You can watch HBO's film based on the story, Taking Chance, starring Kevin Bacon. Or check out the Chance Phelps Foundation.
Nudity, profanity, and music energize Roger Ebert’s raucous Chicago memorial (Nathan Rabin, A.V. Club, 4-15-13) "Death has a way of washing away sins and transforming people into paper saints. But the joyous memorial for Roger Ebert at the Chicago Theatre last Thursday night was a celebration of an unabashed sinner, a man of rapacious appetites and a lust for life that carried him through years of intense trauma."
Living by a Creed: Death Be Not Ugly; Harlem Undertaker Softens Grief By Taking Great Care in His Work (Alan Feuer, NY Times, 1-2-03) The most artful undertaker in Harlem is a sweet-natured, God-fearing, gospel-singing man named the Rev. Isaiah Owens, whose funeral home on Lenox Avenue and 121st Street boasts the slogan, ''Where beauty softens your grief.''
Women Are Revolutionizing the Death Industry (Tessa Love, Dame Magazine, 7-31-17) Over the past decade, more women have entered the standard death industry (57 percent of mortuary-science students are now women), but more than that, women are spearheading the effort to re-naturalize dying, and take death back from the $16 billion-dollar industry. Called death positive, death acceptance, or death literate, this movement is working to change everything from how we talk about and prepare, to where we die, how we’re interred, and where our final remains go. In short, while reclaiming a place for women in death, these women are simultaneously changing the way we die....The home death movement often intersects with the green or eco-burial movement, which is also being led by women. "In a green or eco-burial, all of this waste is avoided, and rather than becoming a burden on the environment, the dead foster new life: In addition to forgoing embalming, bodies are buried in either renewable wood, woven willow or wicker caskets, or wrapped in raw cotton, linen or even paper, all of which decompose with the body. There are no vaults, and the bodies are placed in nature preserves or sanctuaries, effectively protecting the environment rather contaminating it."
Teacher's dying wish: Backpacks full of supplies for needy students instead of flowers at her funeral (Kendra Mann/ABC7, 6-25-17)
The Undertaking (PBS Frontline program featuring Thomas Lynch, funeral director in a small Michigan town, documenting funeral arrangements and families' reactions to grief), watch online, buy the DVD, or read the transcript. You can also read the online chat with producers Miri Navasky and Karen O'Connor (Washington Post, 10-31-07)
Hunter Thompson's ashes fired into sky (BBC, 8-21-05) The ashes of gonzo journalist Hunter S Thompson have been blown into the sky from a cannon in Aspen, Colorado. His ashes were fired from a 150ft tower topped by a red fist with two thumbs -- the symbol of Thompson's free-wheeling, first-person gonzo journalism.
Antam Sanskaar: the Sikh Funeral Ceremony (Learn Religions)
Funeral & Burial Rituals From Around The World (Everplans)

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Burial alternatives

Alternative Burial (Marilyn Morley's wonderfully interesting Facebook group, with illustrations)
• Burial Alternatives – 23 Ultimate Ways To Check Out )(Lexikin) Once over lightly, illustrated.
• After Death: 8 Burial Alternatives That Are Going Mainstream(Stephanie Pappas, LiveScience, 9-9-11) (1)"Resomation or 'bio-cremation,' uses heated water and potassium hydroxide to liquefy the body, leaving only bones behind. The bones are then pulverized, much as in regular cremation, and the bone fragments are returned to the family. (2) Natural burial (wrapped in a shroud, bodies decompose naturally). (3) Eternal Reefs. (4) Cryonics (freezing). (5) Space burial. (6) Mummification. (7) Plastination (preserving the body in a semi-recognizable form for use in medical schools and anatomy labs). (8) Freeze-drying (or promession). Not mentioned: Bios urns and Burial pods.
Canada's first 'body farm' to open in Quebec — and people are already signing up to be donors (Sharon Kirkey, National Post, Canada, 5-16-19) The Secure Site for Research in Thanatology will research how human bodies decompose in a Canadian climate, information crucial for death investigations.
Answers to questions about burial at sea (Sea Services, which offers services and information about various alternatives)
A Living Reef Memorial (YouTube) is an ecological alternative to traditional burial, in that, it eternally gives back to the ones we leave behind. Cremains are cast into an artificial reef that mimics the habitat of thousands of species of marine life.
Full Cemeteries Lead to Alternative Burial Practices (Nancy Mullane, NPR, 6-4-06) What happens when there is no more earth to sell at the cemetery to pay for the cemetery? It's a problem across the nation. The city of Sonoma, Calif., recently voted to build a new mausoleum to stack caskets and burial urns. Meanwhile, a private cemetery in a neighboring town is offering environmentally correct green burials: no headstones, and hand-held global positioning devices to find loved ones on hillsides restored with native plants.
Give My Body to the Birds: The Practice of Sky Burial (Meg Van Huygen, Atlas Obscura, 3-11-14) "Sky burial is currently the preferred practice in Tibet when a loved one dies. Religion aside, a few other factors come into play here: generally, the soil in Tibet is a layer of permafrost only a few centimeters deep, and it covers solid rock, making it hard to dig. Wood is also difficult to come by, as most of Tibet is above the tree line, so cremation is a difficult process."
As permafrost thaws, village cemeteries sink into swamp (Teresa Cotsirilos, KYUK, Alaska Public Radio,10-2-17) As the permafrost thaws, Kongiganak’s cemetery is turning into swampland.
The Secret Lives of Cadavers (Vivian McCall, National Geographic, 7-19-16) Dissecting a human body is essential training for aspiring physicians, such as these medical students at the University of Chicago. This is how lifeless bodies become life-saving tools.
What Does My Family Need to Do If I’m Placed on Hospice Care? (MedCure, 3-19-19) How do you become a whole body donor? What should I know about being a body donor? Is there anything to know about donating your body to science? A helpful guide for our donors to share with the people in their lives to educate them on what to expect when they call MedCure.
An Alternative to Burial and Cremation Gains Popularity (Jonah Engel Bromwich, NY Times, 10-18-17) What do you want done with your body after you die? Because even in death, your choices affect the planet. A new alternative to burial or cremation is "a liquefaction process called by a variety of names — flameless cremation, green cremation or the 'Fire to Water' method, chemically known as alkaline hydrolysis. A machine (shown) uses a chemical bath to dissolve protein, blood and fat, leaving only a coffee-colored liquid, powdery bone and any metal implants, like dental fillings....Alkaline hydrolysis has been used to dispose of human cadavers and dead pets since the process was modernized in the 1990s. About 10 years ago, the machines became available for ordinary funerals, and now families are requesting it more frequently."
In Photos: The Smoked Mummies of Papua New Guinea
My mushroom burial suit(YouTube video, TED Talk, 10-14-11) A powerful provocation from artist Jae Rhim Lee. Can we commit our bodies to a cleaner, greener Earth, even after death? Naturally -- using a special burial suit seeded with pollution-gobbling mushrooms. This might be the strangest TEDTalk you'll ever see.
Leicestershire gran buried in 'box of teabags' coffin (BBC UK, 11-4-19) Leicestershire gran buried in 'box of teabags' coffin.
Boomers Seek 'Green' Death (Heather Whipps, LiveScience,11-30-07) Green burial—which eschews the use of embalming chemicals and caskets that refuse to biodegrade—is on the rise across North America, say trend trackers. Environment-minded baby boomers are driving the movement, said Mark Harris, author of Grave Matters: A Journey Through the Modern Funeral Industry to a Natural Way of Burial. "I think green burial speaks to the old-fashioned values of thrift, simplicity and love for family," said Harris, "things that resonate with the vast majority of Americans."
22 Innovative Burial Alternatives for Non-Traditional People (Kate Wight, Cake, 1-11-2021)
Space Funeral (YouTube) Arrange to scatter a loved one's Ashes in Space (UK)
Capsula Mundi: These Burial Pods Will Turn Your Loved Ones Into Trees(TheSTATWorld, 3-15-15)
An Alternative to Burial and Cremation Gains Popularity (Jonah Engel Bromwich, NY Times, 10-18-17) What do you want done with your body after you die? Because even in death, your choices affect the planet.A new alternative to burial or cremation is "a liquefaction process called by a variety of names — flameless cremation, green cremation or the 'Fire to Water' method, chemically known as alkaline hydrolysis. A machine (shown) uses a chemical bath to dissolve protein, blood and fat, leaving only a coffee-colored liquid, powdery bone and any metal implants, like dental fillings....Alkaline hydrolysis has been used to dispose of human cadavers and dead pets since the process was modernized in the 1990s. About 10 years ago, the machines became available for ordinary funerals, and now families are requesting it more frequently."
When It's Your Time, Would You Like To Be Liquefied? (Mark Memmott, The Two-Way, NPR, 8-30-11)
Back to the land: Were humans meant to be recycled? (Andre Mayer, CBC News, Canada, 5-16-18) Some people believe cremating our dead or burying them in caskets is an insult to nature.
Learn About the New Death Shrouds (Marti McGinniss, HappyArt.com, 7-1-2020) The pieces Marti creates are meant to cover your body, casket or urn as representations of some of your own thoughts about what’s next. Enjoy them while you're alive, then use them for burial or cremation – or have your loved ones keep as an heirloom to re-use after the ceremonies.
The Lost, Macabre Art of Swedish Funeral Confectionery (Sam O'Brien, Atlas Obscura, 10-29-2020)

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Coffins, caskets, and urns

I love what one woman did: Her father was cremated and her mother is going to be buried holding his ashes.

Caskets--How to Save on Them (Funeral Consumers Alliance)
Are caskets and coffins the same?. They serve the same purpose, but a coffin is constructed with six sides and a top and bottom (tapering at the feet and angled in from shoulders to head), and a casket is four-sided, with a top and bottom--and often a two-part hinged lid. (See (Nosek - McCreery's illustration.) Caskets are standard in the North America and the Philippines, and coffins more common in Europe, the U.K., Australia, and New Zealand.
• By federal law, funeral homes must allow you to provide your own casket and may not charge fees for doing so. You can buy caskets or coffins from the funeral home, or you can buy them directly from the manufacturer or from discount stores such as Costco and Walmart (enter "casket" in the search window on their website, for more choices). You can get advice and a price sheet for various casket models from wholesalers and at least the four following online direct sellers:
---Best Price Caskets at www.bestpricecaskets.com (call 1-866-474-5061)
---Casket-Online.com at www.casket-online.com (call 1-800-300-1655)
---Fast Caskets at www.fastcaskets.com (call 1-888-342-7477
---Funeral Casket Society at www.casketsite.com (call 1-888-222-5955)
---Overnight Caskets at overnightcaskets.com/ (call 1-800-323-1254)
---PeninsularCasket.com at www.peninsularcasket.com (call 1-800-833-4551)
---Sky Caskets at www.skycaskets.com (call 1-888-979-2155)
Most high-end funeral homes have huge mark-ups (300 to 500 percent and more of wholesale price, according to Washington Consumer Checkbook.
• If a lower-cost casket is not on display in the funeral home showroom, ask to see one. You can also rent a casket for the funeral, to house a less expensive container that is used for burial or cremation.
• Do not pay extra for a "protective" casket with rubber gaskets. (Here's why, from 13+ Things A Funeral Director Won’t Tell You (Michelle Crouch, Reader's Digest, 6-2011)
All you need to know about caskets (Funeral Help, a site with many helpful pages of consumer advice on how to shop for funeral services and products, including a cemetery plot)
Do-it-yourself or pre-need coffins from the oddly named Outhouse Charlie's Tradin' Post ((here's a story about them in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer). Check out also MHP Casket Kits. The Sandler casket kit, also from MHP; casket plans from Casket Furniture. Some of these are designer for pre-need use--for example, as a storage box or a coffee table. Can someone who has actually built their own casket or coffin tell me about the experience, and where you got your plans, kit, etc., and if you recommend the process and the source?
A Word About Burial Liners (by gravedigger Paul G. Huffman, Funeral Consumers Alliance 11-26-07). Cemeteries (not state or federal law) require burial container to protect the casket but mostly to prevent collapsing caskets and cemetery lawns. Choices include burial liners, lawn crypts and vaults.
How To Choose The Right Outer Burial Container: Burial Vaults and Grave Liners (Everplans). "Burial vaults and grave liners are used to support the soil around the casket and ensure that the soil above and around the casket will not collapse, which ultimately serves to minimize cemetery maintenance and keep the cemetery grounds looking nice." Includes practical tips.
Cradle to Grave Viking Casket (UK)
Crazy Coffins (UK) Commission something special. See gallery.
Musical 'Coffin Club' (short musical from Loading Docs) Across New Zealand, seniors are forming DIY “coffin clubs” to cope with death and loss while bringing some fun and personality to their own final journey. Hear the story of the Kiwi Coffin Club in this charming docu-musical from Loading Docs.
Bones, Bugs, and Batesville (Lisa Carlson, FAMSA, posted by Funeral Consumers Alliance). This "study merely verified what any cemeterian and most funeral directors already know: Embalmed or not, dead bodies decompose to one degree or another. And a sealed casket creates a smelly stew."
Bios Urn (the first biodegradable urn designed to convert you into a tree after you die).
Eco-Friendly Cremation Urns (video) from Urns Northwest (site showing selections)
The Living Urn System (for people or pets) Everything you need to plant and grow a beautiful memory tree, plant, or flowers from the cremated remains of a loved one.
Greener Funeral products (eco-friendly caskets, biodegradable urns, burial shrouds)
Funeria ( beautiful handcrafted containers for ashes)
Kent Caskets, simple pine caskets, biodegradable, designed for natural green burials and cremations and for Orthodox Jewish burials
The Old Pine Box (specializes in pine box caskets, pine coffins, cedar coffins and specialty urns). There are a couple you could probably buy early and use for storing blankets, etc.
Honoring the memory of loved ones with a casket adorned in memories (Kevin Tibbles, Nightly News with Lester Holt, NBC, 3-17-18) Trey Ganem and his family run a business in tiny Edna, Texas, creating custom-designed caskets that are decorated to honor the lives of those lost. They're pretty far out, and definitely stand out from the crowd: Go to Trey Ganem Designs for examples.
Natural Burial Company, in its Good Funeral Store offers a range of products that may make you smile, from bamboo pet coffins and dog-bone urns to shrouds and an interesting array of human coffins, biodegradable coffins, eco-friendly caskets, and ash burial urns for North America.
Paws Rest Premium Pet Casket
Cremation urns for pets
Bamboo, rattan, seagrass, and banana leaf coffins and caskets (Final Footprint)
Find a provider search page (Green Burial Council, listing various sources of biodegradable caskets and urns)
Renaissance Urn Company (selections include biodegradable and handmade fabric or wooden containers)
Fiddlehead casket kit (Fiddlehead Casket Company) See Jeremy Burrill's Home Funeral Practicum (11-21-18)
Trappist caskets and urns . Handmade caskets and urns, from the monks of New Melleray
Military (Army) cremation urn, from Custom Urns R Us
Rosewood cremation urn
Brass urn with mother of pearl (for humans or pets)
Funeria.com funerary urns and personal memorials, created by artists and artisans)
Star Legacy Mediterranean Mystic Urn (blue with pewter finish)
LifeGem ("creates diamonds" from locks of hair or cremated remains)
Eternal Reefs (replaces cremation urns and ash scattering with a permanent environmental living legacy)
Artful Ashes (Your loved one's ashes memorialized in glass art.)

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Cemeteries, gravesites, headstones, and memorials

"Let's talk of graves, of worms, and epitaphs" ~ William Shakespeare

Cemetery & Burial Q&A for Consumers (International Cemetery, Cremation, and Funeral Association, ICCFA)
Consumer’s Guide to Cemetery Purchases (Funeral Consumers Alliance)
A Cemetery Plot With a View (Annie Groer, First Person, Washingtonian, July 2013). "My father bought graves for the family, but now his kids have other plans. It’s up to me to deal with the 'interment rights'—and the memories."
The Definitive Guide to Choosing a Headstone (Headstone Guide, UK) Types of headstones: Upright, flat, kerbed (UK); materials (granite, limestone, bronze), finishes, designs, contours and moulding, inscriptions).
Losing the plot: death is permanent, but your grave isn’t (Lynley Wallis, Alice Gorman, Heather Burke, The Conversation, 11-5-14) "In the contemporary world grave recycling is often driven by economic imperatives rather than purely spatial concerns. If the sole source of a cemetery’s income derives from the leasing of plots — as is the case with many independent cemetery trusts — how are they to remain financially viable when all the spaces are filled?" See also Grave Problem: London mulls reusing graves as burial space runs out (YouTube, Russia Today) In the increasingly crowded UK it's a rush hour for London's cemeteries. Graveyards are rapidly running out of space and predicted to be full within the next few decades. So the authorities have come up with controversial idea to simply reuse them, stacking deeper. Laure Smith reports how that may not solve the problem.
Kerbed Memorials (a new-to-me concept from a UK organization, The co-operative funeralcare)
Brooklyn’s Green-Wood Cemetery seeks to honor WWII veterans with extensive online database (Chelsia Rose Marcius New York Daily News, 2-11-21) World War II veterans buried at Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, NY, will soon be honored by a team of dedicated archivists to offer “a better story than what’s on the gravestone about who these people were and what they did.”
For Families Struggling to Pay Bills, A Cemetery Plot Becomes an Asset to Sell (Brigid Schulte, Washington Post, 8-18-09)
Copenhagen Has a Cemetery for Homeless People (Erin Blakemore, Smithsonian, 12-30-15) But proper burials for indigent individuals remain few and far between. H/T: Alternative Burials
Exploring Military Cemeteries (Amy Johnson Crow) See also: How to Find Your World War I Ancestor Whether your American World War I ancestor shipped out or stayed state-side, here are some tips from David Allen Lambert to help you research him. And see Army Repatriation: Bringing Them Home What does “No man left behind” truly mean? For Megan Smolenyak (on Amy's site), it means working to identify servicemembers from past conflicts, finding their families, and bringing them home in the process of military repatriation.
History Interpreters Keep Alive Memories of Fallen D-Day Soldiers (Bill Hinchberger, Epoch Times, 6-5-19) Cambridge and Normandy count among the 26 U.S. military cemeteries and 30 memorials in more than a dozen countries administered by the American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC), a U.S. government agency. Most commemorate the service of Americans in World War I and World War II. As the generations who lived through those wars have nearly died off, the agency's mission and “target audiences” have shifted, said Jerry Lefler, deputy director of cemetery operations at the Normandy American Cemetery. “ABMC is making a transition from a mourning to a commemorative agency....Most of the direct relatives of people from World War I and World War II have passed away,” said Lefler. “How do we keep our cemeteries, our story, and the stories of those buried there relevant?” Constant Lebastard added, “We are not teachers. We give people an idea of what happened and make people think.”
How to Visit the Graves of 75 Famous Writers (Emily Temple, Lit Hub, 3-26-18)
A Year Gardening the Grave of a Stranger (Sydney Schaedel, Atlas Obscura, 7-6-17) At Woodlands Cemetery in Philadelphia, green-thumbed volunteers participate in a unique program. It’s a creative outlet for city dwellers who may not have space for a garden at home, and it brightens up the cemetery.
Snowshoe Thompson’s Headstone — Stolen?? (Karen Dustman, Clairitage Press blog "Where History Comes Alive," 8-16-18) The fascinating tale about how Snowshoe’s grave in Alpine County got capped with concrete — and who’s sleeping in the long-forgotten grave next to him!
The Persistent Racism of America's Cemeteries (Jennifer Young, Atlas Obscura, 9-7-16) Not only is segregation still an issue but also America risks losing important history in its forgotten graveyards.
A common man’s labor of love: A mini-Taj Mahal for his beloved wife (Lindsey Bever, Wash Post, 8-21-15) “I will build a tomb that everybody will remember,” he said. The tomb has become known as a “mini Taj Mahal” and he plans to be buried in it, too.
Creative Ways to Donate in Memory of Loved Ones (Florence Isaacs, Legacy Connect, 1-20-12) Q. I want to set up a lasting memorial to my late husband, but my funds are limited. Can you suggest some affordable options? How do I get started? Florence Isaacs: Two possibilities are a scholarship in his name at a school he attended or a memorial award to go to a deserving member of his professional organization. Parks and recreation areas present other opportunities. In New York, the Central Park Conservancy’s “Adopt-a-Bench” program maintains and endows care of the benches in Central Park. An online search will turn up other sources for memorial benches, from wood to granite.
Paw Print Pet Memorial Stone (and you can scroll down and see variations on the theme)
Inside the funeral industry: Northampton man’s ashes reclaimed from common grave (Dan Crowley, Gazettenet, 3-28-15) When Northampton native Paul W. Swift died in March 2009, his ashes were held in safe-keeping by the former Pease and Gay Funeral Home to be interred along with his wife’s in a Northampton cemetery when she died. After learning that the funeral home was sold last fall, Swift’s children discovered that their father’s remains had been buried in a vault with other unclaimed ashes. A cautionary tale.
10 Celebrity Tombstones Worth a Laugh (Mental Floss) I like what's on Rodney Dangerfield's: "There goes the neighborhood."
Selling the Family Plot: Where Real Estate Is Hot (Anne Marie Chaker, WSJ, 9-24-09). In 2009, when the economy was down, cemetery plot real estate brokers were busy family plots, some of which had been in the families for years.
Seven Stones, A Botanical Gardens Cemetery. See its preplanning checklist.
Finding a cemetery plot (Everplans)
• Internet sites that advertise and broker re-sales of cemetery plots and sites include Cemetery Registry , Grave Solutions, Plot Brokers, and Plot Exchange.
'Living headstones' use technology to honor the dead (Susan Gilmore, Seattle Times 7-31-11).A Seattle monument maker affixes a small QR or "quick-response" code (like a bar code, but square) to the tombstone. A smartphone with the right application lets visitors read the person's life history online.
High-tech headstones speak from beyond the grave. They use QR codes to link to photos and videos of the dearly departed. (Jeff Strickler, Minneapolis Star Tribute, 7-14-12)
Andy Warhol still doing the unusual (a collaborative project of the Andy Warhol Museum and EarthCam: Figment, a live feed of Warhol’s gravesite)
Technology Brings Digital Memories to Grave Sites (Bellamy Pailthorp, NPR's All Things Considered, 5-30-11--listen or read). A Seattle company is adding "quick-read" codes to gravestones, allowing cemetery visitors to connect with the dead's life stories.
Dead Stop . National Public Radio visits strange, funny, historic and notable gravesites and cemeteries across America in this quirky series you can listen to online.
Deep Grief: Creating Meaning From Mourning (Linton Weeks, NPR, 2-9-10). Some parents in deep grief are creating memorials that celebrate the child's spirit in meaningful ways.
Evelyn Y. Davis's Gravestone (Atlas Obscura) A memorial to a shareholder activist feared by CEOs around the United States. Near the front gates of Rock Creek Cemetery (one of Washington D.C.’s oldest cemeteries, founded in 1719) you can find the grave of Evelyn Y. Davis. An eight-foot pink granite tombstone, flanked by two smaller structures, creates a memorial commemorating the notorious Holocaust-survivor-turned-corporate-gadfly. 'The notorious gadfly decided to erect her own postmortem monument in 1981 to celebrate her successes. She used the tombstone to list her resume, divorces (there are four, two of which were etched in at later dates), and the fact that she never had children. One of the accompanying stones contains a quote that clearly sums up her philosophy on life: “Power is greater than love, and I did not get where I am by standing in line nor by being shy.” One of her ex-husbands is already buried at the site beneath a nearby grave. The only accomplishment listed on his gravestone is that he was one of Davis’ former husbands.'
Lot exchange program (ICCFA)
Photogallery of cemetery symbolism (About.com)
Green Cemeteries in the US & Canada
Celebrating Cemeteries (blog posts on DigitalDying website)

The Last Great Necessity: Cemeteries in American History (Creating the North American Landscape) by David Charles Sloane
The American Resting Place: 400 Years of History Through Our Cemeteries and Burial Grounds by Marilyn and Reid Yalom. A history of America as seen through its gravestones, graveyards, and burial practices.
Your Guide to Cemetery Research by Sharon DeBartolo Carmack (useful but slightly outdated)
Stories in Stone: A Field Guide to Cemetery Symbolism and Iconography by photographer Douglas Keister

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Online memorials, virtual remembrance, and high-tech headstones

As I understand it, a customized, scannable code is placed on a tomb, urn, or monument, which people can scan with a smartphone to call up material on an online memorial site for the deceased. What I don't know yet is how you determine that a site is legitimate and sustainable. Advice welcome!

The AIDS Memorial at The Body
Bridges to the Past
Eternal Flames
Find a Grave (not quite the same thing, but very useful)
Forever Missed
Imorial (create a free online memorial)
In Loving Memory (for Irish families)
Legacy.com (Where Life Stories Live On)
Making Everlasting Memories (MeM
Memories for Eternity
Much Loved
Never Gone
Qeepr (Qeeping Memories Alive)
Remember in Peace
Remembering.Live ("Connecting loved ones together, virtually")
Valley of Life
The Virtual Memorial Garden
Virtual Memorials
The Virtual Wall (Vietnam Veterans Memorial)
The World Wide Cemetery
Your Tribute
How To Make an Online Memorial for a Departed Loved One (Jim t. Miller, HuffPost, 6-6-14)

Our Top Six Online Memorial Websites (Stefani Twyford, Legacy Multimedia, with some comments about users' experiences)
The Top 10 Online Memorials (Everplans, with comments)
SafeBeyond ("your digital time capsule"). See Digital Messages for Loved Ones From Beyond the Grave (Paul Sullivan, Wealth Matters, NY Times, 10-23-15) Digital services like SafeBeyond are relatively new" and "they could become problematic to heirs if not used correctly, lawyers and planners said. And the nature of SafeBeyond and similar services — online and private except to those explicitly given access — also raises broader issues about digital assets in an estate." (SafeBeyond "keeps written and video wishes safe and private until its users are gone or until a set time. SafeBeyond, which likens itself to Dropbox for the hereafter, is one of several similar cloud-based systems." Sharon Klein, managing director of family office services and wealth strategies at Wilmington Trust, says that with " digital assets, who is entitled to have access is a big issue." Mr. Zur, SafeBeyond's founder, calls it "emotional life insurance," but adds that "people need to designate a trustee for what they record or write and store in SafeBeyond. That person will have the responsibility of tracking down family and friends whose email addresses and phone numbers may have changed by the time they are supposed to receive the messages."
'Living headstones' use technology to honor the dead (Susan Gilmore, Seattle Times 7-31-11).A Seattle monument maker affixes a small QR or "quick-response" code (like a bar code, but square) to the tombstone. A smartphone with the right application lets visitors read the person's life history online.
High-tech headstones speak from beyond the grave. They use QR codes to link to photos and videos of the dearly departed. (Jeff Strickler, Minneapolis Star Tribute, 7-14-12)
Technology Brings Digital Memories to Grave Sites (Bellamy Pailthorp, NPR's All Things Considered, 5-30-11--listen or read). A Seattle company is adding "quick-read" codes to gravestones, allowing cemetery visitors to connect with the dead's life stories.

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Cremation, crematories, and alternative forms of burial

The only religions that prohibit cremation are Islam and Orthodox Judaism.
More Americans want to be cremated (Stef W. Kight, Axiom, 8-10-19) The popularity of traditional, more expensive embalming, caskets and funerals is dying along with the silent generation and baby boomers. Areas with high affiliation to Christianity as well as lower income and lesser educated populations tend to prefer traditional burials to cremations, according to CANA's research.
Cremation, Consumer Resource Guide (International Cemetery, Cremation and Funeral Association, ICCFA, an industry group) • Cremation Explained, Answers to Frequently Asked Questions (Funeral Consumers Alliance, a consumers advocacy group)
Understanding cremation laws and how they affect arranging a cremation (U.S. Funerals Online)
How to package and ship cremated remains (U.S. Post Office)
The 9 Things No One Tells You About Scattering Ashes (Tré Miller Rodríguez, Modern Loss, 5-2-14)
Burning Out: What Really Happens Inside a Crematorium (Caren Chesler, Popular Mechanics, 3-1-18) Very long (and fascinating) read.
An Alternative to Burial and Cremation Gains Popularity (Jonah Engel Bromwich, NY Times, 10-18-17) What do you want done with your body after you die? Because even in death, your choices affect the planet.A new alternative to burial or cremation is "a liquefaction process called by a variety of names — flameless cremation, green cremation or the 'Fire to Water' method, chemically known as alkaline hydrolysis. A machine (shown) uses a chemical bath to dissolve protein, blood and fat, leaving only a coffee-colored liquid, powdery bone and any metal implants, like dental fillings....Alkaline hydrolysis has been used to dispose of human cadavers and dead pets since the process was modernized in the 1990s. About 10 years ago, the machines became available for ordinary funerals, and now families are requesting it more frequently."
After Death: 8 Burial Alternatives That Are Going Mainstream (Stephanie Pappas, LiveScience, 9-9-11) (1)"Resomation or 'bio-cremation,' uses heated water and potassium hydroxide to liquefy the body, leaving only bones behind. The bones are then pulverized, much as in regular cremation, and the bone fragments are returned to the family. (2) Natural burial (wrapped in a shroud, bodies decompose naturally). (3) Eternal Reefs. (4) Cryonics (freezing). (5) Space burial. (6) Mummification. (7) Plastination (preserving the body in a semi-recognizable form for use in medical schools and anatomy labs). (8) Freeze-drying (or promession). Not mentioned: Bios urns and Burial pods.
Gail Rubin's video on Alkaline Hydrolysis and a second one on a natural gas-fired retort, the cremation machine.
Hail and Farewell: Cremation Ceremonies, Templates and Tips by Gail Rubin
Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: And Other Lessons from the Crematory by Caitlin Doughty. A young mortician take us behind the scenes in a crematorium. In her review of the book in the NY Times, Natalie Kusz calls it "a work that uses private experience to illustrate public insight, which in Doughty’s case is this: By systematically insulating ourselves from death’s physical manifestations, Americans are deprived emotionally, psychologically, spiritually and — not to be dismissed — financially, in ways our ancestors would have abhorred," arguing that "Families should in effect be their own funeral 'directors,' caring for their deceased in personal rather than institutional spaces, with the help of professionals who follow, rather than take, the lead."
Eternal Reefs Those who are created can choose to become part of an environmentally correct memorial reef.
An increasingly popular way to be buried: Become part of an artificial reef (Kathryn Fink, Washington Posst, 7-19-21) Since its founding in 1998, Eternal Reefs has worked with families to create concrete “reef balls” that incorporate cremated remains, or “cremains,” and small personal items. Part memorial, part conservation method, they’re deposited to the ocean floor to replenish reef systems. The balls weigh between 600 and 4,000 pounds, and require a crane to be transported. Beth Shepherd's reef memorial cost $3,995 — not including the price of cremation, which is $350 on average.
The Neptune Society (its regional offices). See Wikipedia on Neptune Society.
Celebrating Life: How to Create Meaningful Memorial Services, with Templates and Tips (download free ebook by Gail Rubin)
Hail and Farewell: Cremation Ceremonies, Templates and Tips by Gail Rubin and Susan Fraser
How to Fly with Cremated Remains (Gail Rubin, A Good Goodbye, 6-15-15)
Jewish views on burial and cremation (and other interesting links)
Round Trip to the Crematory (Len Finegold,Funeral Consumers Alliance of Greater Philadelphia). Report on an informal information-sharing tour.
How to inspect a crematory for above-board operation (Funeral Consumers Alliance)
Religious views on cremation (Wikipedia, on views in various religions)
How to Mail Cremated Remains (Gail Rubin, A Good Goodbye, 5-21-15) Did you know the U.S. Postal Service ( USPS Priority Mail Express® Service) offers the only legal method of shipping cremated remains domestically or internationally? FedEx won’t do it, nor will the United Parcel Service.
See also Coffins, Caskets, and Urns
Open air pyres (The Natural Death Centre, UK, Lifting the lid on dying and funerals) "One problem faced by natural cremation is the issue of mercury emissions. When teeth containing amalgam fillings are burnt, mercury vapour is released."

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Helpful death- and burial-related organizations

Alternative Burials (private Facebook group) Links to interesting posts, such as Give My Body to the Birds: The Practice of Sky Burial (Atlas Obscura) and Capsula Mundi: These Burial Pods Will Turn Your Loved Ones Into Trees (TheSTATWorld).
Association for Death Education and Counseling (ADEC, The Thanatology Association)
Ask a Mortician, in which you'll find Caitlin Doughty's answers to such questions as Do Corpses Poop? and addresses issues such as Least Expensive Death Option and Are Those Really My Mother's Ashes?. See especially: Death Positive (Order of the Good Death) Twitter: www.twitter.com/thegooddeath. Facebook: www.facebook.com/orderofthegooddeath. See also her TED talk: The Corpses That Changed My Life.
Burial Societies in the New York Metropolitan Area (Jewish Genealogical Society)
Catholic Burial Society: Frequently Asked Questions (Catholic Burial Society)
The Center for Complicated Grief "Grief is a form of love."
'Dead Meet' Is a Dating Site for People Who Work in the Death Industries (Hayley Campbell, Vice, 10-28-14)
Digital Dying (Funeralwise blog and website) with both serious articles and Coffin Corner (funeral humor)
Green Burial Council
Final Salute (a nonprofit group for homeless female veterans)
Funeral Consumers Alliance (see its FAQs). Very important consumer-oriented watchdog group, which keeps the funeral industry a LITTLE honest.
International End of Life Doula Association (INELDA)
Green Burial Council
International Cemetery, Cremation and Funeral Association (ICCFA)
Jewish Burial Societies (transcript, Jon Kalish, All Things Considered, NPR, 1998. Kalish reports on Jewish burial societies known as Chevra Kadisha which perform ritual purification for observant Jews who have died.
Jewish Cemeteries in the New York Metro Area
Midwest Green Burial Society
National Home Funeral Alliance
National Home Funeral Alliance
Natural Burial Alliance
Natural Death Centre (UK)
Natural Death Care Centre (Australia)
Patriot Guard Riders (motorcycle enthusiasts who attend funerals to honor fallen US military personnel)
Romano-British burial traditions (Wayback Machine, chapter from a book of history)

Homegoings (PBS documentary, an up-close look at the rarely seen world of undertaking in the black community)
Dying in America: A Chronology (A Family Undertaking, POV, scheduled for August 3, 2004)
Discussions About Death (POV, in association with A Family Undertaking)
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Organ, tissue, and whole-body donation

Imagine what you could make possible.

Organ donation and transplants (MedlinePlus, NIH and National Library of Medicine)
Basic information about organ and tissue donation (Organdonor.gov, U.S. Dept. of Health & Human Services). This site is full of answers to common questions.
Organ donor registries (by state) (Organdonor.gov)
Organ transplantation: the process (Organdonor.gov, U.S. Dept. of Health & Human Services)
Organ donation: Don't let these myths confuse you (Mayo Clinic Staff) Unsure about donating organs for transplant? Don't let misinformation keep you from saving lives.
Donating a body to science (whole body donation in the U.S.)
In death, a promise for the future.As her world diminished, Elizabeth Uyehara signed her body over to researchers to help unravel the mystery of Lou Gehrig's disease. (Thomas Curwen, Los Angeles Times, 8-28-10, on the course of Uyehara's ALS and on what happens when organs are donated for science)
Medical schools by state, for body donations (Lisa Carlson, Final Rights)
Why Do Hospitals Want to Hold on to Dead Bodies? (Lisa Carlson, Final Rights). Out of ignorance, sounds like.
Top 10 Myths About Donation & Transplantation (TransWeb.org) Myth #8: "I am not the right age for donation." Fact: "Age limits for organ donation no longer exist. Organs may be donated from someone as young as a newborn and as old as 90. The liver, in particular, does not age like other organs and livers are commonly donated by people in their 70's and 80's."
Does my religion object to donation? (Views of various religions)
Frequently Asked Questions About Full Body Donation (BioGift)
Why donate a body to science? (BioGift)
Facts about organ donation (New York Organ Donor Network). See especially Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
How organs are matched United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS)
Different types of donation (Donate Life)
How to Be a Living Donor (National Kidney Foundation)
TransWeb.org (resources on donation and transplantation)
Be the Match (global leader in bone marrow transplantation)
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Cryogenics (being frozen for later revival)

Cryogenics (Wikipedia, which on this topic is at the top of search engines searches) Many encyclopedia entries online also.
Cryogenics for English Majors (Magnet Academy, Science Plain & Simple)
Cryogenics: Low temperatures, high performance (CERN--the European Council for Nuclear Research) CERN's main area of research is particle physics – the study of the fundamental constituents of matter and the forces acting between them.
Frozen Dead Guy Days (FDGD) Grandpa Bredo Morstol is frozen in a state of suspended animation, in a Tuff Shed in the hills above Nederland, Colorado, awaiting the big thaw. The one that will bring him back to life. A quirky annual festival is held to celebrate frozen for three days each March. More than 20,000 people attending in 2017. Gail Rubin has posted a few stories about this festival on A Good Goodbye.
Cryogenics (cartoon by XKGD
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Keeping a lid on funeral and (or alternative) costs

You Could Pay Thousands Less For A Funeral Just By Crossing The Street (Robert Benincasa, All Things Considered, NPR, 2-7-17, part 1 of a series). Listen or read the transcript. See also Part 2: Despite Decades-Old Law, Funeral Prices Are Still Unclear (2-8-17). Listen or read the transcript. Two items of PARTICULAR interest: When a funeral parlor offers two different levels of cremation service, know this: the body gets cremated in the same place. And this: "In the sales materials SCI gives customers, the company says buying a package will save them money. But the company tells its investors a different story. At a conference in 2015, the company said that consumers who buy a package, as opposed to services a la carte, pay an extra $1,900 on average." SCI is Service Corporation International, which "claims 16 percent of the $19 billion North American death-care market." "It also offers cremations for much lower prices at storefront outlets under other brands such as Neptune Society and National Cremation Society. But here's the thing. The company performs all the cremations identically and in the same place, its large crematory at 517 Park Street."
What It Costs to Die: Many can't afford funerals (Liz Farmer, Mattie Quinn, Governing, 6-6-19)  Rising funeral costs and a lagging economy have made it increasingly hard for many low-income Americans to pay the necessary expenses to dispose of a body. The average cost of a funeral today is $7,400, a price tag that’s risen nearly twice as fast as inflation since the 1980s. At a time when 40 percent of Americans can’t even afford an unexpected expense of just $400, according to the Federal Reserve, the notion of a proper funeral and burial has become, for many people, an unattainable luxury. City and county governments are paying the price and that's a problem that’s getting worse.
A Comparison Guide: Burial, Cremations and Donation(ScienceCare). Call toll-free: 1.800.417.3747.
State Organ Procurement Organizations (OPOs) (ScienceCare)
How Much Does the Average Funeral Cost? (Parting.com) Funeral prices, like everything else, have increased with inflation. Today, the average North American traditional funeral costs between $7,000 and $10,000. This price range includes the services at the funeral home, burial in a cemetery, and the installation of a headstone.
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.
Here is an average price breakdown of some of those typical costs (and I applaud Will Chang for the months of digging this took, with great resistance from the funeral industry):
Casket - $2,300
Funeral director’s basic services fee - $1,500
Embalming and body preparation - $600
Funeral ceremony and viewing - $1,000
M\iscellaneous (hearse, death certificates, obituary, etc.) - $600
Grave space - $1,000
Cost to dig the grave (sometimes called the open/close fee) - $1,000
Headstone - $2,000
Grave marker - $1,000.
This article also links to costs in specific cities (providing average $$ figures for specific funeral homes).
Funeral costs and pricing checklist (Consumer information, Federal Trade Commission). Print out their checklist, and fill in the blanks for all funeral homes you get prices from.
Economics of the Funeral Industry (PBS, Homegoings, 6-24-13) A few tips (and check out sidebars along left side):
A casket that sells for $1295 at a funeral home will typically sell wholesale for about $325.
The average rental rate for a hardwood casket for a day long viewing is $1000.
Sealed caskets cost hundreds of dollars more than unsealed caskets, but only cost a minimal amount more to manufacture.
Costco has started offering some low cost options ($924-$2999), and some places offer online coffins kits for approximately $600.
41% of Americans choose cremation.
10 Questions to Ask Before Hiring a Funeral Director (Barbara Kate Repa, Caring.com, updated 11-29-16) 1. What Alternatives Are Available for Disposing of the Body? 2. Can I See a Price List Before Making Any Decisions? 3. What Are the Basic Costs Involved? etc., including 9. Are You Locally or Nationally Owned? (Locally owned won't typically have as high markups.)
How to Avoid High Funeral Costs: 5 Common Funeral Traps and How to Avoid Them (Barbara Kate Repa, Caring.com) Trap 1: Purchasing packages. Trap 2: Buying a costly casket or container. Trap 3: Preventing decomposition. ("Embalming, caskets, and grave liners or burial vaults are sometimes assumed or pushed as ways to preserve a body. In reality, they don't work that way.") Trap 4: Prepaying without precaution. Trap 5: Embalming at all costs. (Read the article for the "how to avoid" part!)
The High Cost of Funerals: Families Forced to Cut Back (Alanna Nash, The Fiscal Times, 6-25-10) "Today’s median cost [this was 2010] of a full-service funeral — embalming, casket, vault, public viewing, ceremony, hearses — is nearly $7,400. But with expenses of another $2,000 or more at the cemetery (for the plot and the grave digging), the total is approaching $10,000 — plus any monument or marker. “In America, we’ve internalized the notion that the more we spend, the more we love," says Joshua Slocum, executive director of Funeral Consumers Alliance. "The dead are still just as dead as they were before — and you’re still going to miss them just as much.” Not putting yourself out of house and home to bury Grandma doesn't mean you don't love Grandma.
Save Money on Funeral Costs by Making Arrangements at a Low-Priced Funeral Home and Cemetery (Parting, 1-20-17) Many people don’t realize that prices can vary greatly between funeral homes. This is why you should NOT automatically use the same funeral home you have used in the past UNTIL you check to see if they have SINCE become part of one of the big funeral corporations – as so many have!

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Green Funerals and Burial
Green funerals are a return to old practices.
See also Home funerals and family-directed funerals

"There are about 20 'green' cemeteries in America right now, essentially open fields," writes John S. DeMott, in "The High Cost of Dying: Funerals, Burials Can Be Expensive" (AARP Bulletin). "Markers are made from local rock, and some families dispense with them in favor of GPS coordinates. "Joshua Slocum of the Funeral Consumers Alliance says there’s nothing really new about 'green' funerals except calling them that. 'It’s the oldest, most traditional form of burial,' he says. 'A simple burial in a simple wood box without chemicals or a concrete vault. Jews and Muslims have practiced it for thousands of years.'"
      "Green burial is getting bigger and bigger, which is a return to first practices if you will. Instead of the embalmed body put into a metal coffin and sent into a hermetically sealed concrete vault, with green burial you don't embalm the body [introducing toxic chemicals into the ground]. It is just wrapped into a simple cotton shroud and put into a simple untreated box." ~Rebecca Greenfield, Our First Public Parks: The Forgotten History of Cemeteries (The Atlantic, 3-16-11)

GBC-Certified Cemeteries in the United States and Canada (Green Burial Council)
Pandemic Resources for Families Facing End Of Life (National Home Funeral Alliance) With lots of useful links to resources, information, about how death-related activities are different during the Covid-19 pandemic. H/T Sue Russell.
A Greener Funeral, ways in which you can leave a lighter footprint on this earth by selecting a greener funeral, with links to products, processes, providers (funeral parlors committed to greener funeral care), greener cemeteries, and so on.
Europe’s Famed Bog Bodies Are Starting to Reveal Their Secrets (Joshua Levine, photos by Christian Als, Smithsonian, May 2017) Perhaps not quite a "green burial" but this seems to be where this story belongs. High-tech tools divulge new information about the mysterious and violent fates met by these corpses. "Tollund Man is the best-looking and best-known member of an elite club of preserved cadavers that have come to be known as “bog bodies.” These are men and women (also some adolescents and a few children) who were laid down long ago in the raised peat bogs of Northern Europe—mostly Denmark, Germany, England, Ireland and the Netherlands. Cashel Man, the community’s elder statesman, dates to the Bronze Age, around 2,000 B.C., giving him a good 700 years on King Tut.
Body Composting Becomes an Alternative to Burial or Cremation (Patrick J. Kiger, AARP, 4-20-19) Washington is poised to be the first state to legalize 'organic reduction' of remains. Recompose, a Washington-based company, is posed to offer a service in which a body is placed in a chamber and gradually consumed by microbes over 30 days. See also Recompose, the first human-composting funeral home in the U.S., is now open for business (Brendan Kiley, The Seattle Times, 1-24-21) "Somewhere in Kent, tucked anonymously into acres of warehouses and light-industrial workshops, the first full-service human-composting funeral home in the United States is operational. After nearly a decade of planning, research and fundraising — not to mention a successful campaign to change state law — Recompose is finally converting people into soil."
Infinity Burial Planning (Coeio.com) Video explaining the Infinity Burial Suit ($1500) and process. Decomposition: An Easter Story (Eugenia Bone, Opinion, NY Times, 3-31-18) Bone explains "why the designer Jae Rhim Lee’s Infinity Burial Suit — basically pajamas threaded with fungal spores bred to decompose bodies — can’t really fulfill its promise to ensure you a speedier decomposition....The truth is, not much will happen quickly to a corpse or anything organic if it’s buried six feet under the soil’s surface, because the diversity of decomposers drops off the deeper you go. If it’s efficient land-based breakdown you are after, it’s probably best to be buried under a pile of wood chips, which have lots of little air pockets to keep aerobic decomposers alive."
Caring for Your Own Dead (Ann Kreilkamp's interview with Jerrigrace Lyons, founder and director of Final Passages, whose aim is "to re-introduce home and family-directed funerals as a part of family life and as a way to de-institutionalize death, by educating and assisting dignified and compassionate alternatives to conventional funeral practices."
Plan Your Own Green Death With This Progressive Funeral Parlor (Sandi Hemmerlein, Atlas Obscura, 10-19-15) 'Proprietors Caitlin Doughty and Amber Carvaly have set up shop in Los Angeles to take a “back to basics” approach to death and dying. You could say they’re putting the “home” back in funeral homes by offering options that return control of the dying process to those who are actually dying and care of the dead body to the family of the deceased.' On the same duo and process: Our Bodies, Ourselves (Rebecca Mead, New Yorker, 11-30-15). A funeral director wants to bring death back home. You can find them at Undertaking LA and at The Order of the Good Death.
A Will for the Woods: A Documentary About Honoring Death and the Earth (Nell Minow, Huffington Post, 8-28-14). Nell reviews the award-winning documentary, A Will for the Woods.
‘Green burials’ are on the rise as baby boomers plan for their future, and funerals (Ellen McCarthy, WashPost, 10-6-14) “I want to be wrapped in a shroud like a little burrito,” says Castaño, a credentialing officer at a D.C. public charter school. He intends to become part of the “green burial” movement — a push to strip away the trappings of the modern funeral industry and get back to basics.
Go for a Green Burial: 5 Ways to Make Your Death More Eco-Friendly (Gail Rubin, Sixty and Me, Feb. 2017) Jewish and Muslim burial is naturally green. Kosher caskets are made of soft pine or poplar wood, with no metal parts – totally biodegradable. There are eco-friendly coffins, such as woven willow, seagrass, or bamboo caskets, made of easily renewable materials that decompose naturally. These caskets can be lined with unbleached cotton and used for burial or cremation. For those who choose cremation, biodegradable urns come in a wide range of materials, including handmade paper, sand and gelatin, cornstarch, bamboo and recycled paper. And so on. See also Gail's Comparing Conventional Burial and Green Burial (11-17-13), on the humongous amount of concrete, metal, and embalming fluid that goes into the earth each year (as reported by science writer Mary Woodsen).
Grave Matters: A Journey Through the Modern Funeral Industry to a Natural Way of Burial by Mark Harris. "By the time Nate Fisher was laid to rest in a woodland grave sans coffin in the final season of Six Feet Under, Americans all across the country were starting to look outside the box when death came calling." Book's website, and excerpt from chapter on the natural cemetery.
Home Funeral and Simple Burial Information Sheet (Midwest Green Burial Society) How to clean, prepare, wrap, and move the body.
My mushroom burial suit (artist Jae Rhim Lee, TED Talk, 7-2011). Can we commit our bodies to a cleaner, greener Earth, even after death? Naturally — using a special burial suit seeded with pollution-gobbling mushrooms. Here's a transcript of her talk. See also Would You Let Mushrooms Eat Your Body after Death? (Jessica Xiao, The Humanist, 2-18-16) "Lee and Ma are the inventors of the “mushroom death suit,” which they’ve branded as an “infinity burial product” offered by their start-up Coeio. This bodysuit is made of a network of mushroom spores that feed on the human body after death, detoxifying the body as it decomposes. The suit, which garnered interest with Lee’s popular 2011 TED talk about the prototype, is now ready and will hit the market later this year. At $999, the suit carries a relatively low price tag compared to the thousands that can be spent on a traditional funeral. Traditional burial services use formaldehyde, fillers, and cosmetics to preserve the body, all of which can impact the health of morticians and funeral service workers. Traditional burial also requires substantial space and resources (steel and wood for caskets, cement for burial vaults)."
Aquamation: A Greener Alternative to Cremation? (Marina Kamenev, Time Science, 9-28-10, on an approach being tried in Australia)
Which tree would you like to become? The Capsula Mundi project is in start-up phase. The idea: our departed loved ones are placed for burial in an egg-shaped pod, "an ancient and perfect form, made of biodegradable material. Ashes will be held in small Capsulas while bodies will be laid down in a fetal position in larger pods. The pod will then be buried as a seed in the earth. A tree, chosen in life by the deceased, will be planted on top of it and serve as a memorial for the departed and as a legacy for posterity and the future of our planet."
Centre for Natural Burial (locate a natural burial site, operating or in development)
Greener Funerals (learn about and find eco funerals and memorial services, greener burial choices, greener cemeteries (by state), greener burial products (eco-friendly caskets, biodegradable urns, burial shrouds.
Passages International, a biodegradable funeral product wholesaler, with products such as eco-friendly caskets, biodegradable urns, scattering tubes, keepsakes and remembrances.
Dying to Be Green (Susan J. Tweit, Audobon Magazine on Green Funerals)
Shrouds and Caskets: Honoring Nature in Death as in Life (sources of shrouds and caskets for green funerals, Midwest Green Burial Society)
FAQs about green burial (Midwest Green Burial Society)
Green Burial Council FAQs and Fiction
A Guide to Green Burials (Reader's Digest)
Green Planting: Eco-Friendly Burials Catching On (Frank Nelson, Pacific Standard, 5-14-09). "The numbers are still small and even proponents admit to a whiff of fad, but backers of green burials see their way of death as the wave of the future." Every year the death care industry "buries millions of tons of valuable resources — wood and metal coffins, and concrete grave liners — along with embalmed bodies containing countless gallons of toxic formaldehyde." But "cremation, with its discharge of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide and other airborne pollutants, including a few nasty ones like mercury vapor from teeth fillings, is not especially kind to the environment either."
Natural Transitions (a nonprofit resource center providing education about conscious, holistic, and green approaches to end of life, including family-directed after-death care)
Options for Green Burials on the Rise (Newsweek, The Daily Beast, 8-26-10). More Americans are choosing to decompose directly into the earth.
Green Options (People's Memorial). " The Industrial Revolution brought us formaldehyde-based embalming and the rise of the modern funeral industry with a plethora of manufactured merchandise–caskets made of painted steel, precious metals or hardwoods; concrete burial vaults and granite cemetery markers. . . In most cultures, what we now call green burial was standard practice."
Green Cemeteries in the US & Canada
Update on Green Burial Movement (stats on environmental damage done through current funeral practices, in terms of trees used for timber, concrete used for vaults, embalming fluid containing carcinogen formaldehyde)
Memorial Ecosystems (green cemeteries--leaders in conservation burial--see their FAQs)
Forest of Memories (natural burial funeral and cemetery associations)
Important Facts To Know About Green Burials (Everplans)
Natural Burial Company

"Green burial provides us with a way of getting in sync with the natural process of death, decay, and regeneration, rather than having to stave it off, as conventional deathcare demands." ~ Joe Sehee, Founder/Executive Director, Green Burial Council

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"For what is it to die but to stand naked in the wind and to melt into the sun?
And what is it to cease breathing, but to free the breath from its restless tides, that it may rise and expand and seek God unencumbered?" ~Kahlil Gibran

"When I die don’t bury me
In a box in a cemetery
Out in the garden would be much better
I could be pushin’ up homegrown tomatoes."
~ Guy Clark, Homegrown Tomatoes

"Ashes to ashes, dust to dust."
~ The Book of Common Prayer

Home Funerals and Family-Directed Funerals

See also Green Funerals

Organizations important to home funerals
National Home Funeral Alliance
Green Burial Council
Funeral Consumers Alliance (see its FAQs).
International End of Life Doula Association (INELDA)
Natural Burial Alliance
Natural Death Centre (UK)
Natural Death Care Centre (Australia)

A Front-Yard Burial, No Matter What (Campbell Robertson, NY Times, 10-22-13, from Stevenson, Ala., Journal). James Davis buried his wife in the front yard to fulfill her dying wish. "Let Patsy rest in peace" says a sign near the road.
Sitting Up With the Dead: Lost Appalachian Burial Customs (Hope Thompson, Candid Slice, Hidden History, 10-15-17) "In small Appalachian villages, the local church bell would toll to alert others a death has occurred. Depending on the age of the deceased, the church bell would chime once for every year of their life they had lived on this earth. Family and friends quickly stop what they were doing and gather at the deceased family’s homestead to comfort loved ones. Women in the community would bring food as the immediate family would make funeral preparations for burial. The men would leave their fields to meet together and dig a hole for the grave and the local carpenter would build a coffin based on the deceased loved one’s body measurements."
Don't Duck History (an interesting Facebook page). "Appalachian folks are no stranger to death. For the Dark Horseman visited so frequently, houses were made with two front doors. One door was used for happy visits and the other door, known as the funeral door, would open into the deathwatch room for sitting up with the dead. Prior to the commercialization of the funeral industry, funeral homes and public cemeteries were virtually nonexistent in the early days of the Appalachian settlers." ~author Hope Thompson
Being a Funeral Director Made Me Realize the Death Industry Is Too Exclusive (Caleb Wilde, The Cut, 9-29-17) "Dressing a loved one, caring for him or her after the person has passed away is a great example of what a good death, a positive narrative, looks like....With doctors having authority over dying, and funeral directors gaining authority over death, it created a culture of death virgins, people who have little experience and know-how when it comes to the end stage of life....Tommy’s family taught me that anyone can — and should — be a part of the death-care process. And I’m sorry our sometimes-capitalist intentions have made people “amateurs.”
Americans might have a healthier attitude towards death if people like me didn't keep it so hidden from view.
A daughter tries to reconcile her mother’s last wish: to have her ashes shot up in the sky (Janna Bialek, Washington Post Magazine, 6-18-15) July 4th was the only time all the kids got together, so it was important to her. And now she wanted to be cremated and shot into the Iowa sky with one of those 4th of July rocket launchers.
Home Funerals Grow As Americans Skip The Mortician For Do-It-Yourself After-Death Care (Jaweed Kaleem, Huffington Post 1-25-13). A moving article.
The Definitive Guide to Funeral Flowers (Memorials of Distinction, UK)
Creating Your Own Funeral or Memorial Service: A Workbook by Stephanie West Allen
Stephanie West Allen on creating your own funeral or memorial service, regardless of age of state of health. She gives a great list of reasons why.
Caring for Our Own Dead (Ann Kreilkamp's interview with Jerrigrace Lyons of Final Passages (("I call myself a death midwife," birthing death) in Crone Chronicles). Or go directly to Final Passages, Lyons' website.
Families Turning to Do-It-Yourself Home Funerals (video) Mike Sugarman, CBS5, interviews Jerrigrace Lyons of Final Passages ("I call myself a death midwife"), a video that shows the dignity of the home viewing, or read the story here. There's a more detailed interview, Caring for Your Dead (Ann Kreilkamp's interview with Jerrigrace Lyons in Crone Chronicles).Or go directly to Final Passages, Lyons' website.
A Family Undertaking (an Elizabeth Westrate film, POV, PBS, 2004) This video explores the growing home funeral movement by following several families in their most intimate moments as they reclaim the end of life, forgoing a typical (expensive) mortuary funeral to care for their loved ones at home. Far from being a radical innovation, keeping funeral rites in the family or among friends is exactly how death was handled for most of pre-20th century America.
What is a home funeral?
Living Funeral (Wikipedia), a gathering centered around someone who will soon die. Also called a pre-funeral or, in Japan, a Seizenso.
A movement to bring grief back home (many grieving families are opting to bypass the funeral industry), story by Rachel Cox for the Washington Post 2-5-05
Bringing Funerals Home (personally decorated caskets shown in videos of home funerals, Sacred Crossings)
My Ideal Funeral . Tenderness. Trust. Mortician Caitlin Doughty closes with a luminous photo essay on home care (Fortnight, 3-5-12). A series of photos shot in Topanga, CA, showing Caitlin help a family wash, dress, and shroud the dead, then take her to a grave and put her directly into the ground to let her body decompose naturally. Photos by Darren Blackburn.
Do It Yourself Funerals, transcript of a session of NPR's Morning Edition, The End of Life: Exploring Death in America (reporter Jacki Lyden interviewing George Foy, father of a deceased infant, Lisa Carlson, president of Funeral and Memorial Societies of America, Jan Berman, daughter of a woman who died of AIDS, Thomas Lynch, mortician, poet, and author)
Crying and Digging: Reclaiming the realities and rituals of death (Nancy Rommelman, for Los Angeles Times Magazine, 2-6-05)
Everything you need to know about funerals, cremation, burial, embalming, green funerals, and much more (FAQs, many helpful articles from Funeral Consumers Alliance)
Home Burials Offer an Intimate Alternative (Katie Zezima, NY Times, 7-20-90)
Home Funeral Directory
Organizations in several states that help consumers navigate a home funeral (Funeral Consumers Alliance)
Crossings: Caring for Our Own at Death
Home funeral directory (resources for home funerals or family-directed funerals, by state)

Books and Stories About Family-Directed Funerals

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A movement to bring grief back home, a Washington Post story by Rachel Cos, suggests sources of more information on family-directed funerals.
Caring for the Dead: Your Final Act of Love, Upper Access, 1998, by Lisa Carlson. A complete guide for those making funeral arrangements with or without a funeral director. Covers funeral law state by state. $29.95 from the Funeral Consumers Alliance or $18.87 from Amazon.com. Available at many libraries.
Celebrating a Life: Planning Memorial Services and Other Creative Remembrances by Faith Moore (foreword by Letitia Baldrige)
Funerals Without God: A Practical Guide to Non-Religious Funerals by Jane Wynne Wilson, a handbook geared to humanist ceremonies in Great Britain, where they are more common.
Final Rights: Reclaiming the American Way of Death by Joshua Slocum and Lisa Carlson
Grave Matters: A Journey Through the Modern Funeral Industry to a Natural Way of Burial by environmental columnist Mark Harris (a well-written and informative survey of the costs, processes, and effects of various burial options (from traditional funeral with embalming to cremation to various eco-friendly green-funeral options, including burial at sea or on one’s own land), with graphic descriptions of embalming, rotting, etc.
Living Into Dying: A Journal of Spiritual, Practical Deathcare for Family and Community, 2002, by Nancy Jewel Poer. $23 from crossings.net or from Amazon.com
Planning a Celebration of Life, A Simple Guide for Turning a Memorial Service into a Celebration of Life
Rest in Peace: Insider's Tips to the Low Cost Less Stress Funeral by R. Brian Burkhardt
• Crossings publishes a resource guide containing “educational, inspirational, and practical tools” needed to plan a home funeral. Available for $55 at crossings.net.

Dying: A Book of Comfort

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Planning for a Funeral
(Advice from the Federal Trade Commission)

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.

BUY NOW: Dying: A Book of Comfort

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