Guest Author - Rev. Jaclin Meade Scott
A member of our Bereavement Community posed the question. While people are losing savings, homes, and some don’t know how they’re going to feed their kids, what happens when someone dies? What can a family do if there is no money for a funeral and burial?
Amidst all the other crises, this is probably one thing few people are thinking about. Yet, not being prepared for this can be horrendously stressful on a good day, let alone in current times. Our gratitude to the Reader for thinking ahead for all of us.
Research for this article brought up some major points: Discuss, Write it down, Prepare.
People don’t like talking about death. Get over it. Left to their own devices, your family will go overboard, into debt, trying to “honor” you. This is partially out of social pressure, partly out of guilt used as a sales technique by SOME in the funeral industry. 99.9% of the people in the after death care business are wonderful, ethical folks. But they ARE in business, and trying to keep themselves above water like the rest of us.
There are several options. You need to be open minded, practical, and willing to do some homework ahead of time. This is absolutely crucial. You won’t have time to do the necessary foot- and paper-work once death has occurred. Even if there is no death pending in your family, having all the info you need won’t hurt. And, as is our Community’s practice, sharing the info with others can save someone a lot of pain. So look into these options, and prepare to be a blessing.
Options we will discuss will include Traditional American funeral/burial practices; Home Funerals; Body Donation; Cremation.; and Laws and Consumer Rights.
Nowadays in the U.S., when a person dies, someone is called in to remove the body, usually to a funeral home. There, the body is embalmed. That means blood is replaced with a preservative chemical. The body is given a shampoo and set, make up is applied, and they are displayed in a coffin. The coffin is usually metal, or wood finished with chemicals. There is a viewing (wake), memorial service, funeral service, graveside service. The coffin is then set in a cement underground vault which serves to keep the dirt from shifting, and slow decomposition even more. A marker is placed at the gravesite, usually made from quarried stone, a non-renewable source. That means the rock can never grow back. All of this costs thousands of dollars.
It may surprise you to know that these practices are modern developments. Embalming was used first around the time of the Civil War, to aid in sending soldiers’ bodies home, which could take quite a bit of time. Everything else in that last paragraph came after. It may also surprise you to know that the U.S. is the only country that does it that way. And here’s something else to ponder – none of it is required, or even necessary. It all stems from our culture of Capitalism.
One alternative is home funerals. This is how after death care is done in most parts of the world. Ever wonder why family members make a priority of being with a loved one as they die? We want to connect one last time in life. We want to stay connected through death. Since death is very much part of life, this is NATURAL. Some consider it a privilege to attend to the body after death. The washing (usually with herbal liquids, not soap), touching, honoring. Then the body is dressed, and laid out in a homemade coffin, or just on a sheet placed over a bed or table. Visitors pay their respects. Then the family transports the body, and lays it in a simple hole dug in the ground. Anyone who wishes may help put dirt in the hole, helping the loved one to rest in peace. Traditionally, most take a handful of dirt, with the hard work left to those that can handle it. Markers are carved in wood, fashioned in metal, or something is planted at the site. All of this is legal in the U.S. But it’s going to take permits, planning, searching for burial place and materials, and time. Coffins made of biodegradable materials are easily purchased, but may have to be shipped, and stored until needed. This all has to be done ahead of time. Once a funeral home is contacted, you are on the traditional route. If a home funeral suits you, you and your family all have to be on board with the idea.
Cremation, once a rarity, is now quite commonplace. Some will tell you that cremation spews all sorts of junk into the atmosphere. But crematoriums must follow EPA guidelines. The only threats to the environment are embalming chemicals, and chemicals used on fancy coffins. Forego those, and you have no problem at all. The ashes can be disposed of by the crematorium, or retuned to the family, to do with as they please. If scattering is your wish, you may have to look into permits. But there are people out there to help you meet the wishes of the deceased and the family. It’s just going to take time to find them. You may also bury the ashes (cremains) in a biodegradable urn, or a fancy (expensive) one. Again, planning ahead is the key. If you have it all worked out ahead of time, you give a tremendous gift to your family, making a difficult time a bit easier.
One of the most selfless and helpful acts you can perform is donate your body to medical research. This can be done regardless of where you die. If your body has been on machines for organ and tissue transplant, bless you. You have saved many lives. And you can still let researchers study you afterward. You could help educate a doctor who will find a cure, a better procedure. Most of our modern medical advancements are due to the generous individuals who volunteer for these studies. A future article will go into more detail on this process. Basically, all expenses are covered by the institution receiving your gift. A year or so after your death, your cremains are returned to your family if so desired, or buried by the medical institution very honorably.
Most world religions have no problem with this.
Below you’ll find a link to a magnificent article by Max Alexander. I cannot speak too highly of this. I strongly encourage you to read it.
You’ll also find a link to a very helpful website on consumers’ rights as regards after death care. This will answer questions, offer materials and resources, and much more.
With all you have to worry about, final expenses needn’t be on the list.