When our soul/spirit departs with death, our mortal remains need to be handled.
Funerals and cremations are the ceremonies for the disposal of these remains. They offer an opportunity for loved ones, relatives, and friends, to say their farewells and celebrate the life of the person who has passed. Usually your faith dictates the ceremony for dealing with the body.
In today's western society, there are primarily three funeral and cremation options open to you:
1. Burial in a traditional casket and cemetery
2. "Green" burial
The traditional burial involves a funeral home, with a casket, and burial in a cemetery. Your faith may determine both the timing of the burial and/or the type of casket to be used.
Most cemeteries today require that the casket be placed in a concrete burial vault, to prevent the ground from sinking as the casket/body decompose.
For Muslim or Jewish cemeteries, the casket may be buried directly in the ground since the religious traditions require that the body and casket return to the earth - ashes to ashes and dust to dust.
In some locations, such as New Orleans, the local geography may prohibit burial. The casket will be placed in a mausoleum above ground.
There will be costs involved in this process, including - for the funeral home:
For a cemetery/mausoleum:
Many funeral homes offer prepayment plans, and this may be a worthwhile option to explore to cap expenses and to ensure that your wishes are followed.
Once you have purchased the cemetery plot or the mausoleum, you can also purchase the headstone and/or plaque - one that you like - and have it installed in your lifetime. My parents did this for their graves, having their names, birth dates, and wedding date engraved on the stone and placed in the cemetery prior to their deaths. When my father died, all that was necessary for the headstone was for the date of his passing to be engraved.
For the burial, pallbearers are needed to carry the casket from the funeral home to the hearse, from the hearse to the house of worship and back, and then from the hearse to the grave.
There are normally four to six people selected for this honor, and the funeral home will provide them with etiquette guidance for their role if needed. It can be either friends or family.
Despite the honor of being asked to perform this service, a pallbearer needs to be aware that the coffin and body will be very heavy. They need to consider their ability to manage the physical requirements of the role.
If this is a military funeral, the pallbearers are commonly members of the service branch in which the deceased served.
Green funerals are becoming more and more popular. While the definition may vary, green funerals ultimately are simpler, more environmentally friendly, and oten consider conservation of natural resources.
Also green, hybrid, or natural funerals may be less clostly - another factor that has added to its appeal.
Green funeral service options are avialable through may raditional funeral homes, but you will need to do your research. Accredited 'green' funeral homes can help with the requirements for the burial (shrouds or green caskets), embalming (only biodegradable and non-toxic solutions), and creamtion (lower carbon emission and no metal remains in the body).
In reality, people are reverting to earlier traditions - before bodies had to be transported long distances or the funeral industry, as we know it now, existed.
Green, hybrid, or natural funerals tend to be less costly than typical funeral arrangements and services. The lower cost is a significant contributor to the demand for natural funeral services.
A bit of U.S. history here. Up until the 1930s, most people conducted home funerals. The body was washed, prepared, and set in dry ice for 1-3 days for viewing. Burials would usually take place within the home grounds. The use of embalming procedures originated during the civil war, to transport the number of bodies to their final resting place.
In some ways, by requesting a green funeral, we are reverting to centuries' old traditions. Every culture has its own variation and concerns with disposal and respect for the dead, but each one has roots in a natural format - from burials at sea recognized by the Nordic cultures to funeral pyres in Asian countries.
Traditional funeral homes may offer green funerals, but not all do. So do your research to ensure that you can have this handled according to your wishes. You will also want to explore your options for burial, as there may be more unique locations with this approach.
I always remember my father asking to be buried in a plain pine box. He was a World War II veteran, so he said the government would provide a flag. He was Jewish, and their traditional rituals were very simple.
But "simple" is not easy to do in the middle of NYC. We were guided by the funeral director, and we searched for the plainest casket available. The government did not provide a flag, and my mother wanted to honor her husband of 50 years with a mantle of red roses.
At the time, I had not heard of green funerals. However, as I look back, it is the simplicity and humbleness of his wishes that remind me of green funerals. The simplicity reflects the ashes to ashes concept of life.
You will never lose the memories of your loved ones. They will always remain in your heart.
Cremation accelerates the return of our physical bodies to their basic chemical compounds, which is what happens with decomposition. It is an alternative to burial or other forms of disposal in funeral practices.
Some people prefer to have the bodily remains present at the funeral with cremation to follow; others prefer that the cremation occur prior to the funeral or memorial service.
Cremation can be a religious choice - it is the common funerary practice in the Hindu religion for example - or can be based on your personal preferences. One of the many factors in the increased use of cremation is the reduced costs over a traditional burial.
Cremated remains (also know as "cremains" or simply "ashes") do not constitute a health risk, may be buried in cemeteries, interred in memorial sites or mausoleums, or they may be retained by relatives.
Alternatively, they may be dispersed in various ways. If you elect to have your ashes dispersed at a particular location, be sure to inquire if this is possible; some sites do not allow this to be done.
As with a traditional burial, preplanning and payment are possible for cremation as well.
Regardless of what you choose, you need to ensure that you have left the details for the disposition of your body in your planning document, such as our When I Leave You organizer.
These details will include the name, address, and telephone number of the funeral home or crematorium and that of the cemetery or mausoleum or memorial garden, along with the details of any prepaid plan for this rite of passage.
My friend had left me the name and telephone number of the cemetery where her parents were buried but did not give me the name of a funeral home! Luckily, her church friends were able provide guidance.
If the deceased was in active duty at the time of death, or a veteran, he or she may be eligible for a military funeral at one of the national cemeteries. This option is available whether the ceremony is a traditional burial service or a burial of the cremains.
A brief ceremony is permitted, including any readings or military honors, led by someone of the family's choice. This ceremony takes place at a special area called a committal shelter. There is no option for a graveside service. A cemetery official will be there to help guide guests and family members.
The family may also choose to have military funeral honors performed during the ceremony, including:
Additional information can be found at the Veterans' Administration website and the National Cemetary Administration.
Step-by-step guide on what to do first. Calls, paperwork, care arrangements, etc.
Detailed guide to preparing or fulfilling final wishes
Next hurdle - how to handle financial records and accounts
Key reiminders on securing residences - owned and rented, apartments and houses - after a loved one's death
What you need to know to protect and eliminate the deceased's digtial presence
Don't forget subscriptions, memberships, and more...
Funny, helpful and special stories shared by others to help you through the process
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