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Are You Afraid to Plan for Your Own Death?

Posted on Mar 27, 2010

By Frankie Colmane

(Page 2)

The Challenges

It’s not for everyone,” admits Lyons. “If your loved one died after a long illness, the family might be too exhausted.” Depending upon your culture and religious inclinations, you may need more or less time than the amount of days your state allows you to keep the body. According to Lyons, people on average keep the body in the home for three days, but a body can be safely preserved with dry ice for up to five or six days.

“Orthodox Jews and Muslims typically aim or try to bury by sundown the next day,” Barrett remarks, “and in the African American tradition, the participation of all significant family members is an honorable tradition. It’s often considered insensitive, impolite and an insult to have a funeral before a family member who is away is trying to get home. That’s one of the reasons why they need seven to ten days before burial.”

Another obstacle is space. The families featured in A Family Undertaking live in rural areas. “Since the 1950’s, people have evolved to smaller and smaller living accommodations,” notes Barrett. “In urban environments, apartments with stairs, hallways and corners make it impossible to negotiate a full casket for a full adult.” Barrett also raises another specter: “When the cause of death is violent or a protracted illness where there is a disease process, then the idea of trying to care for a body at home raises all kinds of health concerns depending upon the environment. The idea of moving back to a home death-care situation probably would have to be regulated to protect the health and welfare of the population at large.”


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The funeral industry is already trying to regulate home funerals. “In Oregon they have passed a bill to license home funeral guides,” says Lyons. “They can educate in a classroom situation but not at the time somebody dies unless they pay for the licensing. Funeral homes are angry because they have to pay to go to school, pay for their licenses, they have to carry insurance and all the overhead, and some home funeral guides like me just want to help families do their own home funerals.”

How Death Became a Stranger

Ironically, up until the late 1800s, American families cared for their dead at home without any government oversight and women were usually responsible for preparing and caring for the dead body. That all changed with the Civil War and its 600,000 casualties. Deceased soldiers were often hastily buried on the battlegrounds. Only families of significant financial means could afford to hire funeral directors to find the bodies and ship them home for burial. The rest of the country not only endured the unnatural loss of their sons but was robbed of the healing rite of caring and preparing the bodies of their loved ones for burial. Add to this traumatic shift the lower mortality rates that slowly made death a stranger in American homes, as well as an ever-expanding consumer society pushing to embellish funeral rites, and funeral directors slowly took over the familial duty.

Keeping home funerals more affordable than traditional ones is another challenge. “Even if the family does the funeral at home,” says Lyons, “even if they have their own ceremony, even if they do the paperwork, file it with the state and drive the body to the crematorium, the crematorium might give them a little discount but mostly they’re going to charge them the full amount of a direct cremation. They’re going to say that their basic fee is $1,000 and that they have their overhead fees. Luckily, in our area I know two funeral homes that are willing to only charge for the cremation. It’s $250. The families will have done everything else.”

In this country, the average cost of a mortuary-directed funeral with burial is $7,000; with cremation it’s $5,000. Lyons holds the vision that “eventually communities will come together and will cooperatively own their own green cemeteries and their own crematoriums, because as long as it’s controlled by the funeral industry in the way that it is, we will always be subject to paying whatever they’re going to charge.”

Ronald Barrett agrees, “In many cases the way packaging is done by most funeral homes, there is a disincentive for families to be personally involved. You are almost encouraged to purchase a package in order to save on the individual items.” This practice is in direct violation with one of the Federal Trade Commission’s Funeral Rules, called “The Customer’s Right to Choose.” The rule was implemented in 1975 to curb the questionable practices of the funeral industry exposed by Jessica Mitford in her 1963 best-seller The American Way of Death.

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By TAO Walker, March 29, 2010 at 5:48 pm Link to this comment

Here in Indian Country we don’t fear death.  We know, though, it’s just damned foolish to “plan for” it.

Time was, before the arrival of the tormentors, when our Women giving birth had the only ‘say’ about who got in here, there were pretty strict ‘admissions standards’ for Human Beings, and not just anybody could make it….especially on the first try.  On the other hand, getting out was easy and natural as could be.

It’s one of the signature features of the virtual world-o’-hurt where our tame Sisters and Brothers only half-live that male-dominated “medical science” took CONtrol of the entry Way in most “developed” places, and its practitioners take great pride (antecedent to a great FALL?) in letting-in all comers.  Meantime, even those sick and tired of being sick-and-tired play bloody hell trying to make-good their escape, as “science” and religiossified make-believe CONspire to prolong the agony….at-least ‘til “the money” runs-out.

That more-and-more of the captives are ‘pushing-back’ against both these gratuitous insults to their Humanity is indeed a good sign….here in these latter days.


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By Blackspeare, March 29, 2010 at 9:21 am Link to this comment

Direct cremation remains the most economical end of life process.  However, if you want to be real thrifty then donate your body to science or medical school and when they finish with the body it is cremated and returned to the family in a plain brown wrapper for eventual dispersion of the ashes——hopefully the ashes are the right ones, but mix-ups do occur.

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By NYCartist, March 29, 2010 at 6:46 am Link to this comment

I have signed a document requesting cremation (required in NYS).  Gerard, see  This article is not about “assisted suicide” but Not Dead Yet is, plus more.

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By gerard, March 28, 2010 at 5:06 pm Link to this comment

It appears that I may live so long that I may reach the point (due to illness, pain, deterioration etc.) where I will wish I could plan my own death (as “assisted suicide” etc).  And I realize the great values of other cultures where people, unlike European/Americans with their avoidance techniques, take personal care of their family members up to and including the end and beyond. But ... we are a long way removed from it in this country, and used to the slithery blandishments of “funeral directors”.  It would take some tender assistance to return us to less commercialized, more humane and loving ways to die.
  Planning my own funeral (quite another thing) doesn’t interest me.

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By skulz fontaine, March 28, 2010 at 10:05 am Link to this comment

Watch how quickly the mortuary industry pitches one histrionic fit about we
simple folk not knowing the ins and outs of death. “They” being the professionals
of course and we little people being just ignorant simpletons and unskilled in the
art of burying the dead. Laws will be passed rapido and then and as is said, that
will be that. Bring out you dead will become another government mandate. Of
course and obviously, a mandate is not an evening with George Clooney.

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By doublestandards/glasshouses, March 28, 2010 at 7:51 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Cremation is a very simple process.  They’ve been doing it in India for millenium without help from
funeral homes or morticians.  It will be intersting to see Americans reacquainting ourselves with the facts of life.  Once we learn to take death away from big business maybe we could take life back, too.

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By G.Anderson, March 28, 2010 at 7:28 am Link to this comment

Actually, no….I’ve given it lots of thought, and I wonder, like many in my generation, if there will be anyone around to burry me when the time comes.

Will the Earth, become instinct, ending the lives of it’s billions of inhabitants in one fell swoupe, or will we all fall victim to some dire plague, a super H1N1 like virus, as happened in the Eukraine?

or will the LHC create an interdimensional breach into desitter space, turning the space we inhabit to a quazar for several parsecs? Or create a self replicating strange particle that turns the earth into a massive strange planet. Or will the Sandia Z-Machine turn itself into a white hole vaporizing the western states?

Will the methane trapped in the deep ocean, suddenly be released, destroying all the air we breath? Will the honey bees die off along with the bats, leading us to starvation? Or will the planet Nirubu return, as many predict, crushing the earth into millions of pieces?

Along with alien invasion from outerspace, and a plain old nuclear war, will there be anyone left to care who gets a casket or not, if any one of these scenarios comes to pass?

But you see, thinking about death is one of our larger industries in this country, especially for the movie industry.

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