Traditionally, in America, funerals have been held in the “parlour” of the deceased’s home. During the beginning decades of the twentieth century, the funeral business became more industrialized and funerals were moved to what we now call “Funeral Homes”, or “Funeral parlours.” Recently, however, there seems to be an interesting trending back toward “home funerals.”
This could be related to an evolution in understanding what the funeral is meant to accomplish for the grieving family. Having a funeral at a funeral home allows the director to take care of things for the family, but it also, by default, creates a disconnect between the funeral arrangements and their naturally occurring emotions.
In actuality, it causes a temporary shut-down of the grieving process for the length of time between the initial meeting with the funeral director and the post-reception gathering. This is not a bad thing—just the way it works.
On the other hand, with “home funerals,” the grieving process is allowed to progress uninterrupted. There is no unfamiliar setting for the funeral, no feeling that one has to put on a brave face in public. The family and friends are in their loved one’s home (or that of a close relative or friend), surrounded by familiar objects and memories. This fosters a feeling of security, so that it is safe to cry because everyone else understands, okay to laugh at funny memories, all right just to sit and take your time dealing with the loss. All this happens while the funeral director patiently talks the family through their tough decisions in the comfort of their own family room or at the kitchen table. The funeral director may even share meals and quiet time with the family. The developing familiarity and friendship prepares them to feel more comfortable during the funeral service itself.
Another benefit of home funerals is that schedules are much more relaxed for everyone. Home funerals are actually a two or three day experience, because many of the preparatory tasks ordinarily handled at the funeral home are done at the family’s home; the funeral director simply drops by the house when matters need to be tended to. Grieving cannot be rushed, so this new type of funeral offers a more personalized approach. Unlike funeral parlors which close at a set hour, with “home funerals,” people can sit with the deceased all night if they want or need to. No one will tell them that they have to leave.
Home funerals meet the needs of a growing percentage of grieving families. They are obviously not practical for large gatherings, so they will probably never become the norm—but it is comforting to know that they are an option.
Today’s guest post comes the hard working, creative entrepreneur, Matthew White. Matthew graduated from Cambridge in 2002 majoring in English after which he traveled Central America, Australia and South East Asia. While abroad he gained an abundance of cultural experience and also taught English in various places. He worked for Life Trends Magazine as the creative director from 2008-2009.
Since then, he has been working on developing resources to help grieving families, which resulted in opening the website funeralparlour.com which currently specializes in obituary templates and their complete customizations. He plans on broadening the scope of this website in the near future. Give him your “like” on his Facebook page.
Seventy-five years from now it’s very possible that Green Burials will replace embalming as “the traditional mode of disposition.” The environmental friendliness of green burials is one reason (not to mention the DIY spirit behind it) why I believe Americans may start to trend towards this mode.
Scientific American says it well: “Modern western-world burial practices are arguably absurd, all things considered: We pack our dearly departed with synthetic preservatives and encase them in impenetrable coffins meant to defy the natural forces of decomposition that have been turning ashes to ashes and dust to dust for eons.”
Along with this, shall we call it, denial, there is a tremendous amount of waste in modern burials, at least in America.
According to National Geographic,
“American funerals are responsible each year for the felling of 30 million board feet of casket wood (some of which comes from tropical hardwoods), 90,000 tons of steel, 1.6 million tons of concrete for burial vaults, and 800,000 gallons of embalming fluid. Even cremation is an environmental horror story, with the incineration process emitting many a noxious substance, including dioxin, hydrochloric acid, sulfur dioxide, and climate-changing carbon dioxide.”
That’s heartbreaking. Death is hard enough to contemplate, but the last thing I want to do after I’m gone is make the world worse for everyone else still here. Sure, I’ve loved trees and steel and concrete in this life, but I certainly don’t need them once I’ve passed away. You guys enjoy them! And after trying so hard to be a good person, I really don’t want my final contribution to the world to be a noxious substance.
So, what to do? Scientific American lists a few options, including sustainably-harvested more-biodegradable coffins, trees instead of headstones, dry ice instead of embalming fluid, and specially-designed urns that can become part of ocean reefs.
The Huffington Post likewise lists horrifying statistics (formaldehyde causes cancer and prevents a corpse from “decomposing efficiently, and this slow rotting process favors sulfur-loving bacteria, which can harm nearby water sources”) and better, more affordable alternatives.
Two that caught my eye were a new technology that can turn a corpse into compost, and a bicycle hearse. Design Taxi featured Martín Azúa’s Bios Urn (shown above), a biodegradable urn that holds ashes and the tree seed of your choice (although keep in mind that according to the Huffington Post, “the energy used to cremate one body is equivalent to driving 4,800 miles”).
Ignoring the acerbic language and tone of the article, would you consider a green burial?
Watkins Glen, New York.
That’s where I want to be buried.
This is one of the many water falls in the Watkins Glen State Park.
Some people have the freedom to move where they want to live. I don’t. I’m tethered to the deaths of Parkesburg, Pa.
If I could move, there’s a couple places that I’d really like to live … and they are all somewhat
and have copious amounts of flowing water.
Being that I can’t live at one of these spots, I plan to be dead at such a place.
I’ve told my wife that I want to buried at Watkins Glen.
I can’t afford to live there, but I’m sure I can afford to be dead there.
If you could be buried anywhere, where would it be?
Answer these questions with a “yes” or “no”. If you answer all “yes”, you are 100% funeral taboo … in other words, you’re willing to try funeralization practices that aren’t generally accepted by society.
With each “no” your taboo goes down 10%.
(NOTE: these questions assume a disposition of burial)
1. Do you want to be buried/cremated in something other than dress clothes?
2. Does a house funeral appeal to you?
3. Would you like your pet to attend your funeral?
4. Are you more likely to spend money on a funeral meal than funeral merchandise?
5. Is burial in a traditional cemetery unappealing to you?
6. Would you rather have your funeral ceremony be more extemporaneous than structured … less preacher centered and more sharing centered?
7. Does having a photographer and/or videographer at a funeral appeal to you?
8. Do you want to incorporate aspects of a green funeral into your funeral?
10. Have you considered that “DIY” can apply to funerals?
So, how taboo are you?
I mentioned this phenomena on my 20/20 interview.
I mentioned the Germany cremation fire that recently occurred in a post a few months back.
And now this news headline out of Austria: “Dead obese woman had so much body fat she set the building on fire during her cremation”.
I’m not a fan of macabre, but this news article highlights more than the grotesque … it also highlights the growing difficulty the funeral industry is having as we adapt to the every growing obesity epidemic.
As you may realize, when a morbidly obese person is cremated, there’s a danger of what can only be called (in layman’s terms) a “grease fire.” In the past — especially in America — such fires have prompted crematoriums to purchase larger retorts (a retort is the “oven”) and to use different methods of cremating morbidly obese persons.
Despite such responses by crematoriums, morbid obesity is a growing problem in first-world counties. A recent survey shows that 63% of Americans are either overweight or obese. That percentage has stayed relatively steady over the past couple years.
Yet, the percentage of morbidly obese persons (those who are 100 pounds over a healthy weight) has doubled every five years.
And as more and more people become morbidly obese, crematoriums — despite their efforts to accommodate this epidemic — are still behind the curve, especially the crematoriums in smaller countries which seem to be slower to adapt.
And so we have this out of Austria:
Firemen in the southern city of Graz were covered in thick sticky soot as they tried to prevent the blaze from taking hold of the building.
The case has been widely reported in Austrian media, including in the ORF – the country’s equivalent of our BBC – and has ignited calls for a weight limit on bodies to protect against future fires.
Firemen whose clothing was left covered with a layer of greasy black soot were snapped as they tackled the difficult to extinguish blaze in special breathing gear to avoid breathing in the fumes.
In the end they had to bring the fire under control by sending a blast of water in through the vents used to clear the filter. Repair work took several days during which time the crematorium was out of action.
Firemen said that after reports of similar problems at other cemeteries not only in Austria but also in Switzerland, officials were now are considering a ban on larger bodies.
And now for the picture of those greased covered fireman:
So … what would you do if you were in the Austrian government?
Would you ban larger bodies?
Would you accommodate larger bodies by increasing the size of the retorts?