Dealing with the death of someone you love is never easy. Our heavy hearts can be made heavier by the financial burden, which until recently I thought was unavoidable. Perhaps you share my previous experience of assuming that everybody who had a death in the family simply called a funeral home and followed tradition. However, a traditional funeral, burial, and headstone can easily cost anywhere from $8,000 to $20,000. For most of us, such an expense would mean a heavy debt. With the Church’s frequent counsel to stay out of debt, research of all options available is something worth our time. Since we all know that death is a fact of life, we can begin now to gather information. I did considerable research in the last few months, and am glad to report it is not only possible, but also environmentally advisable to sidestep these high costs.
I have come to understand that spending more money does not show more love for your family member. Furthermore, if you choose a high-cost funeral or an expensive pre-paid funeral plan for yourself, you will be buying unnecessary services and products that benefit no one but the vendor. By purchasing only what is necessary and appropriate to create the memorial your family desires, you may avoid debt and perhaps allocate the thousands of dollars you save to service to the living.
The Internet Is a Convenient Source of Information
So much excellent information is available at the click of a mouse! Here, I outline the main things you need to know and then refer you to websites where you can learn more.
First, visit the official site of the Funeral Consumers Alliance, a nonprofit federation of consumer organizations dedicated to protecting a consumer’s right to choose a meaningful, dignified, affordable funeral (Google FAQs – Funeral Consumers Alliance). They do for funeral purchases what Consumer Reports does for products. This excellent website is a treasure trove of information on funerals and burials. They are a non-profit, all volunteer organization whose mission is to help people carry out meaningful, dignified, and affordable funerals. This website can help you get the facts in regard to other options. It can also help you to make more educated decisions if you want to go through a funeral home. They have comparative prices and practices of all local death industry vendors. Many states have their own branch of this organization, each of which offers local information. (For instance, see Funeral Consumers Alliance of Idaho.)
If You Do Choose to Use a Funeral Director
Of course, there is nothing wrong with letting funeral directors handle everything. If you are completely unprepared for a death in the family, the service they provide during a difficult time can be worth the extra expense. However, be aware of the following:
1.Honorably discharged veterans get free burial at Veterans National Cemeteries. It isn’t necessary to pay a funeral home for services that are offered to you for free. For more information, visit www.cem.va.gov.
2.It is a myth that embalming is required by law and protects the public health. Embalming is expensive and not mandatory. The United States and Canada are the only countries that regularly embalm their dead. Refrigeration can be just as effective in delaying the decomposition of the body for a few days. I had a friend who used this option lately when her son died and said they were so pleased at how much more natural the body looked than the ones she had seem that had been embalmed. Funeral homes are under federal law to have refrigeration capabilities. Eliminating embalming alone will save you upwards of $1,000-and will be a kindness to the environment.
3.You are not required by law to purchase a cement vault. They are required by many cemeteries, but federal and state laws do not require their use. You can find a cemetery that does not require them. Plastic vaults are also now available. In general, vaults do not benefit anyone but those who sell them.
4.If you do opt for a vault, do not purchase the more expensive sealer vault. The vault is designed to keep water out, but it also keeps moisture in. As a result, the body cannot dry out. Often, the seal fails, and the vault fills up with rain water. A non-sealer vault has holes drilled in the bottom to allow water to drain out.
5.You do not have to purchase expensive steel caskets from the funeral home. Not only can the costs be exorbitant, but the impact on the environment is negative. Federal law requires funeral homes to accept any casket, even those made at home. Know your rights! If a funeral home director says he will charge you for bringing in your own casket, call the Funeral Consumer’s Alliance. They will go to bat for you.
Caskets can be purchased online from Walmart, Amazon.com, Costco, and many other online vendors. (Walmart charges an additional $99 for shipping. Costco provides free shipping.)
Additionally, in most locations you can purchase beautiful handmade wood caskets. For example, Google “Affordable Handmade Pine Caskets” or the website: somethingcreative-alexanders.blogspot.com. This website also includes suggestions for saving money on funeral costs.
6.Before you buy a plot in any cemetery, ask about headstone requirements. When our son died, my husband and I were distressed to learn, after the fact, that the cemetery required a specific, very expensive type of headstone we were not pleased with.
Additional Options to Consider
Handle funeral arrangements yourself
You are not required to use a licensed funeral director. Just as a family can save money by acting as their own general contractor when they build a home or by doing much of the work themselves, you can also save money on a burial by handling the arrangements yourself. This is not hard if you know how and prepare beforehand.
For instance, if you click on www.utahfunerals.org and click on “Do-it-yourself Funerals,” you’ll learn all the necessary steps. For instance, if you are not going to use a funeral director, you must file the death certificate yourself and obtain the proper transport permits. The website explains how and includes phone numbers of volunteers who will walk you through the entire process of a home funeral and natural burial.
Cremation is a low-cost option
Many people who opt for cremation request that their ashes be scattered in some natural setting dear to them, sidestepping the need for a costly urn or urn vault. To learn more, Google “cremation in (add the state where you reside)”. Cremation used to be thought of as disrespectful to the body, but the current Church handbook makes it clear that is now an individual choice and suggest that you make it a matter of prayer.
Donate your body to science
You may wish to consider donation of your body to a medical school, especially if there is one near you.
There is usually no expense to the family. We are looking into The University of Utah School of Medicine’s body donor program. Program Director Kerry Don Peterson notes, “The three-dimensional intricacies of the human body cannot be fully duplicated in books, on slides, by computers, or through the use of plastic models. The only medium for thorough study and research of the human being is the body itself. Those who will their bodies to science are giving their mortal substance to contribute to the health and well-being of generations to come. They extend their own usefulness far beyond the grave.”
When medical studies are complete, the body is cremated at no expense to the family, and in accordance with the family’s wishes, the ashes are either returned to the family or placed in a common repository. For more information go to: www.neuro.utah.edu/related or call 801-561-6728.
You may also consider body donor programs at such sites as: Anatomy Gifts Registry and ScienceCare.
Natural or green burial is an option
Traditional embalming, heavy caskets, vaults, and deep graves are all for the purpose of delaying the inevitable decomposition of the body. I began asking the question, “WHY?” What difference does it make? Does it really decrease the reality of “dust to dust” to slow down the process? No, but it can have a very negative effect on the environment.
If you choose natural burial in a “green cemetery,” you can avoid embalming, use a natural wood casket or even a shroud (or a blanket like the Pioneers often did), and have no vault. In a green cemetery, burial is more shallow to facilitate decomposition. In most areas you will be able to find a few commercial cemeteries that have specific areas where green burial is allowed.
If you want to dig the grave yourself or avoid a vault, many rural cemeteries allow you to do so. Also, you can bury on your own rural private property (paying attention to local ordinances governing such). Regardless of your location, a list of rural cemeteries in your area is easily obtained online.
Impact on the Environment Is Noteworthy
If you click on the “Natural Burial” tab at www.utahfunerals.org, you will learn that in addition to high cost, traditional burial has a marked adverse affect on the environment. Each year, over 22,000 cemeteries across the United States bury approximately:
30 million board feet of hardwoods (in caskets)
90,000 tons of steel (in caskets)
14,000 tons of steel (in vaults)
2,700 tons of copper and bronze (in caskets)
1,600,000 tons of reinforced concrete (in vaults)
825,000 gallons of embalming fluid (mostly formaldehyde)
It can take centuries for those elements to decompose, and some are toxic.
You Are in Charge
Remember, you are in charge regarding funeral arrangements for family members and in planning for your own. You are not bound to follow tradition. No one should make the decisions for you. Your own feelings are what count most.
Before you make final decisions, do some research. I had a boss once who said, “When the facts are in, the decision is made.” That certainly was the case when my husband and I researched and compiled the facts. It was easy for us to determine which funeral and burial options reflected our deepest values. Personal values should be the deciding factor. And remember that a traditional funeral and burial are perfectly appropriate if that is what you want and can afford.
Plan for the eventuality of death in your family in a way that makes the most sense to you. Most of us would never consider making any other major purchase without research and cost comparison. Funerals should be no different, although the research is much better done in advance considering our vulnerability after the death of someone we love. It is important to plan ahead, and opting out of the high cost of dying may be part of your plan.