Sunday, July 24, 2016

High Cost of Death, Green Burial, Medical School Option

"Green Burial"

Oh Bury Me Not,
on the Lone Prairie

Recent illness in the family reminded me that my parents had pre-paid their funeral arrangements, with instructions as to their wishes. 

At the time, I thought this deeply considerate of them in advance of the maelstrom of loss.

In the last few weeks I've ventured into the particulars of the funeral industry, and begin to grasp that it's astoundingly expensive to die, in the confabulation now accepted as norm. 

Parental kindness had in fact saved me from grief-fueled burial expenditures. 

...and what do you get?
Another day older & deeper in debt.
St. Peter, don't ya call me 
'çause I can't go...
I owe my soul... to the funeral home.

More on that in a moment, now that I've calmed down!

A pragmative kin reports that he has sidestepped funeral industry costs altogether, by donating his future corpse to a nearby medical school.

My first experience of a funeral with open casket concerned an unusual relative of my mother's (and, therefore, mine!) 

The cousin, a pretty woman, had lived an impassioned make-believe, awaiting a Hollywood agent to find her in a backwater small town. She floated down the staircase of Victorian mansions, gone slightly to seed, in gauzy chiffon.

Though her husband was never wealthy, she had insisted on a fitting funeral and that her aesthetician daughter do hair and make up of Mater's corpse.

My own mother, knowing I'd have balked at attending, spared me the magnitude of the theatre ahead. She did look at me fiercely and say, 

"Not a word; do you hear me?"

First the elaborate casket caught my eye with its silver fittings, and lining of mauve cut-velvet. Dolorous hymns were playing at largo.

We were admitted into the family area. The relative was propped up on cushions and wearing a lacy silk peignoir set, her hair freshly bottle-blond, teased, sprayed and bouffant. 

The face lay professionally made-up by the dutiful daughter, complete with false eyelashes coyly resting on the cheekbones.

I began to hyperventilate, I hoped, discreetly. Mother kicked my ankle.

At a later adult date, I attended a more understated funeral, an Admiral's at the Naval Academy. Again an open casket, the corpse dressed in full military regalia. The funeral parlor had applied make up and his reading glasses. I reeled off into the reception area.

At the USNA Chapel, the Academy choir sang the Navy Hymn, resonant male voices from the curving balcony overhead:

Eternal Father, strong to save,
Whose arm doth bind the restless wave,
Who bidst the mighty ocean deep
Its own appointed limits keep.
Oh hear us when we cry to Thee
for those in peril on the sea...

As the funeral cortège slowly drove to the Admirals' cemetary, I lurched at the roar of a cannon shot, the "minute watch" which boomed every sixty seconds till we reached the open grave. 

He had served in WWI, at Pearl Harbor, the Pacific... Formidable, and the end of an era begun in the Gilded Age.

Still later, I sat in a canoe off the Maine coast as a grande dame's ashes were strewn across the cove she had loved. The quietude moved me so, the sound of the sea and gulls crying and an a capella voice singing farewell.

In present time, I have learned that the funeral industry's "simplicity" of cremation can set one back $3-4,000, depending on added this and that.

This energized an internal you've-got-to-be-kidding so I pressed for details on "green burial."

No embalming, no casket, no funeral home "viewing" of the remains.

Again, north of three thou. If the deceased has provided for his or her own shroud, the funeral home "package of savings" is violated and an additional fee of several hundred will be required. Then more for the burial plot, and no grave-digger, instead rental of a back hoe.

Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him... a fellow of infinite jest...

Which brought me to memory of an old-timey family funeral. Two of the surviving relatives were well-respected RN's, including the son. 

Death certificate in hand, they had a plan, to roll the deceased in a family quilt and bury him at the ranch.

The hospital administration went into absolutely-not-mode. Demanding a casket, forms, taxes, regulations.

An improv casket was produced, the nurse widow gave all obstructions the beady eye and they strong-armed their way out of the hospital bureaucracy. 

With the corpse settled into the back of the farm truck, they headed home, and took care of their own...

I entered the casket room of the funeral home, and continued my research into the Fellini film of elaborate death.

The "basic package" costs over $6,000... In a poor county with large families, whose members will eventually all die. 

I turned to the man suavely briefing me and announced the costs to be, "monstrous." 

He smiled and offered that they do try to restrain excessive grief and guilt expenditures out of consideration for the poor economy, and then a small blurt: And so the funeral home gets paid.

A plain pine casket, unlined, is available, for more than $1,000--the sort of thing that used to be hammered togther in someone's barn.

Coffins range up to $10k extra, beyond the basic package, or a bronze one can be flown in by private jet for $30 thou! A crypt might also be built, at the price of a small home for the living. 

Not quite Lorenzo the Magnificent in grandeur, but nonetheless stunning, when so many are on food stamps and out of work.

The funeral parlor guy impressed upon me that they are burdened with regulations, taxes and terribly expensive liability insurance, and they do perform a vauable community service.

Granted, but have we lost our minds?

In war zones, Lord have mercy, body parts are gathered up and buried swiftly, without egregious add-on expenses to grief and loss. 

In some religious practices, the dead are left for carrion birds to pick clean; the bones are then pounded to dust. Elsewhere dead are cremated on outdoor funeral pyres.

As ever more complex bureaucratic institutions exert themselves and begin to unravel, we may return to the simple, the affordable. We may find our way back to simpler rites of passage.

And a compelling subtext may be at work. Millions of us all over the world have returned to live the aftermath of numinous near-death-experiences (NDE's.) 

The techno-medical profession brings many back, preventing the "failure" of death, though Hospice wisdom stands as a balance to that particular urgency.

In any case, passing beyond the veil leaves one changed, and perhaps quieter on what really matters in the time remaining on earth.


  1. Another looming death, known as "death of the dollar" with those familiar with the ultimate destiny of all fiat currency, will dissolve the bureaucracy and force the return of simplicity and logical cost to that passage process that awaits us all.


  3. Kevin, yes, larger confabulations are bloated up like Jabba the hutt, and TSHTF as we speak. Thanks for your knowledgeable input.

    wbjful, that's a heck of a good article you've linked. Thanks. When I went on my data-gathering adventure, I noted that everyone who worked at the funeral home seemed to have attended charm school. Their reputation is for excellent customer service, but I had a nauseating feeling that kindness also opens pockebooks and can be lucrative.

  4. Note to Apu. Appreciated your comment, but as mentioned elsewhere in the f&f articles, the site is set up as Public Health info freely given.

    Biz links within a comment are better posted to social media. Thanks.


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