Only a Mortician Thinks About…

I imagine every career set has little details that only professionals in that field ever really consider. I bet cosmetic surgeons look at everyone and consider how they might “fix” them, or how to replicate them. Stoneworkers and masons look at every stone job they see with a critical eye. Was that job done right? Maybe a certain stone should have gone somewhere else.

I’m still green in the mortuary business. I’ve been at it nearly a year now. But sometimes my own thoughts as a newbie make me laugh, and make me wonder. Well here are some of the lovely little thoughts that go through a funeral director’s mind throughout a given day:

“I wish I was doing that celebrity funeral.” When Nancy Reagan passed recently I was fascinated by her funeral. A friend asked me if I was experienced enough to handle such a big event as that. Honestly I don’t know, but I sure would like to try, or I would have liked to help. Then sometimes I think of other funerals in the past, before I was an FD, and consider what those FD’s did to put them together. Imagine what I would do with a Michael Jackson funeral! I would really like to do Alice Cooper when the time comes. Should Vince ever read this (Alice’s real name) I hope he gives me a preneed, because I’ve been a lifelong fan.

“I wish I was licensed in a different state, to help a special someone.” This one hit me hard with the death of my father. He lived in New York. I am licensed in California. There was nothing I could do to help other than offer to help with the paperwork etc.. When a family member dies I feel helpless, we probably all do. But to have the skill set to assist my mom with dad’s arrangements, and not be able to execute any of them, with the care and perfection that I hope the NY mortuary Wattengel Funeral Home, used… well that’s a whole different level of helplessness.

“That person is going to be hard to handle.”  It’s not a weight thing, though weight plays into it for sure! Some folks are just built differently or have handicaps that make it difficult to provide aftercare. At the Las Vegas airport last year I sat confounded, watching a double amputee male who was quite robust. When the time comes (and it will for all of us) the funeral home he chooses will have some real difficulties picking him up, transporting him, he may even need a custom casket. My mind wanders to questions like “Should our funeral home charge more for truly difficult removals? Would that be ethical? Do they even make caskets that would fit him?” Well, with the caskets anyhow, the answer is yes. Custom caskets are very much available in all sorts of sizes and weights.

“How does she do her makeup/hair like that?”  Care and preparation of a body for a funeral service is one of my favorite parts of my job. It’s hard to describe, but if you’ve ever helped a bride or groom get ready for their big special day, it’s a lot like that. All eyes will be on the person you’re preparing. Everything needs to be just right. This may be how many family members remember your case. It will certainly be how everyone judges your service as a funeral director… Sometimes it’s HARD AS HECK to get a lady’s hair just right.

There are other details too. Some less printable. We think about smells a lot. Pacemakers. Bionic knees and ankles. Organ donation.

But that’s the gist of it.



Cremation vs. Burial… What’s Right For You?

One of the biggest decisions of your final arrangements is the question of cremation vs. burial. It’s an important choice because it affects every aspect of your arrangements. It’s also an entirely personal choice and in California you have the right to make your own arrangements, to be sure they come out exactly as you wish.

Some primary concerns when making the choice of cremation vs. burial are cost, religious rules, and family traditions. I also hear folks discussing environmental concerns.

Lets start with cremations. Cremation costs less than a funeral right now. Prices vary all over the country but I see basic cremations ranging anywhere from $900 to $1,200 in California. I suspect this will change because there is a growing trend towards cremation. According to the Roseville and Granite Bay Press Tribune the cremation rate for the United States is currently 43.5%. It’s been forecasted that the U.S. will reach a 50% cremation rate by 2018. Here in California the cremation rate is all ready at 50%. Forward thinking funeral directors will increase their cremation pricing in the future to compensate for this, to make up for earnings they would have gotten from burials. Prices always seem to increase for everything, that’s as inevitable as death and taxes.

Your religion or spirituality may have enormous impact on your choice to cremate or bury. Some religions simply forbid cremation like Islam, Eastern Orthodox Christianity and certain fundamental Christian groups. The Roman Catholic Church only recently allowed cremations. If you’re very religious chances are you know your religious position on final disposition. If you’re not religious but your family is, you may want to discuss their feelings before starting your pre-need arrangement. But remember, ultimately the decision is yours.

Family traditions have less impact on your choice to cremate or bury than they once did. Years ago families were buried in family plots. Family cemeteries were kept for generations. Our culture doesn’t promote this anymore. (I believe this is because we are more mobile and also because infant mortality is much lower in the U.S. than it was back in those days.) If your family does have a family plot, you should go check that out before making your decision. But really, even if your family maintains it’s own cemetery you could certainly place your inurned remains there.

Most folks have a misunderstanding about cremation and the environment. People don’t realize that the cremation chamber (retort) will have to be kept around 1800 degrees F, for a couple hours using natural gas. Then there is smoke and ash put into the air. Last is the final disposition of the cremated remains which can end up in water sources or the ocean. (It is absolutely illegal to dispose of remains in a stream, lake etc. in California! Don’t do it!)

Finally, cremations are irreversible. Remains are completely destroyed. Should there be a question in the future about your cause of death or a future way to do important DNA research, say to cure disease in your grandchild for example, that your remains would be needed for… oh well. They’re just ashes now.

On now to burials. They can cost a great deal more. I see burials ranging from $2000 to $12,000 online, and that’s before paying cemetery costs to purchase, open and close a grave, or memorial stone purchase and placement. The difference, though, is that with a burial in a cemetery there is a guaranteed location for your remains. Forever. Friends can come reflect and future generations can come visit or do genealogy research. It also means that your remains are not destroyed, should the need for future research arise.

Some folks find peace of mind knowing their exact resting place for eternity, as opposed to being ashes tossed into the wind. Or maintained well for a few years and then who-knows-what could happen to them.

Aside from Hindu funerals, burials are generally accepted by most of the major religions in the States. If your religious, cultural or family traditions require burial it does become a preferable choice.

Environmentally, I don’t believe burials have an entirely negative effect. Decomposition is a natural, necessary process that occurs to all organic matter sooner or later. If you are deeply concerned about environmental issues you should check out green burials, a new idea in California. Green cemeteries accept un-embalmed remains in caskets that are easily reclaimed by the earth.

In the end, the question of burial vs. cremation is one only you can answer for yourself. I hope this post gives readers a starting point for thought or discussion with their families.