I am asked many, many questions regarding the funeral industry; particularly cremation. Being involved in the process daily, I seem to forget how little the general public actually knows. So I’d like to take this opportunity to answer a few common questions.
What exactly are “ashes”?
The only element of the human body which can survive the cremation process is the skeleton. Our bodies are approximately 80% water, 15% combustible (our organs), and 5% bones. Everything in the cremation process, except bones, are consumable by flame. The bones are then “processed”, resulting in a sand-like texture usually weighing between 5 and 7 pounds.
What do most people do with the ashes?
It varies. Many inter (bury) the ashes in a family plot. Some scatter the ashes at a favorite place of the deceased. Scattering cannot be done on public property, however, unless there is a specific place designated for such. Another option is to separate the ashes among the family. Small urns known as Keepsakes are sometimes used in this situation, making it more affordable to purchase several. There are other options, all relatively new, such as launching into space and making diamonds (seriously).
Do I have to buy an urn?
No. The ashes are returned to the family in what’s called a “temporary” container. It is a plastic box designed for cremated remains. However, this box would not be for display. It is suitable, however for those who choose to be buried, or for those who don’t exactly know what to do, so they simply “store” the ashes at home.
What about implanted body parts?
Before the bones are processed, all metal and titanium are removed. This would include artificial knees, hips, joints; zippers, snaps, and hooks from clothing; jewelry such as piercings, watch bands, earrings, etc., and some dental work such as partial plates and caps.
If any of these items are asked to be returned, you must do so before the cremation. Otherwise these items are sent away for recycling.
Who can authorize the cremation?
The immediate next of kin, in this order: spouse, adult children, parent, sibling, niece or nephew, aunt or uncle, other relative or friend.
How soon do you cremate after death?
In Illinois, there is a mandatory 24 hour waiting period. However, paperwork usually takes longer to complete, so that usually isn’t an option anyway. The funeral director completes the death certificate, sends it to the doctor or coroner for cause of death and signature, then the cremation permit is issued. After the cremation permit is issued, the death certificate is filed with the local registrar or county clerk, and the certified copies are issued. This all has to be completed before the cremation can be performed.
Can I authorize my own cremation?
Yes. If one so chooses, he or she may pre-arrange his or her cremation by signing their personal cremation order.
It’s hard to believe that one third of our year is already gone. It’s an exciting time, however, as we look forward to dryer, warm weather and lots of summer activities. This is a popular time of the year to “get away”, so I wish everyone safe travels!
Speaking of traveling, I remember when my wife, Cheryl and I took our first trip without the kids. We went to the National Funeral Directors’ Convention in Boston, MA in 1998. Our oldest was 5 and our youngest was 1. It occurred to us shortly before the trip that we didn’t have a will. I seriously considered booking different flights so our kids wouldn’t be orphaned if our plane went down (for the same reason the President and Vice President don’t fly together). Call me paranoid, but if you’re in this business long enough, your mind wanders into the dark recesses and you can’t help but think of the tragic “what ifs”.
I literally scribbled out a will on a legal pad and told Aunt Rose and Uncle John (who were staying with the kids) where it was, along with life insurance policies, car titles and other legal documents that would be needed upon our demise.
Fortunately we came back alive and our kids were not orphaned. But it got us motivated to have our first will written, so the next time we left without them we had a bit more peace of mind.
This leads me to the question: Are you affairs in order? Does your spouse or other immediate next of kin know where to find a will or other important documents? Do they know what your final wishes are? When I do a pre-arrangement with someone, the question invariably comes up, “what if I die while traveling?” The short answer to that question is call your funeral director back home. He or she will take care of everything and you’ll probably save $1500.
But even more in-depth would be the questions, which funeral home should I use. Do I want a traditional burial or cremation? Do I want a service in the church, the funeral home or graveside? What kind of budget do I want my family to have? I want to make sure they don’t overspend, etc. These are all very important topics to discuss with your family.
So before your vacation this year, I challenge you to have this discussion with the appropriate person in your life. It’s been my experience, that it’s not as bad as it seems.
Here is a link to another article that may also help in this situation. A growing number of companies are offering this.
Stay safe and have GREAT summer!!
Someone suggested to me I share the most commonly asked questions of a funeral director. You see, when I am engaged in a conversation with someone in a line or in the seat next to me on an airplane, or anywhere else for that matter, when the questions is asked, “what do you do for a living”, the reaction is always the same…”Oh really…….hmmmm.
Do you mind if I ask you a question?” And my reply is always, “no problem, I get that all the time.”
So here they are, the five most commonly asked questions of a funeral director:
1) Is it a state or federal law that you have to be embalmed?
No. No such law exists, and as a matter of fact, some religions such as Orthodox Jewish are against it. There are times, however, when embalming is required, such as a public viewing.
2) Are more people being cremated today than in the past?
Yes. In the past 10 years, cremation in this country has risen by 10 percent or more. Nationally, about 34% of our dead are cremated. By the year 2018, the rate is expected to be at 52%.
3) Is it a state law to have a burial vault?
Answer: No. Although some cemeteries will accept a burial casket without a vault, most cemeteries require at least a concrete grave liner. This helps with grave maintanance. Graves don’t tend to sink as badly when the casket is encased.
4) How much schooling is required to become a funeral director or embalmer?
Answer: It varies from state to state, but generally, it’s a 4 year process after high school. It consists of your first 2 years of college (general studies), 1 year of course work studying funeral arts and sciences, and a 1 year apprenticeship. But between graduation and our apprenticeship, we have to pass the National Conference Exam.
5) What’s the grossest thing you’ve ever seen?
Answer: You don’t want to know.
Last week my older daughter, Kelsie, had a doctor’s appointment in St. Peters, MO. As a student athlete at Lindenwood University in St. Charles, MO, she was suspected of having a stress fracture in her foot.”Dad, could you please drive over here and take me? I’m not sure that I can find it,” she said.”I’ll see if I can.You know my schedule changes in a hurry,” I replied. But deep down, I knew I’d be there. She is my daughter, you know. Like all professionals who have their priorities in order, family comes first, especially “daddy’s little girls”.
So in spite of my busy day, I dropped what I was doing, but got a later start than anticipated. Although my foot always tends to be heavy when driving, I found myself pushing even harder to get there in time. That’s not a good thing to do when driving by St. Louis International Airport (Lambert Field). You see, they consider that an “Accident Reduction Corridor” (not a construction zone), and speeding fines are double. So $202.00 later, I met her in St. Charles, bought her lunch and took her to the doctor. The speeding ticket put a damper on things, but being able to spend time with her made it a good day.
Yesterday started off slowly, but by the afternoon picked up considerably. You see, I had a visitation starting at 2:30 p.m. At 1:00 a gentleman called and asked if I was in the office. I said yes, so he told me he’d like to come over “now” and make prearrangments. I thought well, 90 minutes will be enough time to get things done, so no problem. Apparently “now” to him meant 45 minutes, even though he was local. Needless to say, his appointment and my visitation overlapped a bit, but no one seemed to mind. But in the middle of it all, I received a text message. When I saw it was from Kelsie, I did what my younger daughter, Olivia does with mine – I ignored it. Afterall, I was busy with two families.
However, I couldn’t wait to get to the point in the conference when I had to make copies of everything, which would give me the opportunity to read her text. I wasn’t worried about her, but nonetheless felt obligated to address it if necessary. It read, “Dad, please call me. I have a problem”. So I called her immediately. Her “problem” was a parking ticket. She was upset because it was a $75.00 fine, there was nowhere else to park, she was in a hurry, the truck parked in front of her was double-parked, etc… With all the drama a 20 year-old female college student could muster, she bent my ear non-stop until I was able to interrupt and say, “Kelsie, as long as you’re not in a wreck or in a hospital with an emergency appendectomy, let me deal with this later.”
Please be patient. My point is near. One of the main reasons for making prearrangements is to “not be a burden on the kids”. Thomas Lynch, an award winning author, published poet and funeral director in Milford, MI disagrees with this notion, as do I. Why not be a burden on the kids, he feels. They are certainly a burden on us. But they are a good kind of burden….the kind of burden that makes a parent feel alive, needed, treasured and loved. As we endure sleepless nights when they are babies, kiss the ouchies when they are toddlers, explain death to them when Grandma dies, or worse yet, a little friend, to when they drive off the first time after getting their driver’s license, get in their first accident, don’t answer their cell phone or when they get a parking ticket, they are burdens. But, as a parent, they are burdens I am blessed and priviledged to endure. They are burdens which allow me to make a difference in their lives. They are burdens which remind them that it sure is good to have me around.
So when it’s time to plan my funeral, I’ll let the burden fall upon their shoulders. I trust they can handle it. Afterall, they owe me one.
When I’m on an airplane and the passenger seated next to me finds out I am a funeral director, the rest of the flight is usually occupied by me answering question after question about what we do and why we do it. “Is it a state law? Why do you embalm immediately? How did you get into the business? How long does it take to cremate a body?”—and on and on and on. Do I mind? Not at all. I enjoy educating the consumer. Unlike the old days, I don’t consider anything about this business to be “taboo.” My doors are always open for a guided tour of my funeral home and crematory. You can get online and see it now.
The fact is you have choices. Choices that will fit your budget and beliefs. Choices you have now because of your demands for us, the funeral directors, to change.
With that in mind, here are my basic tips people should keep in mind when planning a funeral. There are many different situations, and many different circumstances, but here are seven tips that apply to everyone.
The important thing is to ask questions, plan ahead when you can when you can think clearly and do not be afraid to speak up.
- Never feel pressured. If you are not comfortable with a certain funeral director, express it or ask to work with someone else.
- Think about a budget, tell the funeral director what it is, and have him or her help you stay within that budget.
- The only “non-declinable” option is “Professional Services of Funeral Director and Staff”. Everything else, from automobiles to facilities, is declinable.
- Caskets: You can cut the cost of the casket in half if you request to see more choices. There are identical caskets make of different materials, which look exactly the same.
- Vaults: Focus on the 3 least expensive. You will get what you need (or required by the cemetery) with any of these.
- Out of town death: Call your funeral director back home. DO NOT call a funeral home in the current location. Your funeral director back home will sub-contract the necessary help needed to get the deceased home, and you will save $1500 – $2000.
- Other tasks, like dealing with the VA and Social Security, should be handled by the funeral director. If assistance is needed in filing insurance claims, that is part of the funeral director’s job also; don’t be afraid to ask for help – and there should be no additional charges.
And of course, contact me when you are confused or need help.