Spring 1999: Dignified, meaningful, affordable choices

by Jean Bandler

Dignified, Meaningful, and Affordable are the key words of our FCA motto and mission. The purpose of our Society is to help all people — rich or poor, young or old, well or ill — make choices consistent with their own philosophy, purse, and principles.

To meet goals of dignity and relevance means considering the different alternatives of caring for the body, the type of service, the obituary, and living remembrances. To achieve affordability requires some savvy knowledge and comparison shopping, but it is worth the effort since even a wealthy person may prefer to leave money to kin, a charity, or other good causes rather than fund an undertaker.

The following alternatives are consistent with dignity, relevance and affordability. In avoiding extra costs, they also eliminate the unnecessary and invasive procedures of embalming and the dubious claims of fancy caskets. (Embalming involves far more than substituting preservatives for blood and includes gluing, tying, sewing, wiring, stuffing, puncturing, inserting. Embalming is not legally required, has no public health benefit, but is listed a “funeral home policy” for viewing and open casket services. Caskets and vaults with gaskets and sealers, dubbed “protective” by manufacturers, in fact promote unnatural decay and do not prevent earth seepage.)

Three basic affordable, dignified choices for final disposition include:

Body Donation: Those who wish to further medical education should consider donation, the least costly option of all. The Medical Schools of both Yale University and the University of Connecticut will transport the body without cost and afterwards cremate the body free of charge. (FCA has an explanatory pamphlet and forms for both schools.) We suggest having an alternative plan since there are some conditions – infectious disease, obesity, or traumatic accident – that preclude acceptance.

Cremation: Cremation offers an affordable, ecological disposition. The cremation charge covers the basic professional fee, basic transportation, and basic sheltering; (Connecticut requires a 48-hour wait before cremation). The charge will vary according to the type of container used but a minimum container (rigid bottom, flammable) is all that is needed. Check if the pricelist includes, excludes, or is silent on fees for the crematorium (usually $200) or the medical examiner. The crematorium will provide a container suitable for handling and mailing; ashes may be buried – if in a cemetery,. the cost should be far less than for a casket – or scattered and there are no Connecticut restrictions on the burial or scattering site. Although cremation is probably the least expensive option, consumers should be alert to efforts to add on goods and services; some places have charged over $5,000 to the dismay of survivors. However, we have found several places in Connecticut, in Fairfield County and Bridgeport, with excellent FTC conformity and prices under $1000 for cremation. Some people may feel that these locations too far away from where they live, but when the funeral home is not needed for visitation or a service, the distance may not matter. (Members should write or call us for more information.)

Immediate burial:  Immediate burial is also an affordable and ecological option for those who wish an earth burial. The time of burial is generally “at the convenience of the Funeral Home”, but it should be possible to arrange a graveside service for an added fee. Funeral homes are required to give an all inclusive fee on their General Price Lists, covering all required services, including the non-declinable, professional service fee, basic transportation, sheltering the body up to three days. The casket may be purchased from a retail casket store at great savings (see Winter Newsletter) or it may be a simple alternate container; a concrete grave liner may be used instead of a vault. Cemetary costs for plot, opening and closing the grave will be additional.

For these choices, one may arrange a private family viewing and farewell at the hospital or home before calling to have the body taken. Rather than a public viewing, an open casket, and services at a funeral home, which rarely reflect personal interest or taste, many prefer a visitation and memorial service at a more meaningful location. A visitation or open house may be at the time of death, either at home or at a friend’s.

Visiting might also follow the service, as a reception. This type of gathering allows family, friends, and colleagues to visit and remember the loved one’s life rather than peek at the dead body.

A memorial service, without the body present, can be held at a convenient time and appropriate place, such as a house of worship, a community center, an organizational, union, or fraternal hall, a private room in a restaurant or hotel, or a park or outdoor site. At the memorial and visitation, one can select music that was loved and had significance to the individual ( it does not have to lugubrious), display photographs and awards, read or distribute poetry, writings, and special prayers. Instead of elaborate, funereal floral displays, consider a simple flower arrangement and ask that others contribute to a specific charity or contribute a book to the library.

In planning, think about writing the obituary yourself, deciding what it should say and where it should be printed. You’ll need to have the information at hand anyhow and no funeral director knows the life as well as the person and family. Funeral homes sometimes have high charges to write and place a notice. (Some newspapers require that the funeral/cremation service fax them the obit to avoid pranks and some may charge for a notice. No paper, however, requires an obituary fee of $100 or $200.)