Funerals can cost a fortune.

— Here’s how to keep prices in check.

By Kevin Brasler

Grieving for a loved one is acutely difficult. The last thing anyone wants to do just after the loss is sit across from a salesperson in a high-pressure, time-sensitive situation making important and expensive choices.

Funeral homes provide important services, but they are also businesses trying to maximize each sale. Staff may try to sell products and services you do not want or need or that you can’t afford. Most funerals and burial arrangements in the United States cost between $7,000 and $10,000. There is nothing wrong with an expensive funeral if that’s what the family wants. But many families that might prefer a simple, dignified ceremony end up with something lavish and costly.

The nonprofit Consumers’ Checkbook collected ratings from local consumers on funeral homes they had used. Checkbook also evaluated funeral home prices by having undercover shoppers collect their fees and casket prices. Until Oct. 31, Washington Post readers can access Checkbook’s ratings of funeral homes free via

Protect yourself from overspending

If you are planning a service, do not go to a funeral home alone. Take along a less-involved companion who can assure you that sensible cost-saving decisions are okay.

Specialized organizations can help with this as well. Nonprofit funeral consumer organizations, also referred to as “memorial societies,” provide consumer education and resources regarding rights and options for burial and cremation. The Funeral Consumers Alliance ( is the national umbrella group for affiliated societies. The Washington area has two organizations: the Funeral Consumers Alliance of Maryland and Environs (, which also serves the District; and the Memorial Society of Northern Virginia (

And while it can be difficult, preplanning your own funeral is sensible and gives valuable input to your survivors when they are forced to make many decisions on short notice. Write down and share your preferences with loved ones, and include them in the process to make sure their emotional needs are met.

What to consider

When discussing options with a funeral home, start by asking for its general price list (GPL). The Federal Trade Commission requires funeral homes to provide a copy of their prices if you ask. Many GPLs are long and confusing, so also request a written itemized quote for services you’re considering.

Some funeral directors may encourage you to come in because “these matters are too complicated to discuss over the phone or via email,” or “we will surely be able to work something out between us.” Checkbook’s advice: Deal only with funeral homes that readily supply detailed pricing information to potential clients without requiring an in-person appointment.

There are several options for disposing of remains. Most families select burial with a traditional funeral, immediate burial or cremation (with or without a funeral).

Burial can be done directly, with no viewing or ceremonies, or with any combination of viewing, ceremony and graveside service. It usually requires a casket; cemetery plot; fees to open and close the grave; cemetery endowment (upkeep); and a marker, monument or headstone.

In Checkbook’s survey of local funeral homes’ prices, costs for a traditional funeral with oak casket ranged from $7,290 to $26,575, with an average of $12,867. Cemetery costs will add thousands to those amounts.

Immediate burial is far less costly if an inexpensive casket is selected. A funeral home files the necessary paperwork, places the unembalmed body in a casket and takes the remains to a cemetery for burial, usually within one day. On average, families will save $5,000 to $6,000 compared with a traditional funeral.

Cremation is an increasingly popular choice. Like burial, it can be direct or after a funeral. Cremation also allows flexibility on the timing and location for services; many families now hold memorial services in their homes or at the deceased’s favorite place.

Cremated remains may be scattered, kept at home, buried in a cemetery or interred in a columbarium. Burial or interment adds to the cost. In Checkbook’s price survey, funeral homes’ fees for direct cremation (no funeral) ranged from $1,295 to $7,595, with an average of $3,343.

The casket is usually the most expensive item in funerals. Casket prices range from less than $1,000 for a wood box to $25,000 or more for elaborate models. The markup on a casket is often three to five times wholesale, so be leery. A funeral director’s advice — and even the design of the selection room — may lure you to pay too much. Most people choose midrange steel or hardwood models for $3,000 to $6,000.

The least expensive containers — cardboard containers or pouches — are adequate for cremation or direct burial. Some funeral homes have rental caskets that can be used for viewing, allowing you to buy a less expensive one for burial.

Checkbook’s undercover shoppers found the least expensive way to buy caskets is to shop online. For example, for an oak casket, the average price quoted by area funeral homes was $3,782; shoppers found a comparable model online for $1,200. Online sellers ship caskets overnight, and by law, funeral homes must use them, if requested.

You also need to choose between a religious and secular service, held at a funeral home, religious establishment, residence or elsewhere. Consider whether you want a traditional funeral, with the casket open or closed, or would prefer a memorial service with no body present. Memorial services, church services and graveside services usually cost less than conventional funerals.

How to pay for it

Check on resources that might help pay for funeral costs. Because many people are not aware of the benefits available for final expenses, money often remains unclaimed. Most death benefits are not automatically sent to survivors and must be applied for.

A lump-sum Social Security death benefit of $255 is available to a surviving eligible spouse or dependent child (under 18).

In April 2021, the Federal Emergency Management Agency launched a reimbursement program to help those who lost loved ones during the coronavirus pandemic. Anyone with covid-related funeral expenses may be eligible for a reimbursement of up to $9,000. You cannot apply for funeral reimbursement money online; you must call FEMA’s covid-19 funeral assistance helpline at 844-684-6333 (TTY: 800-462-7585). There is no deadline for requesting this benefit.

Honorably discharged veterans and their spouses may be entitled to burial in one of 155 national cemeteries in 42 states (and Puerto Rico), with a grave marker and a flag for the casket. Other benefits may be available if the death occurred during active duty or during hospitalization in a veterans’ facility. To check, contact Veterans Affairs’ Veterans Benefits Administration (800-827-1000,

Other possibilities include payments from fraternal organizations, lodges, clubs, union welfare funds, retirement plans and employers.

Many funeral homes push plans that let you prepay for your funeral. These agreements represent major financial commitments, and many unscrupulous places have embezzled customers’ prepaid funds; others have gone out of business without protecting their customers’ prepaid assets. A better arrangement is to open a joint savings account with a likely survivor who will get immediate access to the funds upon your death.

Complete Article HERE!

Green Burial Options Can Spur End-of-Life Conversations

A ‘gradual goodbye’ process can ease caregiver stress, aid acceptance

By Lee Woodruff

It used to be that end-of-life discussions — specifically those around final wishes for burial sites and memorials — were limited to a few choices. Does my loved one want a traditional burial or does he want to be cremated? Is there a family plot? Should we opt for a burial spot central to all? These topics, while difficult and sometimes awkward, are critical. And advance planning is one way to ease the anxiety and unknowns that arise in the wake of death and loss.

Sometimes those early discussions can lead you in a surprising direction. For the Groves family, it was choosing a green burial.

Pamela Groves-Gaggioli, 69, of Northfield, Minnesota, started the conversation with her brother Steve Groves, 67, of Stillwater, Minnesota, after their mother asked the siblings to help her find a burial plot where the entire family could visit. Maxine Groves, 92, of Hudson, Wisconsin, had grown up on a farm. And while this remarkable woman was hale and hearty, the Groves family wanted to get what they called “a head-start on the end-of-life conversation.”

“We began looking at some of the cemeteries around our homes and they just didn’t feel right, for one reason or the other,” says Pamela, who had recently lost her own husband of 26 years, Fred. She’d taken Fred’s ashes to Italy and spread some in a gorgeous place in the woods, but she also was determined to find a spot near home where she and her daughter, Maggie, could go and feel close to him.

A growing memorial

A friend told Pamela about Better Place Forests’ St. Croix Valley location, in Scandia, Minnesota, a memorial forest where family members choose a tree and have their cremated ashes mixed with local soil and spread around the tree as a final resting place for themselves and future generations.

Pamela investigated. As she visited the forest, she spotted a red maple with seven branches, the exact number of her extended family members.Maxine Groves was gifted a chainsaw for her birthday from her kids.

Suzy Oswald Maxine Groves was gifted a chainsaw for her birthday from her kids.

Suzy OswaldSomething about the tree struck her. Instead of looking for a plot in the ground, what if, in death, they could all be part of something growing and living, like this tree?

Pamela shared the concept with her brother, Steve; he was all in. As executor of the will, he knew they had to start making some decisions before their mom died, especially with five siblings. When their father had passed away 13 years earlier, nothing had been planned and it had been a scramble during an already sad time. He was determined that the family not repeat that experience.

“We’re a positive, outgoing, nature-connected and close-knit family,” says Steve. “The idea of making our final resting place all together in a forest, each with our own branch, was extremely appealing. For us, it was everything that a traditional cemetery wasn’t.”

The whole family traveled to see the spot. “It was a spectacular day, and we all felt really good about the excursion; upbeat, not sad,” Steve recalls. “My mom could not have been happier. Making this decision and standing around the tree, it was like a 1,000-pound rock had been lifted off our backs.”>

Groves Family
Maxine Groves was gifted a chainsaw for her birthday from her kids.

Connecting to nature

Places like Better Place Forests are part of a macro trend of “green end-of-life options” that offer a personalized and eco-friendly solution to end of life. According to the National Funeral Directors Association’s 2022 Consumer Awareness and Preferences Report, 60.5 percent of the Americans surveyed would explore green funeral options for their potential savings and reduced environmental impact. Many of these new options connect people more closely to nature in death, whether it’s planting ashes under fruit trees, a “gentler” water-based cremation like the process used at White Rose Aqua Cremation in California, choosing biodegradable caskets or even using remains to become part of rebuilding vital coral reefs.

Micah Truman, 51, CEO and Founder of Return Home in Auburn, Washington, says “human beings were designed to be returned to the earth.” His company has developed a process called terramation that uses microbes in the body to gently convert human remains into soil. The 60-day process involves placing the body into a vessel with alfalfa, straw and sawdust. Once the terramation process is complete, the families may use the soil in any way they see fit, sharing with others and planting trees or flowers in beloved places.

“It’s so important to begin talking about the dying process and yet it’s still a conversation that most of us are hesitant to have,” he notes. 

Over Return Home’s 15 months of operation, Truman has witnessed some unexpected and wonderful moments of connection, conversation and acceptance around death. “People will come to our facility and visit the vessel, sit by it and talk to their loved one,” says Truman.  “They decorate the vessel with important keepsakes, and at the start of the terramation process [they] place flowers, food or even letters in the vessel. This gradual way of saying goodbye has been beautiful to observe.”

Less stress, more peace

Being in nature eases pain and grief, says John Collins, CEO of Better Place Forests.

“Even having an end-of-life conversation when surrounded by trees is certainly less stressful engulfed by green leaves and birdsong,” he says.  “Unfortunately, for the past century or so, death and end-of-life care have been treated more transactionally and with some remove, as if dying were taboo. … We encourage people to start the conversations here and use the trees as a way to think about their own end of life story.  It makes it so much less stressful on both the caregivers and family members.”

Pamela is all for less stress. For her that means making the hard end-of-life choices now. “My daughter Maggie is my only one,” she explains. “I know from personal experience that when the end comes, you’re grieving, and I don’t want to leave her alone trying to make all these tough decisions.  I want everything to be easy for her. Out in nature is where I feel closest to God.”

Members of the Groves family say they are happy that the overall cost of their decision of a family tree was less expensive than a traditional burial and family plot, but are also placated by the fact that by being in a protected forest means that no one will ever be able to build there. Steve and his siblings also love that the organization donates trees to areas that have been devastated by forest fires.

“Mom gave us our love of the outdoors as kids going up to the farm, and this decision is a real extension of that,” says Steve. “How can you argue with the fact that you’re being kind to nature and at the same time you’re making everyone happy? That’s priceless to me.”

End-of-Life Conversations

AARP family caregiving expert Amy Goyer offers tips on how to make ongoing discussions go smoother:

Start early. Bring up the topic in “some day” terms. Don’t wait until a health crisis.

Watch words. Use language the family member is comfortable with: death vs. end of life; funeral vs. memorial service.

Use a conversation starter. Ease into the discussion by mentioning an article, book or movie that deals with end-of-life issues.

Discuss a recently attended funeral. Say, “What did you like? What do you want for your service/burial?”

Most important: Remind your loved one this is their chance to have their wishes fulfilled. By making these decisions now it will help you and others during a time of sorrow.

Complete Article HERE!

Water Cremation Offers Eco-Alternative For Funerals

Funeral traditions around the world vary widely depending on cultural and religious practices, but they often use burial or cremation. Neither method is good for the environment, and green alternatives are gaining in popularity. Aquamation, or water cremation, is a low-carbon, less energy-intensive process that could replace both.

By Robin Fearon

Aquamation, also called resomation or bio-cremation, uses 90 percent less energy than flame cremation. Our bodies are naturally made up of around 60 percent water, so the process uses a technique called alkaline hydrolysis, mixing heated water with potassium or sodium hydroxide (caustic soda) to dissolve body tissue, leaving only bones that are then turned into ash for relatives to keep.


The most common funeral method in the US is traditional cremation, accounting for 58 percent of ceremonies in 2021, with 37 percent opting for burial. Trends show cremation became more popular partly because it is less expensive, but aquamation compares well. It costs roughly the same, though may be more expensive as funeral directors must invest in new technology.

But where aquamation stands out is in its environmental impact. Each year the US uses an estimated 800,000 gallons of carcinogenic formaldehyde-based embalming fluid, two billion tons of concrete used in grave liners or vaults, 115 million tons of steel, and wood equivalent to more than four million single-family homes from caskets. Cremation meanwhile results in millions of tons of carbon dioxide emissions globally each year, as well as toxic mercury released from dental fillings.

Burial plots for people and crematory remain also require a lot of land and maintenance effort. There are 145,000 cemeteries in the US, even in places with no living population, and the question of using land for more productive purposes is valid.

The death of renowned anti-apartheid and human rights activist Desmond Tutu has kickstarted interest in aquamation as a green alternative, after it emerged he requested the method for his own funeral held in January 2022. But the process itself has been around since the late nineteenth century, developed by farmer Amos Hanson to make fertilizer from animal carcasses.

The first commercial system was only installed in Albany Medical College in 1993 to dispose of human cadavers. Universities and hospitals then adopted aquamation into their body donation programs, before it crossed over into the US funeral industry in 2011.

The National Funeral Directors Association said 60 percent of people asked about green funeral options for reasons including their environmental benefits and reduced costs. Aquamation fits that brief.

A demonstration "vessel" for the deceased, which has been decorated with flowers and compostable mementos by Return Home on top of a bed of straw, is pictured during a tour of the funeral home which specializes in human composting in Auburn, Washington on March 14, 2022. - Washington in 2019 became the first in the United States to make it a legal alternative to cremation. (Photo by Jason Redmond / AFP) (Photo by JASON REDMOND/AFP via Getty Images)

More creative alternatives include converting a loved one’s ashes into a vinyl record, or a pencil, or compressing them into a diamond. But the eco-dream could be to grow into a tree or combine ash remains into a reef ball that is then sunk to the ocean bed so a new coral reef can flourish.

Complete Article HERE!

How to pre-plan your funeral and have the ideal final goodbye

Celebrate your death the way you want to.

How to turn your funeral into a celebration.

By Jaymie Hooper

It might be a topic you’d rather avoid but, as a growing number of Australians are discovering, organising your last goodbye can be an empowering experience. Not only can you ensure your funeral is a true celebration of your life, but you can also help to ease the grieving process for the ones you leave behind. Here’s how to make your final farewell one to remember.

When Ves Pineda attended the funeral of her friend earlier this year, she expected it to be a sombre occasion. To her surprise, and despite the gravity of her grief, Pineda found herself laughing and drinking with her pals during the wake, as they reminisced about all of the adventures they had shared with their late friend.

Instead of wallowing in an atmosphere of pervasive sadness, Pineda felt joy. She decided, then and there, that when she passes, she would like her loved ones to feel the same.

“I thought to myself, this is how I want to be remembered,” Pineda, who lives in Sydney, tells Body+Soul. “Of course, when you lose someone it’s sad, but I want my funeral to celebrate who I was, and I’m not a sad person.”

To ensure her final goodbye will be one that she would have wanted, Pineda, 62, quickly set about planning her own funeral. And while it may sound morbid, making such early arrangements is a trend that’s quickly picking up steam.

According to Carrie Siipola-Fortunaso, a pre-planning consultant for funeral service provider Guardian Plan, since the beginning of the Covid pandemic, “People have told me that planning their own funerals has become more important to them.”

As well as realising that they would rather spare their family the financial and emotional burden of planning a funeral, many people began to think about their own mortality and how they would like to be remembered, Siipola-Fortunaso says. “People started to move away from the thinking that funerals involve walking into a chapel, having a service and sharing stories about their loved ones,” she adds.“With a bit of planning, your funeral can be anything you want it to be.”

For Pineda, her funeral planning process began with a simple conversation. “I sat down with my husband and daughter and we talked about the things that I love, everything that makes me ‘me’ and how we could weave those into the service,”she explains. “The more I thought about it, the more it made sense to put down on paper the ways I want my friends and family to come together and remember me when the time comes.”

Planning your own funeral, while ensuring that you receive the send-off you’ve always wanted, can also alleviate some of the strain placed on your loved ones in the aftermath of your death. “It definitely takes the pressure off family and friends who often feel rushed to make important decisions while grieving,” Allison Barrett, owner of event-planning business My PerfectParty, tells Body+Soul.

By formalising your ideas now, you lower the risk of future confrontations arising between your loved ones after you’ve passed. “The more we know about each other’s wishes, the easier it can be to make decisions when we are freshly grieving,” clinical psychologist Jo Lamble tells Body+Soul.

But try to keep things flexible because being too rigid may also incite arguments. “Some negative emotions can arise when the person planning their own funeral makes decisions that will be difficult to carry out, such as forbidding certain people from attending,” Lamble explains. “Leave a little scope for others to celebrate your life in their own way – it makes it easier for those left behind to grieve.”

So, do you need to wait until you’re dying to begin planning your funeral? Absolutely not, assures Barrett, who has told her own family that she would like guests to nibble on party pies and dance to ABBA’s ‘Dancing Queen’ at what she calls her “party wake”.

“Unfortunately, many people don’t plan anything, but many funeral homes would like you to plan in advance,” she advises.“You don’t need to pre-pay, but you can pre-plan and leave your funeral plan with a preferred funeral home.”

Siipola-Fortunaso agrees, adding that if you do decide to pre-pay now, it can help you lock in a price without having to worry about inflation. While it may not be something you ever wanted to do, planning your own farewell can ultimately prove to be an act of empowerment that allows both you and your loved ones to feel a sense of peace around your eventual passing.

“As the saying goes, we can be hit by the proverbial bus at any time, so it’s worth having some general chats about what you’d like at your funeral, whenever that may be,” Lamble adds.

For Pineda, the fact that there is now a degree of certainty around her final goodbye has given her immense relief. “It brings me a lot of comfort to think that when I leave this Earth, the people I love most will be together,” she says, “hopefully sitting in the sunshine on a clear morning, drinking rosé and listening to mellow ’80s hits – the stuff I used to dance to in my 20s.”

3 ways to turn your service into a celebration

Allison Barrett, owner of My Perfect Party event-planning business, shares her advice for arranging a funeral your guests can smile about.

1. Stick to what you know

Serve your favourite food and drinks, ask guests to wear your favourite colours (or bright colours), and play the music you love most. You might consider live music, or asking a family member to sing (if they can).

2. Bring the laughs

Ask family members and friends to make short speeches and let them tell funny stories about you.

3. Make it personal

Put together a photo presentation of your life and choose your favourite songs to accompany it – this has been done for years and is still really popular. And there are now coffins that can be personalised with your favourite footy team colours, or with notes from funeral guests.

How to start preparing for your final goodbye

Carrie Siipola-Fortunaso, pre-planning consultant for Guardian Plan funerals, says there are two key things you need to know.

1. What you want

First, think about the most basic question – do you want to be cremated or buried? Then start thinking about what your final party will look like. When helping someone plan their funeral, I try to find out how they grew up, what their hobbies are and what they enjoy in life. I use this to come up with a funeral plan that is reflective of who they are.

2. The admin

A copy of your funeral plan contract should be provided to your next of kin and the executor of your will. You can also provide a copy to your solicitor and other family members so that all are aware of your wishes. I suggest my clients email a copy of their plan to their family for easy access.

You should also print out a hardcopy to be retained with all estate-planning documents. It is a good idea to include it in your will – although we often find that the will is not read until after the funeral has taken place.

Complete Article HERE!

The funeral industry turns people into toxic waste.

— California needs green burial options

By Amelia Gallegos

For as long as I can remember, I have been fascinated by death. As a child, it inspired my curiosity about the life cycle. As an adult, it inspired my career. As a funeral director who specializes in environmentally-friendly funeral services, I meet many Californians who reach out wanting to find the most sustainable deathcare option.

That Californians would want sustainable alternatives to traditional burial and cremation makes sense. California has long been a leader when it comes to environmental protections. But there’s no reason those protections can’t extend through a person’s entire life cycle.

Traditional burial and cremation practices are disastrous for the environment. Traditional burial puts over 800,000 gallons of formaldehyde (a known carcinogen), 104,000 tons of steel, 1.6 million tons of reinforced concrete, and 30 million board feet of hardwood in the ground across the United States every year. For perspective, that is more steel than was used in the construction of the Golden Gate bridge. Every year.

Cremation presents its own issues. The average cremation emits an estimated 534.6 pounds of CO2. With 300,000 people dying in California in 2020, and 65% of Californians choosing to be cremated, our state released well over 100 million pounds of CO2 in cremations that year alone. During the pandemic, air quality standards in Los Angeles had to be suspended to allow for the backlog of cremations.

Californians and the planet deserve better.

“Human composting,” or natural organic reduction (NOR) is a regenerative, sustainable alternative to traditional burial or cremation that gently transforms the body into a cubic-yard of nutrient rich soil. In NOR, a body is placed in a steel vessel on a bed of wood chips and other biodegradable materials that allow it to naturally decompose. Once the decomposition process has fully converted the remains into soil—a process that typically takes around 30 days—the soil is then returned to the family. From there, families can decide to scatter or plant with the soil or to donate it to be used for land conservation and restoration.

Ranging in cost from $5,500 to $7,000, NOR is cheaper than traditional burial in California—which costs on average $7,225—and is comparable in cost to cremation in the state—which has an average price tag of $6,028. But unlike traditional burial and cremation, NOR actually supports the environment.

In 2019, Washington became the first state to legalize NOR, followed by Colorado, Oregon and Vermont. Environmentally conscious Californians I meet that are planning to have their body transported out of state in order to access NOR tell me they’re doing so because they want their last act to mirror how they lived their lives. They want their passing to have a positive environmental impact.

Fortunately, Californians seeking NOR may soon no longer have to travel out of state. Earlier this year, Assemblymembers Cristina Garcia and Robert Rivas introduced AB 351. The bill, which passed in the state legislature with strong bipartisan support, would legalize NOR in California—making ours the fifth state in the nation to approve soil transformation deathcare. The bill is currently awaiting approval from Governor Newsom.

True, Californians already have some green alternatives to traditional burial and cremation. Green burials, in which a body is buried in a shroud and water cremation, first legalized in 2017, are both options. But having some eco-friendlier alternatives doesn’t preclude the state from providing its residents with another—especially when that option offers significant savings in carbon emissions, water, and land usage.

Nothing is more clear and natural in death than returning to the earth itself. By signing AB 351 into law, the governor can ensure that every Californian has the option to choose the most sustainable option in deathcare.

Complete Article HERE!

I’m Having My Body Turned to Compost After I Die

Turning in your grave is the newest alternative to burial or cremation.

By Becky Garrison

As a child of an Episcopal priest, I grew up hearing the phrase “ashes to ashes, dust to dust” at more Ash Wednesday services and funerals than I care to count. I was too busy either squirming out of boredom or trying to wipe ashes from my forehead to give the implications behind this phrase much thought.

Before my hippie parents died from their addictions in the late 1970s, they explained to me how they intended to put the spiritual concept of “ashes to ashes” into practice by choosing cremation. My teenage mind envisioned all kinds of bizarre scenarios of what I could do with their ashes, my gallows brand of humor predating Weekend at Bernies by well over a decade.

Their choice of cremation proved to be one of their few sound lifestyle choices. They made this decision because they believed this practice was more in line with their earth ethics than a commercial traditional burial. According to the Green Burial Council, annually traditional burials in the United States use approximately:

  • 4.3 million gallons embalming fluid, 827,060 gallons of which is formaldehyde, methanol, and benzene
  • 20 million board feet of hardwoods, including rainforest woods
  • 1.6 million tons of concrete
  • 17,000 tons of copper and bronze
  • 64,500 tons of steel
  • Caskets and vaults leaching iron, copper, lead, zinc, and cobalt

While modern traditional cremation may be less toxic, experts say the energy and emissions are equal to two tanks of gas in an average car. Simply put, that’s too much noxious residue to suit my soul. This is one road trip I’d prefer to avoid—and I decided to go a step further than my parents by giving my body back to the earth in a more natural manner.

The question was how exactly I could do that. When I turned the big 4-0, I found myself drawn to the concept of a green burial as a way to leave no trace behind when I depart. But eco-friendly burials were a service only available in select locations, and any burial expenses cost more than what I could afford to set aside. So I deferred any decisions regarding what would happen to my body after I died. After all, I was young and so far had avoided overindulging in those vices that destroyed much of my extended family.

Then COVID hit, along with wildfires impacting Portland, Oregon, where I live—not to mention the arrival of my 60th birthday. The uptick in mailings from AARP and others marketing to the “silver hairs” (sounds more upscale, I suppose, than old farts) told me I needed to make some key life decisions, including what would happen to my body upon my demise.

So I began researching natural burial options, and soon learned I am among the majority of Americans intrigued by this option. According to the National Funeral Directors Association’s (NFDA) 2022 Consumer Awareness and Preferences Report, 60.5 percent of respondents would be interested in exploring “green” funeral options because of potential environmental benefits, cost savings, or some other reason, up from 55.7 percent in 2021.

While the association supports eco-friendly burials, as NFDA spokesperson and funeral director Stephen Kemp explained, state and federal laws limit the options they can provide to families. For example, he finds the Hindu method of natural burial—where families do the cremation themselves—to be a wonderful process. “I wish we could do it like they do in India but some of the EPA rules forbid that here in the United States,” he said.

According to Kemp, the most popular request he receives from families looking for a greener burial is a natural burial in a green cemetery. I already ruled this option out as my estranged family has no communal plot where I could rest permanently. I figured no one would bother to visit, let alone ensure my grave doesn’t get overrun with weeds, varmints, and too-horny Goth kids.

In looking over the other greener choices, the water lover in me felt drawn to alkaline hydrolysis. Practitioners say this water-based process of cremation results in over 90 percent energy savings compared to flame-based cremation. But I wondered what would then happen to my remains. Did I want them turned into stones, placed in a water-soluble urn such as a papier-mâché turtle that would be sent out to sea, or used to help create an artificial reef formation? These options looked pretty on paper but were either too impractical or way out of my price range.

As an avid hiker, fly-fisher, cyclist, and gardener, I felt a strong tug to go back into the earth as living soil. So I found myself attracted to human composting, a method of accelerated human decomposition known scientifically as Natural Organic Reduction (NOR). After this process is completed, my remains could be placed in a plantable urn or converted into soil that could be returned directly back into the earth.

When I mentioned the process of human composting to a few friends, the responses I got ranged from morbid curiosity to outright disgust, with a smattering of jokes about how my soil would provide the perfect growing conditions for cannabis plants. Undaunted, I continued my research and learned that NOR was legalized in Oregon, Washington State and Colorado, with laws under consideration in New York and California.

The finished compost product.

After weeding out some for-profit human composting centers that came off as too commercialized and cold for my spiritual sensibilities, I discovered Herland Forest, a non-profit natural cemetery located on the eastern edge of the Cascadian wilderness. For starters, their price of $3,000 was at least half of what the other outfits charged.

In my phone conversation with Senior Steward Walt Patrick, I found their philosophy towards nature in sync with my soul. He describes the difference between traditional burial practices and their practice: “Commercial death care does what it can to keep the decedent from returning to the natural world and reentering the cycle of life. In contrast, we do what we can to help the decedent become a dynamic part of the cycle of life. NOR offers a way to transition from the path one walked in life to becoming part of the larger circle of life.”

Patrick detailed the process to turn a body into soil:

An insulated coffin configured as a cradle is prepared with a layer of 80 gallons of moist wood chips, and the body is then laid in the cradle on top of the wood chips and covered with another layer of wood chips. The cradle lid is put in place and bolted down, and every few days, the cradle is rolled back and forth.

An insulated coffin filled with woodchips.

Herland Forest

The temperature inside the cradle is monitored. As decomposition gets underway the internal temperature will climb to above 130 degrees Fahrenheit. and then slowly come down. When the internal temp falls to below 80 degrees, the initial process is complete. The cradle is then opened and the composted remains are removed, processed, and stored in 55 gallon drums.

The resulting soil is either picked up for distribution on private property or added to Herland’s living sanctuary filled with native pine, fir, and oak trees, along with non-native varieties such as chestnut, walnut, gingko, cherry, apple, and hazelnut. So I have the option of either letting a buddy grow buds with my remains so they can smoke my spirits or having hikers walk all over me now that I’m part of the PNW landscape.

This venture represents an outgrowth of the Windward Education and Research Center, which for decades has utilized forest products to transform the remains of large farm animals into nutrient-rich compost. After Washington State legalized NOR, they continued composting the remains of the animals they work with in their sustainability research. But as Patrick noted, “the change in the law just allowed us to apply the skills we’d been developing for two decades to the disposition of human remains.”

Funeral director Elizabeth Fournier of Cornerstone Funeral oversees the preparations.

Herland Forest

After the decomposition process is completed, the compost is the property of the family, and they can do whatever they wish with it. The photos on their website of their permaculture forest told me I’d be at home in their living sanctuary—helping to feed the native trees.

Having made the decision to participate in Herland Forest’s program, I’m filled with a sense of peace knowing I will leave behind a living and lasting legacy. More importantly, as I emerge from an extended period of isolation as a result of this global pandemic, I’m filled with an intense burning desire to connect with nature. Right now, I am ready but not eager for that time when I will become a part of the Pacific Northwest wilderness.

Complete Article HERE!

How to Avoid Being Overcharged for a Funeral

by Carson Kessler

For the funeral industry, the COVID-19 pandemic has meant flush times. Revenues have surged at Service Corporation International, the largest such chain in the U.S., with more than 1,500 funeral homes and 400 cemeteries. And “COVID impact,” according to a recent investor fact sheet, helped SCI more than double its earnings per share between 2019 and 2021.

Prices for funerals have always been steep. Funeral homes charged a median of $7,848 for a viewing and burial last year, according to the National Funeral Directors Association, and $6,970 for a cremation. Those costs don’t include the charges from cemeteries, which can add thousands more. ProPublica recently investigated one cemetery whose charges could run into the tens of thousands of dollars.

The federal government has done little to regulate the industry. Thirty-eight years ago, the Federal Trade Commission tiptoed into this realm, mandating that funeral homes disclose their prices. But cemeteries, some of which are overseen by states, were exempted from those rules. For two years now, the FTC has been conducting a rare review of its rules and examining a wide series of proposals, including extending its rules to cemeteries, requiring that prices be posted online, and disclosing that embalming is not legally required. Presented with a series of questions about the status and timing of the process, an FTC spokesperson would say only “the review is ongoing.”

Joshua Slocum, executive director of the Funeral Consumers Alliance, the only national consumer organization that monitors the funeral industry, has been advocating for changes to the FTC’s Funeral Rule for decades. Regardless of what the agency decides, Slocum wants consumers to know their rights, as well as have a few tips at their disposal when preparing to put a loved one to rest.

This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

Many people might be surprised to know that at least part of the death industry is regulated. What is regulated and what isn’t?

Let’s talk about the federal [rules] because that’s most important to the basics of what people need to know. There’s something called the Funeral Rule, a regulation from the Federal Trade Commission, which gives consumers particular rights, and they would be very wise to exercise these rights.

One, they have a right to get price quotes by phone.

Number two, when they go to a funeral home in person to talk about a funeral arrangement, they have a right to a printed, itemized price list — think of it just like a menu at a restaurant.

Number three, they have a right to pick and choose item by item. Funeral homes are not allowed to offer you only a package. They will try to offer you a package and they will often say, “You save money if you buy everything together in a bundle.” But just like all bundles, you have to take a look and see, is this actually something I would have spent money on, on its own? Am I really saving money? Or am I just getting a bunch of things that I wouldn’t have picked anyway?

What are the first steps to take after a loved one’s death?

Number one, remember that death is not an emergency. When death occurs, by definition, that means the emergency is now over. The worst thing that can happen has already happened. The person isn’t going to get any deader, to put it plainly.

Get on the phone and call at least five different funeral homes within a 20- to 30-mile radius of where the dead person is. Get price quotes. Take the time to at least look it over and compare some of the prices before you commit to having the funeral home remove the body. If the person dies at a hospital, which is more common, you have more options. Ask the hospital if the body can stay in the morgue for a couple of days while you make a considered decision about which funeral home to call.

Two, take stock of your budget. You need to know that figure. Decide ahead of time what you can comfortably afford. And for God’s sake, please don’t do this: “Oh, money is no object. It’s my mother. She deserves the best,” and then three months from now, you’ve got a $15,000 bill that you can’t pay.

What happens when you comparison shop?

Anytime you pick five or six funeral homes, all within the same city or region, and you canvass them, you will find that there’s a price difference of thousands of dollars for exactly the same service all within a service area available to you. And you will not know this because the vast majority of people will say, “Oh, well, we just use our family’s funeral home.” And I will ask them, “Why is that the one you always go to?”

The bottom line is nobody has a family car dealer, nobody has a family utility company, nobody has a family anything else. They compare prices and services. The problem here is that because this is the death transaction, and it’s a transaction we’re only going to sign a check for on average once in our lives, we don’t have practice with it. And because it is the most emotional business transaction we will ever encounter, many make the mistake of thinking of the funeral home in the same emotional category that their church lives in. That’s a mistake. Your funeral home is not your minister. Your undertaker is not your counselor. Your undertaker is your car dealer for death. And I do not mean that in an insulting way. I mean it in a straightforward business way.

How did it come to be that funeral homes are governed by some federal regulation, but cemeteries aren’t?

The cemetery regulation is so poor that I consider it an unregulated industry, even if it is technically regulated under state law.

Cemeteries before the 20th century were never considered a capitalistic, profit-making venture. They were, either by law or by community consensus, conceived of as doing a public good, something closer to what the church does. So they were seen as nonprofit community service entities that weren’t subject to regular business regulation. That changed in the 20th century when it did become possible in many parts of the country to run a for-profit cemetery.

But the regulations never caught up. The same kinds of deceptive practices that were documented that led to the Funeral Rule have always been going on at cemeteries.

I think there’s very little chance that the FTC is going to bring cemeteries under the funeral rule this time around. We’ve tried many times. There are complicated reasons for it. One of the reasons is that many cemeteries in many states are organized under nonprofit corporation law. The FTC does not have jurisdiction over that, which is an actual genuine, systemic problem.

What kind of deceptive cemetery practices are you referring to?

The same things as what funeral homes did before the law changed. The FTC rule doesn’t apply to cemeteries, so they don’t have to give out a printed price list. They don’t have to let you pick a la carte. Many cemeteries get up to nonsense games, like if you don’t want to buy that cemetery’s headstone, they get sore that they’re not getting that profit out of you. So if you go to a third-party monument dealer, the cemetery will tack on what they will call an “inspection fee” that just happens to be the exact difference in cost that they lost if you didn’t buy their stone.

What has changed now for the FTC to consider amending the Funeral Rule and what needs to happen for some of these proposals to be implemented?

Well, the FTC needs to act. It’s been two years since the FTC announced that they were reviewing the rule, and a review means considering changes. I don’t have a lot of inside knowledge, but what I can say is in communicating with the staff, I believe that they are taking this issue seriously. I believe that they are seriously considering updating the rule to mandate online pricing for funeral homes.

The current federal regulations entitle you to a paper price list if you show up in person at the funeral home. We believe that funeral homes should have to post their prices on their website. But until they do, you are probably going to have to telephone shop.

Do many funeral homes post their prices online, even though it’s not legally required at this point?

We, the Funeral Consumers Alliance and our partner organization, Consumer Federation of America, have done two surveys on the rate of online price posting. We did one in 2018, sampling 25 cities. We found only 16% of funeral homes posted their price lists online. We just did a new version of the survey, which was greatly expanded to a sample size of 1,046 funeral homes in 35 different states, and we only found 18% of them posting their prices. So no, most funeral homes hide their prices online.

Do you think the industry’s profits from COVID-19 will affect the FTC’s decision?

I think our perception and reaction to COVID has played roles in most things. One of the things that was really unfortunate for funeral consumers is that COVID was exactly the period when an online price list would have been most helpful to grieving families and we didn’t have it. People were afraid to go into businesses in person, or there were actually state-based restrictions about transacting business in person. So a lot of people were making arrangements over the phone or in some long-distance way.

The big corporations, which own hundreds of funeral homes and cemeteries across the country, are opposing changes to the rule — what’s their stated reason? What’s your take?

Things like, “We believe that this is a very personal transaction, and we believe it’s most appropriate for the price discussion to be had in the traditional manner, and consumers aren’t shopping for price anyway, so there’s no need for this.” That’s what they say. It’s not complicated. It’s simply that they don’t want to be regulated. From my point of view, they have a very weak case. First of all, requiring online posting of price lists literally costs the funeral industry $0. Do you know what it costs them? It costs them the time it takes to click that button that says “upload PDF.”

ProPublica asked SCI to comment on the FTC’s rules and Slocum’s characterizations of the company’s position. In a statement, an SCI spokesperson acknowledged that “we oppose additional federal regulations.” The company asserted that “the Funeral Rule has worked well at the federal level” and that “our industry is primarily regulated at the state level, and additional regulation at the federal level is unnecessary.” It emphasized the importance of “having a personal conversation with a licensed funeral director, who acts as the consumer advocate” and said that its research shows consumers believe “price is the least important consideration when comparing service quality, reputation, convenience of location and price.” It also stated that SCI’s pricing is “competitive and reasonable.”

Asked about its profits, SCI said, “As the largest provider of funeral, cemetery and cremation services in North America, we served many families who lost loved ones in the pandemic. The growth was driven by elevated COVID-19 mortality, which resulted in an increase in both funeral services performed and burials in our cemeteries.” The statement added that “we had to scale to serve our communities, often when other funeral homes were overwhelmed and simply could not do so.”

More broadly, how have multibillion-dollar conglomerates like SCI changed the funeral industry?

Here’s the reality: They still only have about 12% of the funeral homes in this country. And that’s been pretty steady over 20 to 30 years. In some cities, places like Seattle, many cities in Florida, where there’s a heavy concentration of elderly people, then SCI has a much greater percentage of the market share. That is true. In those places, SCI particularly tends to be the highest-priced funeral home in any market. So if it matters to you, find out who owns your local funeral home. Just because it still says McGillicuddy on the sign doesn’t mean Mr. McGillicuddy still owns it.

Are there practical things that consumers can do to bring the cost of a funeral down?

The most cost-effective thing is to choose a funeral home that already has reasonable prices. Your choice of funeral home is the No. 1 driver of cost. Once you choose a funeral home, look carefully at their offerings and see how much of it you can afford that’s within your budget. Remember that you can shop a la carte. So if your budget says $2,000, you need to face reality. $2,000 is not going to buy you a traditional funeral with embalming, public viewing of the body, metal casket, graveyard burial. You are not going to get that for $2,000 anywhere in the United States. That means your choice is going to be something like simple cremation, even if that’s not your favorite. People have to be realistic.

Is price negotiation ever an option? How would that work?

Yes, just the same way you would do it with any other business that you were negotiating with. They don’t have to haggle with you, but you have the right to do so. We get people who are like, “Well, the funeral home has already picked up the body and we do like this funeral home, but they’re more expensive than another one we found in town, we simply can’t afford it.” And my suggestion is talk to the funeral director and say, “Listen, you’ve taken good care of us before, we appreciate that you came to pick our grandmother up, but we literally cannot afford your price on this direct burial. We would love to give you our business. Can you meet your competitor’s price? We realize you don’t have to lower your prices. But we would like to do business with you. If you can’t lower your prices, we’ll have to have her body removed to a different place.”

And that’s OK to do?

Well, why wouldn’t it be OK? Here’s what I hear underneath this, and I think you’re channeling it correctly from people: What people are doing is asking for permission. But you’re not breaking a social rule. You’re not being cheap. I know what people are thinking: “I don’t want to do that. It’s gauche. It means I don’t care about my mother.” Stop that. That’s nonsense talk. If you showed how much you loved your mother by how much you spent on her funeral, you’d go bankrupt. Love cannot be expressed by money.

Lastly, what are some of the biggest misconceptions about navigating this process?

Most of what people think they are required to purchase is not true. For example, many people think embalming is legally required if you’re going to view the body. That is not true in any U.S. state. It’s also not true that embalming is required as a condition of being buried in the ground. These are in-house funeral home policies, not laws. So there’s very little that you are legally required to purchase. Basically, the only thing that has to happen, when a person dies, in order to satisfy the laws, there has to be a death certificate signed by a doctor, the body has to be buried, cremated or donated to anatomical science within a certain period of time, and that’s literally all that is required. Everything else is optional.

Go into this transaction knowing that although it’s emotional, you are a consumer, you get to decide what you put in your cart. You’re not obliged to buy these things. These are choices and you should make choices that fit your family’s budget and your family’s emotional preferences.

Complete Article HERE!