Nine of the United States (Illinois, Michigan, Indiana, Nebraska, Connecticut, Louisiana, New Jersey and New York) requires each citizen to hire a funeral director at the time of death. To the casual observer, this might seem like a good idea. After all they are the professionals. What people often over look is the culture of the death care industry in this nation and how isolated it functions. As a culture, we no longer talk about death. We leave it to the last second, if at all, to talk with our family about what we want to have done for our funeral and burial. Some of us think we will never die and those around us will not either. Sometimes we walk around in almost a fog thinking that we will never have to deal with planning a funeral. The truth is most of us will have to plan a funeral of someone we love at some point in our lives. When that happens, and we have not prepared, we are likely to follow what the funeral director or family service counselor at the cemetery suggests and do what is conventional. This is not necessarily the industry’s fault. They have a client coming in that needs service and quickly and if they do not know what they want, it is easy to follow convention. Before we go further, embalming is not a requirement by law for burial or viewing of the body. These are purely the requirement of the funeral director. The same is true for vaults in cemeteries. Vaults are not required by law for burial, but are requirements of the cemetery.
From my shopping experiences with funeral directors, I noticed that even if a greener funeral is wanted, funeral directors steer the conversation to the conventional, embalming funeral. Open coffins in most funeral homes would not be allowed without embalming. Many reasons are given for this, but the truth is the funeral industry has enshrined embalming as the safe and only funeral option for those who want to follow traditional rites that involve open coffins. Embalming does not make a body safe or sanitized -diseases die with us. Embalming will not preserve a body forever- by law embalming can only be guaranteed for five days. A properly cared for natural body can be refrigerated for as many days as ten and longer and still have an open coffin. Without refrigeration, taking into consideration a variety of ways to keep the body cool, a body can be above ground for about three day. For thousands of years, people have buried and had viewings without embalming. There is no reason why we need to do this invasive and unnecessary procedure to the bodies of our loved ones.
In many states, death doulas assist families with their funeral preparation without embalming. They use tried and true methods of maintaining the body after death. They guide the family through the process assisting the family when needed and providing a smooth and simple way of dealing with the death of a loved one. In states that force their citizenry to hire funeral directors, death doulas either do not exist, or are forced to work in with a funeral director. In the end, either a family does not have access to this service or they have to pay twice for the service because the family will have to pay the funeral director the basic service fee. The basic service fee is a protected fee and unregulated that individual clients have no right to negotiate for a lower price. I have found this fee in Illinois to be as little as 995.00 or as high as 2495.00. That seems steep to me for someone who needs someone to fill out paper or for who wants to have a simple burial with little extras.
In these states, we are forced to hire a private entity and to give money to an industry, which we might not want, or need. It forces those of low income to raise money, to bury their loved ones or go into debt to pay off the end of life bills. One funeral home website states that the reason that funerals cost so much is that they are like weddings. However, if a couple wants to be married and they do not want all the fuss of a big event, they need only take themselves down to the courthouse and get married. They fill out the papers and take the vows with a judge. If we want to care for our own dead, the option of filling out our own forms and caring for our loved ones ourselves is not open to us who live in a state where we must hire a funeral director at the time of death. If we live in one of these nine states, we are forced to pay, and pay dearly for a service we want or need without the benefit of hiring who we want and having a simple funeral. This goes against free market and free enterprise where the laws of competition and demand have no bearing. The industry can set up its own regulations that do not correspond to the law. If the law states that embalming is not required for a funeral and burial, how can someone in that state get a simple funeral if no funeral director will provide that service? We are forced into an industry which does not give us what we want - a simple farewell
The average funeral in the US is 10,000.00 this is before cemetery costs where you need to purchase the right to be buried in a plot, an open and close of a grave and in most cases a vault. These laws which saddles its citizenry in such a way means they have lost touch with those of meager means in their state. Cook County’s morgue a few years back was backlogged with bodies left unclaimed. I do not wonder why. Our position is a human rights and social justice issue. How can we treat those of lesser means as lesser human because they cannot pay the high price of the death care industry? It’s an issue of common decency. It is in no way just to force a family into a financial crisis or leave their loved ones behind and unclaimed. That just is not right.
I know there are good and decent funeral directors who care for the families and want to provide good service to those in need. I know there are those who work freelance because they want to help families, but do not like the culture of the industry. I know there are people who work in cemeteries who want the family to have what they want for their loved ones at death. In the end, even for those who have a great heart and are working to provide the best service they can, no one should be forced to take their services. I do not wonder why cremation is on the rise. In cremation, the family is offered a wide variety of possibilities that are not costly and give the family flexibility to have memorial and burial services where the industry is kept out almost entirely. We should be able to fill in the proper forms and hire who we want to help our families at the most tender times in our lives, instead of dealing with an industry that may not have our values for a simple funeral and burial at heart.
We allow home births, but we do not allow for home funerals. We have trained midwives and doulas to assist the new mother as she enters into the new life with her child. We also allow women the option to have their babies in a hospital. We need to begin to look at home funerals in this manner. A death in the family is a life changing event where life as we knew it is over, and the new one, one we live without our loved one begin. Families who wish to choose a simple funeral, where people gather to share stories and be together, where death doulas help walk them through the process without the death care industry telling them what they do and do not need, should be able to choose what is best for themselves. We should have the right to choose how we want to gather and celebrate and remember the lives of our loved ones as we see fit. The state should keep their laws off the bodies of our loved one. This is not about clandestine graves or not registering deaths properly. It’s not about breaking the laws or thwarting important documentation laws. It’s about our right to choose. It’s about the rights of families to choose what is best for their family. It’s about being true to traditions and true to your heart. Call your state representative or senator and tell them you do not want this law in your state. Contact us if you need more information on this topic.