My father died now about five years ago. My mom was currently going through sorting out some banking issues caused by my father’s death. The bank needed a death certificate. One could not be found. At the time of my father’s death, I was living in Canada so I had no idea where she could have put them, so we called the funeral home. They were very nice to copy one and the bank was nice to accept that.
I took my young son to go pick it up. While I was there, I casually asked about plans for my mother. Like most families, I did not see any reason to change funeral directors. In my family, we have always wanted to have what is most natural and kind to the earth. When I was young we were taught cremation was the best, but since our religious conversion to Christian Orthodoxy, we changed our plans and chose full body burial. When Dad died, we did our best to have a simple burial. We were not educated in our rights in planning a funeral, so we missed the mark. With Mom, we were hoping for a natural burial with little preparation for burial and in a simple coffin. I knew my rights. I knew what Mom wanted. I told the woman how much we were interested in a natural burial. She promptly told me that that was not legal in the state of Illinois. Mind you, I am educated. I have given seminars on the subject. This was not at a time of need when I needed to plan a funeral in the next few days. I was intimidated. I thought, I must be wrong. I asked again and she confirmed her statement. I then told her I would go check it out and get back to her on it.
I went home and promptly called Josh Slocum of the Funeral Consumers Alliance. He told me that it was illegal for a funeral home to tell me that any state requires embalming for burial. What Josh told me was that funeral homes have an interior requirement for embalming for viewing or visitation. He asked me to call them back and see what happens. If they stuck to their guns, Josh would write them a letter.
The next morning, I called back and spoke with the owner. He told me the woman who I spoke with had no business telling me that embalming was required by the state. What he told me next shocked me. He said that embalming sanitizes the body. I know that in no way does embalming sanitize the body. Embalming chemically helps preserve a body for a few days. As a mater of fact, embalming can not be guaranteed for more than five days. Preservation may last longer, but no one can guarantee it indefinitely. Embalmers, in fact, are at risk from the chemicals used in embalming and not from the bodies themselves. Pathogens usually die with us and do not linger in the body.
When I called Josh Slocum back we chatted about my conversation and he gave me some pointers on how to secret shop. Secret shopping is a great way to know what is going on locally. In my position as an executive director, I needed to be able to help our clients either find a good provider or give them pointers on how to shop for themselves.