When my father-in-law died nine and a half years ago, the family all trekked down to the funeral home very popular in the Serbian community, (I married into a Serbian family.) In the city we lived at the time, the Serbian community used one of two funeral homes. Mama wanted the best, and the one nearest to her home. We all sat there. I was seven months pregnant and having all hopes and dreams of handing my father-in-law his first grandchild disintegrated, trying to figure out how to plan the funeral of this man we all loved. This was my first experience of helping plan a funeral. Tata had died on Good Friday, so that meant we had to wait for a funeral until after Pascha (Easter). My husband inquired if we had to embalm his father. The funeral director stated that if we did not embalm but waited until the funeral in the following week, it would not be a pretty sight. As this was my first, up front experience and I had not yet learned what I now know that a body can be refrigerated for weeks if needs be. I remember the funeral director saying, “We aren’t Egyptians!” In fact, I now know that embalming is an invasive unnecessary, and rather unpleasant process where the internal organs are pierced and body fluids are removed. We acquiesced and Tata’s body was embalmed and we sang “Christ is risen” as his coffin left the church.
Now, I will fast forward to my first real secret shop. I wanted to know more about this place we had found. I liked knowing there was someplace I could turn to when someone I loved died. The funeral director had told my partner about this process of “topical embalming”. The body is washed and anointed with essential oils. The oils are fresh smelling and disinfect the body. This is the same kind of service home funeral guides provide. We were so pleased. Before calling, I checked out their website. No longer did they mention green or natural packages. When I called the funeral director told me in no way would he ever consent to a viewing of a natural body because of insurance they carried. Something along the lines of that he did not want anyone catching some disease from a natural body. I knew that natural bodies do not pose a health risk. I knew that we humans have been handling natural bodies for sometime now. I even knew that the funeral directors are most at risk when embalming from the toxins in embalming fluid, not the bodies themselves. I had never heard of this insurance before. I called Josh Slocum from the Funeral Consumers Alliance. He told me there was no such insurance. Funeral homes have a policy of embalming for public viewing which has nothing to do with public health. Our diseases die with us. They do not linger around looking for a new host.
Perhaps it is unfair to funeral directors to expect to give the public what it wants. Their training is only in embalming and cremation. They do not receive training in shrouding and natural funerals and burial needs. The education they receive speaks to the importance of embalming as a health benefit for the communities they serve. The issue that we all need to be concerned about is what to do with the body and how to slow decay. In the modern world we have refrigeration and dry ice. Maybe with some education to the public and the industry about the process, and maybe if more of us were not so afraid of death, things could start to change for the better, not just for our day to day life, but for the planet and those we love.