General News · 12th December 2022
Before the 1860’s, families and communities took care of their own dead. Historian Mark Harris noted in his book, Grave Matters, that it was after the American Civil War this changed. The bodies of fallen soldiers were routinely embalmed before being transported back to their families in the north. In 1865, Abraham Lincoln’s embalmed body was viewed publicly for two weeks as it travelled from Washington, DC to Springfield, Illinois. The public began to see embalming as an acceptable way to care for, and even honour, their deceased. Families were always capable of washing, dressing, and burying their dead but as the demand for embalming rose, a trained undertaker was needed for this rather complex procedure. This led to our funeral industry.
Thanks to modern refrigeration, embalming is seldom necessary. Even so, modern day funeral homes provide an important service to our communities. They transfer the deceased from a home or hospital to one of their facilities; store the body in a refrigerated unit; complete the necessary paperwork; sometimes embalm/wash/dress/set features on the body and offer viewing; provide a casket or urn; post obituaries; transport the body to a cemetery, crematorium, or other funeral home. They can also arrange or help arrange a service, as well as provide emotional support.
Funeral homes are businesses and strive to be competitive and profitable. After a death, when stress and emotional levels may be high, it can be difficult to make decisions. A salesperson might use subtle ways to imply that you should spend more money by choosing unnecessary embalming, expensive caskets, and elaborate funeral services.
While you are still alive, you can select a funeral home that will provide the level and type of service you need, within your budget. Many funeral directors are caring, knowledgeable, and available. Shop around. Visit funeral homes in your area, talk to funeral directors, and request price lists. Ask your friends about their experiences. Be wary of a funeral home that will list the price for a cremation, but when questioned further, let you know there will also be a charge for the box and transportation to the crematorium. Cost is only one factor to consider; some funeral homes run as impersonally and efficiently as a fast-food drive-through. Choices come with environmental price tags as well. Once you’ve done your research, document your wishes and ensure your executor knows what you have arranged.
It is legal for families to care for their own at death, which can be empowering and meaningful. On Cortes, Community-Led Death Care volunteers are available to guide and support those who choose this approach. However, there are situations in which a funeral home is necessary, and some providers are flexible and will support families to do as much as they can themselves.
Plan ahead. Gather information, select the funeral home or process that aligns with your values, document and share your wishes with those close to you, and enjoy the rest of your life.