Funeral Planning: What is a “Green” Funeral?

In recent years, efforts to “Go Green” have affected everything from your choice of disposable cups (ditch the Styrofoam) to the types of cars we buy (so long Hummer).  Not everyone realizes, though, that even funeral planning has been affected by our renewed environmental consciousness.  There is a growing trend within the funeral industry, prompted by environmental activists, to move to “Green” funerals.

So what is a Green funeral?  Green burial is known by several different names: Conservation Burial, Natural Burial, and eco-burials.  The three most basic differences between a regular burial and a Green burial are:

  • Formaldehyde is not used as an embalming fluid
  • No vault is typically built within the gravesite
  • Coffins are made out of biodegradable materials

The most significant difference in the burial process when funeral planning for a Green burial is the removal of formaldehyde as an embalming fluid.  Studies have shown that formaldehyde is a health risk for those who are exposed to it for long periods of time (like funeral workers).  There is also concern about what happens over time when it seeps into our waterways as the result of cemetery burials and decomposition.

Contrary to popular belief, embalming is not required by most states, unless transportation of the body is required across state lines, or a significant delay in burial is necessary.  In most cases a body can be kept preserved in a cooler or on dry ice for as long as four days.  In the event that embalming is deemed necessary, there are non-toxic embalming fluids now available, like glutaraldehyde.

The use of concrete vaults in gravesites has also come under criticism.  Some estimates say that as much as 1.6 million tons of reinforced concrete is used each year in the U.S. as part of the burial process.  The frustration for many Green funeral enthusiasts is that most cemeteries require the use of reinforced vaults within the gravesite to help eliminate the settling of the land around the burial plot over time, making cemetery lawn maintenance more difficult.

In reaction to these requirements, there are an increasing number of Green Burial Grounds being established around the country.  If you are a conservationist, you should definitely consider self-arranged funeral planning to help ensure that you leave the world in the same way that you have tried to live in it.

Coffins made from materials such as wicker, bamboo, jute, or cardboard each provide rapid, biodegradable options.  Some people chose to skip a coffin altogether, opting instead to use shrouds.

Another option is to choose to skip a burial entirely, choosing instead to be cremated.  You should be sure to ask the crematorium what they are doing to reduce crematory emissions.  Though there is cause for concern regarding cremation to the carbon emissions and worries over mercury pollution, cause by the burning of mercury tooth fillings, the fact of the matter is, for people who live in areas where Green burial cannot take place due to cemetery regulations, cremation is ultimately a more environmentally friendly choice.

Another means of “Greening” your funeral planning, is to include plans for creating a memorial landscape, using native trees and plants.  This is a wonderful way to create a beautiful, meaningful memorial spot for someone who was cremated.

If your funeral planning is to include plans for a Green funeral, be sure to research more about the process.   The Green Burial Council is a nonprofit organization that was found to help promote and support natural burial options.  The Green Burial Council also certifies cemeteries and their operators as ecofriendly businesses.  You can access their list of approved providers by visiting their website.

Written By: C. Denise Stewart is a freelance writer living in Melbourne, Fl.  She is a regular contributor to “Funeral Services Advice” and writes frequently on the topic of funeral planning and how to sell cemetery plots.

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Funeral Arrangements: The Last Minute Details

Few people plan ahead for their own funeral or that of a loved one.  Some of us are stopped by superstitious fears that by making funeral arrangements while someone is still living is just asking for trouble.

However, there are practical and considerate reasons for choosing to make funeral arrangements before it is absolutely necessary.  When death greets us, we are rarely prepared – emotionally or from a practical standpoint.  Making funeral arrangements now will help those you leave behind be better prepared and feel more at ease with the funeral arranging process.

Much of the confusion and, frankly, spending that comes with funeral arranging for someone recently deceased occurs because loved ones are often too overwhelmed with grief to feel confident in their decision making abilities. Rather than taking the time and careful consideration that they want to be able to take, they feel pressured to prepare the “prefect” final farewell for the deceased.  This can lead to overspending and elaborate, unnecessary demonstrations of love for the recently passed.

The last minute details can be especially difficult.  Who will speak at the funeral?  Is there anything special or significant that the deceased would like to be buried with?  If it’s an open casket, is there an outfit picked out?  These and other small details are the ones that can become particularly confusing for someone overcome with grief.

By make your own funeral arrangements ahead of time, you can help limit the confusion for your loved ones.  It can also be a very therapeutic exercise to envision and plan your own funeral.

Beyond the basic funeral arrangements of preferred method of burial (don’t feel obligated to pre-pay for burial space, though), location of funeral services, religious officiate and type of service, etc.  you should also leave directions for the smaller details as well.

Here are some examples of other funeral arrangements that need to be addressed as well:

Music

Is there particular music you would like played prior to the service, after the service, or even hymns sung during the service?  Create a song list with specific instructions for when you would like the music played.

Speakers

Are there people you would like to have speak at your funeral?  Keep in mind that asking someone to speak at your funeral may be difficult for some, primarily because of their fear of speaking in front of large groups.  If this is the case, you may decide to pick out a poem or passage from a religious text that means a lot to you.  You should discuss your wishes with the person when you are pre-planning your funeral arrangements so that they are not taken off guard during their time of grief.

Ambiance

Some people don’t want their funerals to be sad or morose affairs.  Instead they hope to have celebrate their time here with an upbeat and positive memorial service.  If this is the case for you, then try to think of things that will help create that ambiance for your loved ones.  Perhaps you can ask that everyone wear clothing supporting your favorite sports team, or everyone wears your favorite color.  Or perhaps you choose a location for the services that is not typically associated with death and dying – like a local park.

A Message From You

A wonderful demonstration of your love for those you will leave behind is to leave a note or letter with your funeral arrangements to be read by someone during your funeral services, or included in the funeral program so that everyone can keep a copy of it.  This should be a warm and compassionate memento, letting each person know how much they meant to you, and also providing an uplifting message that helps them come to terms with your loss.

It’s the small funeral arrangement details that are often the most difficult for loved ones to plan.  Pre-planning your own funeral is a demonstration of your love and care for them, even after you’ve passed on.

Written By: C. Denise Stewart is a freelance writer living in Melbourne, Fl.  She is a regular contributor to “Funeral Services Advice” and writes frequently on the topic of the planning of funeral arrangements.

The Funeral Planning Guide: Feeling Compelled to Speak

The funeral of a loved one often comes as a complete surprise.  Rarely do we plan for the untimely passing of family and friends.  And even when someone close to us has been ill for some time and warnings have been given to prepare for their passing, death can still come as a shock to most of us.

When planning to attend the funeral of your friend or family member, you may want to prepare a few words to say.  For some people the thought of standing in front of room of people and speaking in any circumstance is nothing short of terrifying.  Considering doing so in the midst of grief can seem impossible.  However, many people are surprised to discover that during the funeral services they in fact sometimes feel compelled to speak.  If this happens to you, it’s best to be prepared ahead of time.

What do I say?

Perhaps you feel like you should share something – anything – but you feel at a loss for knowing what to say.  Preparing a few words before you go to the funeral, even if you have no intention at all of speaking, will help give you the confidence you need to face your fears so that you can honor your lost loved one or friend.  Here are a few ideas of things to say:

Tell a story – If you have known the deceased for many, many years and have dozens of stories to choose from, this is a good option for you.  Family and friends enjoy hearing funny stories, or heartwarming stories about the departed.  Just be sure that the humor is appropriate for all in attendance, and that the humor is meant in a loving way – gentle teasing about personality traits, or adventure tales from younger days are usually good options.

Read a Poem or Religious Passage – If you can’t think of a story to tell, you may want to select a poem or religious passage to read.  The selection to reflect the personality of or your affections for the deceased.  A nice added touch is to make a nice copy – perhaps laminated or framed – as a gift for the family.

When do I say something?

If the funeral has a religious ceremony as part of the services, generally the time for volunteers to come to the front of the group will be saved for after the ceremonies are completed.

It is usually polite to wait to allow all family members to speak first.  If you are a family member, you may want to arrange with your other family members ahead of time in which order you will be speaking.  If you are a friend or acquaintance of the deceased, then it is best to wait for a pause that seems of some minimal length before volunteering to speak.

How do I start?  How do I finish?

When you first approach the front of the group, it is polite to introduce yourself and your relationship to the deceased.  You can include the length of time that you knew him or her, as well as any brief words relating to the person’s character.  For example:

“Hello, my name is Dan and I have worked with Steven for the last fifteen years at Harper and Harper.  Dan was such a warm and generous person, and he is truly missed by all of us at work.”

The best way to finish your time in front of the group is to express your sympathies to the family before taking your seat.  For example:

“Linda, Debbie, I am so sorry for your loss.  Steven was a good man and a great friend, and I feel truly blessed to have known him.”

Being prepared to speak at the funeral of a family member or friend will help you cope with your grief.  Speaking at a funeral is one way many people find closure and acceptance of their loss.  It is also a wonderful way to honor the memory of your loved one.

Written By: C. Denise Stewart is a freelance writer living in Melbourne, Fl.  She is a regular contributor to “Funeral Services Advice” and writes frequently on the topic of funeral planning.

The Funeral Planning Guide: The importance of talking with family

Whether you have previously planned the funeral of a loved one, or are now planning a funeral for the first time, you may have come to realize that the costs associated with traditional burial can quickly escalate.

According to the Funeral Consumers Alliance (FCA), a nonprofit organization that works to protect the rights of funeral industry consumers “to choose a meaningful, dignified, affordable funeral,” several issues have combined to create a dramatic increase in funeral costs over the past several decades.

Joshua Slocum, executive director of the FCA, points out that most significantly “the general American fear of death and refusal to talk openly about what our burial expectations are with loved ones has created a situation where funeral costs are able to rise astronomically from one year to the next.”  Most people do not make their funeral wishes clear to loved ones prior to their passing, so final arrangements are left to the last minute and carried out by grieving loved ones who may be easily influenced to spend more money than is necessary on the departed person’s funeral arrangements.  It is important to realize that the amount of money you spend on the funeral of a loved one does not in any way reflect on how much you cared about that person.  By discussing funeral expectations with loved ones now, you will be able to make better informed decisions about the kind of funeral each of you desires.

The FCA also points out that package style funeral planning is not necessary and can often inflate funeral costs.  The Federal Trade Commission established The Funeral Rule in 1984 as a way to protect funeral industry consumers.  Amongst other regulations, The Funeral Rule establishes that consumers are allowed to select only those funeral items or services that they want or must have.  This eliminates the possibility for funeral homes to create funeral “packages” that include goods or services that are not desired.

It should also be noted that The Funeral Rule also enables consumers to purchase funeral items, such as caskets and monuments, from sources outside of the funeral home. If a funeral home or funeral director is leading you to believe that you may only purchase funeral goods and services from the funeral home, that provider is in violation of The Funeral Rule.

Funeral pre-planning is a good way to assure that an individual’s final arrangements are planned according to his or her wishes.  However, pre-planning does not have to mean pre-paying. By pre-planning your own final arrangements, or by helping to pre-plan the final arrangements of a loved one, you can be certain that when the time comes every desired detail of your funeral plans will be addressed without concern for additional costs being incurred.

The most important aspect of the pre-planning process is considering how the individual feels about what should be done with his or her own remains.  Though burial is still the most common final arrangement choice, cremation and body donation are both becoming more acceptable and preferred options for some people.  These two options also offer practical and economical solutions for some families as well.  It is important that pre-planning discussions amongst family members include these alternate choices.

Though no one wants to think about death or dying, it is important that we begin to understand the responsibility associated with becoming informed funeral planning consumers.  By talking openly about final arrangements with your loved ones, you will be able to arrange the perfect – and most affordable – farewell.

Memorial Day: Honoring those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice

Memorial Day is a U.S. federal holiday established with the intent of honoring those military men and women who have died in service to our nation.  Originally called Decoration Day, Memorial Day did not become an officially observed federal holiday until 1967.  Decoration Day was first observed just after the Civil War in 1866 as a way to honor fallen Union soldiers.  Though several cities and towns were known to celebrate the day, most historians credit Waterloo, New York’s May 5, 1866 celebration as the first observance.

In 1868,General John A. Logan, commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, proclaimed May 30 as Memorial Day.   Flowers were placed on the graves of both Union and Confederate soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery.  By 1890 all of the northern states officially recognized the holiday, however most of the southern states refused, still harboring resentment for the events of the Civil War.  To this day many southern states still celebrate an additional day for honoring those who died in the Confederate war.

In 1968 the U.S. Congress changed Memorial Day from May 30 to the last Monday in May as part of the Uniform Holidays Bill.  This created a three-day weekend for Memorial Day and several other national holidays.  By doing so this national day of remembrance has become for many a day to spend time with friends and family, and is sometimes viewed as kick-off for the summer holidays.  There are some supporters of returning the holiday to May 30 so that the emphasis can be refocused on the day’s original intent of paying respect to our fallen soldiers.

For those who observe the day’s focus, there are several traditions and activities associated with Memorial Day.  The VFW (Veterans of Foreign Wars) has traditionally accepted donations for red poppies, a custom first introduced in 1915 by Moina Michael who was inspired by the poem “In Flanders Fields.”  Donations for the red poppies go to support service men and women.

The American flag plays an important role in our observation of Memorial Day.  Friends and family traditionally will place small American flags on the gravesites of military loved ones.  In some areas local service organizations will also be sure that military graves are properly adorned with flowers and flags.  It is also customary to fly the flag at half-staff from dawn until noon on this day.

There is also a national moment of remembrance that takes place at 3 p.m. local time on Memorial Day.  This custom was established in 2000 as a response to concerns that the true meaning of the holiday as a time to collectively mourn and pay respect to those who gave their life for our freedom had been lost amidst the excitement of the three-day weekend.

Local communities often will host parades or community picnics as a means of coming together to celebrate the lives and sacrifices of our service men and women.  Many families have their own traditions and observances for honoring their own loved ones who have served in the military. Many local service organizations and community groups provide opportunities for individuals to donate their time to helping plan and assisting in various Memorial Day events.

This year be sure to remember the true meaning behind our Memorial Day celebrations.  Take some time to reflect on the sacrifices our military personnel have made to protect each of our individual rights and freedoms.  Visit a local cemetery as a way to honor and pay respect to our fallen service men and women.

Cemetery Plots for Sale: Seller Beware

For those who may own unwanted cemetery plots, understanding how to turn that unused burial property into a financial investment can be confusing.  Though it seems that selling burial property should be the same as selling anything else you may own, the sale of cemetery plots are an entirely different kind of transaction.

People come to own unwanted burial property for a variety of reasons. Maybe you’ve relocated with no intentions of moving again, but still own a burial plot across country. Another common way to acquire unwanted burial property is having it bequeathed to you at the time of a family member’s passing.  However you have come to own the unwanted property, it is important that you are aware of some common misconceptions or mistakes concerning the selling of your cemetery property.

How long does it take to sell cemetery plots?

The short answer is: forever.  Burial property is unique to any other sales transaction in that though cemetery plots are in high demand, they are only sold as needed and very quickly when the demand is present.  The only way to ever sell your burial property is to register it with a reputable and experienced cemetery registry. Once it’s registered, you will most likely have to wait months or even years until someone needs your property.  Once they do, though, the sale will happen within a few days, so you will need to have all of your paperwork ready to go.

Where do I sell my burial property?

There are several ways to sell your burial property.  Perhaps the most effective means is to register your property with an online cemetery registry.  These online databases host many other cemetery properties for sale, which means they will attract the most potential buyers.  Buyers won’t want to have to search hard for burial property.  They will want to have several options available to them when choosing a burial lot.  Having your burial lot listed with other lots will give more visibility to your property than if it was listed somewhere with few other cemetery lots.

The other advantage to having your burial property registered online is that you will have a global market potentially searching for a burial lot just like yours.  More and more families are living far apart, which means that often family members are forced to try to make funeral arrangements for loved ones who are thousands of miles away.  They won’t look in the classified section of your local newspaper for burial property.  They will go online to try to find cemetery plots there.

A Word of Caution

When considering where online to register your property, you must be careful of Cemetery Brokers who require a listing fee plus commission on the sale of your property.  These fees can become very steep, especially if they ask for advertising fees, too.  Also, because it can take months or years to sell your burial property, any listing service that requires you to constantly pay to maintain your listing will quickly drain any value out of the sale price of your property.  There are top quality online cemetery registries that only require one-time registration fees.

Patience will certainly be rewarded when it comes to selling your unwanted burial property.  Though it could take months or years to sell your property, there are no sales taxes on the sale of your burial property, and the value of the lot will always increase over time, so your patience truly is an investment that pays.

Cemetery Plots for Sale: How to find burial property

No one ever wants to think about death or dying.  However, facing death – either our own or the death of a loved one – is a fact of life.  Few people stop to think about what death entails beyond the loss of life.  There will be final arrangement details that may seem superficial compared to the loss of your loved one during your time of grief, but will be of utmost importance to attend to.

If the departed has pre-planned their own funeral arrangements, your job will simply be to make sure all of the details that were laid out ahead of time are followed.  More often, though, the loss of life is sudden and without warning, meaning you will need to make decisions quickly and efficiently. One of the first steps you will have to take is deciding how to handle the internment of the deceased.

In the U.S., traditional burial in a cemetery is still the first choice for final arrangements of the departed.  If your loved one did not already have burial property, this means you will need to find cemetery plots for sale.  Hardly anyone ever gives any thought to how cemetery plots are sold, so the idea of trying to locate one quickly – usually within only a few days time – is unimaginable.  Here are some suggestions of where you can start your search.

Funeral Homes

If you choose to use a funeral home and funeral director to help you with funeral arrangements, he or she will be able to assist you in locating burial property.  This is an easy and convenient means of finding burial space, but be sure to ask for several options of lots.

Online Cemetery Registry

An online Cemetery Registry will provide listings for burial property in your area.  There are registries that will also have listings for cemetery plots in other states if you need to plan a funeral for someone not living near you.  The nice thing about an online Cemetery Registry is that you will easily be able to see many options for what is available within the area or cemetery that you would like to make the final resting place for your loved one.

Religious Affiliates

Local religious leaders may have information about burial plots for sale, especially if you are in need of burial space within a certain religious cemetery property.

Veterans Administration

If the deceased was a veteran he or she may be able to be buried in a military cemetery.  You can check with the local veterans administration for information and availability.

Anyone Who Assists in Estate Planning

If the deceased had a will or trust, the consultant for that will or trust may know of available cemetery property.  Likewise, accountants, attorneys, estate planners – anyone who plays a role in taking care of matters surrounding death may have knowledge of available burial property.

A Word About Cost

Cemetery property is much like housing real estate in that location affects the price of the lot.  Not only does each cemetery affect the value of the property, but also the location within the cemetery.  One way to save money is to decide if you need to have a premium location for your loved ones final resting place.  Though lots located on hilltops and by waterways are nice, consider how often friends and family will visit the gravesite before making your final decision.  It’s a good idea to have someone less affected by the loss of your loved one accompany you when making the cemetery plot purchase.