Warning: Graphic. Why We Should Not Let Our Loved Ones (or Ourselves) Be “Processed” by a Funeral Home.

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Burial Pods:

Here’s an alternative to the below:

Instead of coffins or cremation – burial pods

Green Burials. Or cremation.

“Writing as someone whose church operates a green cemetery on its land in Wisconsin: yes, this. We bury people with no embalming, in a biodegradable container of their choice (cardboard cremation casket, canvas bag, wicker or plain wooden casket etc), and we have a team of volunteers who work with the families and a couple of sympathetic local funeral homes to do all of this in the most environmentally sound ways possible.

It all happens to be a lot less expensive, too.

There are some real limitations in time and geography: you only get a pretty short window between death and burial, and winter-time burials are problematic up here in the frozen North.

There are more and more green cemeteries opening up these days—if that’s the way you want to go, start your research now and get that planning squared away before the moment of need arises.”


Photo: Kelly N Patterson
Photo: Kelly N Patterson


I’m a funeral director. Our entire industry is basically a pyramid scheme. It blows my mind how blindly people accept that certain things “have to” be done to the body of their loved one. Think about that for a second: this is the last tangible remnant of someone you loved and you are now going to pay a stranger thousands (oftentimes HUNDREDS of thousands) of dollars to (warning: graphic from here on out) systematically mutilate that body.

There is nothing dignified about having one’s mouth wired shut, eyelids forced closed by spiked plastic contact lenses, and ramming a trocar into the abdomen to puncture organs so that they can be suctioned out. After the embalming fluid is introduced, the anus and vagina are stuffed with cotton and other absorbent materials to prevent what we refer to as “purge.” This charming phenomenon can occur any time after death—yes, before or after embalming, at any stage of decomposition—when the fluid created by tissues breaking down is leaked through any nearby orifice, oftentimes the nether regions.

The process creates an enormous environmental problem; using toxic chemicals which are flushed into our sewers along with those pureed livers, hearts, spleens, pancreas’ which then also flow into our sewers. Oh, what’s that? I told you embalming is a legal requirement for public sanitation? That’s utter bullshit. If anything, it creates a sanitation problem if the cemetery you use is anywhere near a municipal water line, which most “commercial” cemeteries are.

In fact, in most states, the law only requires embalming if you are transporting a body across state lines or are not planning to inter for more than 72 hours and/or having a public viewing. It has not a single thing to do with public health. It’s a cash cow, plain and simple. It is barbaric, costly, and does not keep the body from deteriorating. But we’ll tell you just about anything you need to hear to get you to agree to it.

What I’m doing here is incredibly illegal and I know it, but on the slim-to-none-chance that you’re a sharp-minded consumer in the midst of your grief and call my state’s licensing board about it, all I have to do simply tell them you were mistaken. I’ve seen funeral directors force-feed families absolute horseshit—saying anything—to get them to sign a contract. Here’s a hint: don’t sign any pre-printed “form” contracts. Most of the contracts we use are super vague, so we can charge you for just about anything and justify it by pointing to your signature on the dotted line. It is in your best interest to only agree to specific itemized charges—i.e., have the hearse but no limousines. Or have hair/makeup done without any embalming. The law is very specific and on your side, but we count on your ignorance and vulnerability.

Even better, find a trusted friend or family member who is more emotionally stable right now and appoint them as your lawyer/detective. You know that bitchy sister-in-law everyone has who makes major holidays a nightmare? I can spot her a mile away and will do everything I can to keep her out of financial discussions—because I know she will take that obnoxious nagging and throw it at me for every single penny I’m trying to get out of your family. See my co-workers standing around looking somber and respectful? They’re not there to just have a presence of authority, they are studying you. They are watching the family dynamic and will report back to me with any potential angles I can play to manipulate your emotions, which family members are taking it the hardest and will therefore be the easiest prey, and their estimation of your financial well-being.

If, by the way, you appear to be less affluent, I’ll tell you to take your business elsewhere. This is not a hospital and I don’t provide a service—this is a business. If you aren’t paying me (in full and up front, generally), all you’re getting is my sympathy.

Do yourself a favor and read the FTC Funeral Rule. It’s very clear and concise in stating what you as the consumer are required to do and what rights you have.

Did you know the casket I’m selling you for $5000 is really just a nicely decorated plywood box? If you were smarter, you’d know you don’t have to buy that from me. In fact, the law requires me to allow you to “BYOB.” Costco and Wal-Mart sell very reasonably priced nice caskets on their websites.

If you happen to be armed with that tidbit of information, I’ll try to make it a practical issue: it will be easier to use the caskets we already have here. Another line of crap: all of the caskets at the funeral home are demo models (and are actually nice napping spots on slow days).

Anything you buy will be delivered to the funeral home via freight the next day, just like the Wal-Mart caskets.

Another well-worn sales tactic is to try to shame you into going along with the exorbitant cost, implying you didn’t really love grandma enough if you spend less than five figures with me. You should know, by the way, that everything you buy from me—a guestbook, prayer cards, even the damn obituary notices—is marked up at least 200%. See the picture I’m painting here, kids? Smoke and mirrors. It hasn’t always been like this, but with the corporatization of the death care industry, the almighty dollar is the only consideration anymore.

Whew, this is getting to be a novel. Sorry, hang with me just a bit longer—we are getting to the major issue here.

Right now—literally right now, August 16, 2013—the FTC is reviewing a merger between the two largest funeral service corporations in the United States: Stewart and SCI. Stewart has 500-ish locations while SCI has 2000+. This will create a mega-Decepticon-conglomerate that will control at least 40% of all funeral service business transactions in this country – and that, my friends, is what antitrust regulations refer to as a monopoly. We are racing full speed ahead to the genesis of the McFuneralHome and nobody is doing anything about it. The reason? Misdirection. There’s no Stewart Funeral Home or SCI Mortuary in your hometown. They’re operating under the same names they always have, letting you believe that the good people of Bubba & Sons Memorial Chapels would never steer you wrong. Bubba’s been around for 50 years! Bubba’s handled your family’s funerals for generations! Let me tell you something: Bubba cashed out years ago and is pretty much a figurehead at this point. Check his website carefully: at the bottom, you’ll probably see a copyright for either “Dignity Memorials” (SCI) or “STEI” (Stewart).

Every single thing you’ve read in this thread about cutting corners, shoddy work, under-trained and under-paid employees, outsourcing certain processes, covering up mistakes… ALL OF IT HAPPENS IN THE FUNERAL INDUSTRY. Now, most of us are decent human beings and aren’t interested in getting freaky with dear old granny, but in terms of services performed and their actual value, you trust us WAY, WAY TOO MUCH.

You know how shitty the cell phone service provider market is right now and how worked up everyone gets about that? The funeral industry is worse. And we should all be raising hell, because EVERY SINGLE ONE OF US is going to have to conduct business with the deathcare industry eventually — be an informed consumer and know who you’re really giving your money to.

I know I’ve hyperlinked the shit out of this, but please read the last one from the Funeral Consumers Alliance on how horrifyingly out of control this situation has gotten:

“It’s alarming to think that a company with a long track record of abusing consumers at the worst times of their lives might get even bigger,” said Josh Slocum, FCA’s executive director. “For at least 15 years grieving families around the country have complained to us about the practices at SCI funeral homes and cemeteries. From lying about options in order to boost the funeral bill, to digging up graves to re-sell them to another unsuspecting family, to denying the legal rights of LGBT people to make funeral arrangements for their partners. You name it, we’ve heard it.”

Funeral Consumers Alliance reminds the Federal Trade Commission that funeral purchases are unlike any other in their potential to harm the customer. Families buying funeral and cemetery services are incredibly vulnerable and have been subject to deceitful and egregious conduct.

“This is not a run of the mill merger; this isn’t about whether a $20 retail product will cost consumers $5 more,” Slocum said. “We’re talking real money here. Funeral consumers often make great economic sacrifices to bury their loved ones. The average full-service funeral runs in excess of $7,000 and often for much more at SCI’s Dignity locations. Especially when it has faced less competition, SCI has increased prices and we can expect more of the same if this merger occurs. Given the lack of knowledge about funeral options and the stress of grief, we can’t just say a ‘rational consumer’ will vote with their dollars and choose another funeral home. That’s not how the unique funeral transaction works, and that reality is why the FTC specifically regulates funeral homes.”

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31 Responses to “Warning: Graphic. Why We Should Not Let Our Loved Ones (or Ourselves) Be “Processed” by a Funeral Home.”

  1. Georgina says:

    I live in Australia, but your article still rang true to my situation. When my partner died unexpectedly at the age of 34, the grief was immeasurable. His family and I spoke with several funeral agencies, non of which felt “right.” But as time ticked on we made a choice and forced the funeral home to use a cardboard coffin, only to be told that it wasn’t recommended due to potential purge. The director even went as far as to suggest that he be wrapped up in plastic! In the end, the cardboard coffin was purchased and the day before the funeral we were told that it was too small and that they would use a standard coffin of their choice. It was outrageous! This funeral home was sloppy, rude and couldn’t care less. And yet, this was the best of a bad bunch.

  2. neil says:

    This is why I joined the Neptune Society. They come and get the body, burn it, and spread the ashes in the ocean all for $1500.

  3. Guest says:

    And don't forget how they shame you for choosing simpler/cheaper options. When I asked to have my mom's cremated remains put in the simplest container possible they showed me some $300 vessel and said it was the cheapest thing. I said "how about a plastic bag or something–we're just going to scatter the ashes in the ocean." They were like "this vessel is the cheapest thing we recommend." I said "you don't have a bag?" They finally agreed after saying something like "nobody does that," which I highly doubt…

  4. connie says:

    It is a pleasure to read an honest description of what really goes on in the funeral business. As an R.N., I worked 9 yrs. of my 30yr. career in hospice and attended every kind of "funeral' service you can imagine. Always thought the coffins and especially open coffins barbaric and un natural. When my Mom died we carried out her wishes for a cremation and a jazz sendoff afterwards. At the funeral home the staff said they must show us a selection of caskets even though I knew the owners having many patient's families who used them for services; in the corner was a cardboard box, upright and prominently displayed. My husband and I looked at one another and laughed out loud saying, "That's the one for Mamma Ruby !". The sales person was aghast and somewhat shocked, not understanding my Mom's wicked sense of humor and ours ! Anyway, cremains were placed in a cardboard box and we divided them up and scattered them in places that brought pleasure and happiness to my Mom. Kudos for publishing this article. I'm going to encourage everyone to read it !

    • John says:

      A very close friend of ours that we met several years ago (After her husband passed) Told us that, per his wishes he was cremated, and his ashes were spread at all of his favorite restaurants! To this day I'm sure they wonder why certain plants bloom with more life than the others! lol (True Story)

  5. Kathy says:

    Thank you so much for your article and its many hyperlinks. I just interviewed for a pre-need advisor position this week with a Dignity Memorial funeral home–and now know that it was indeed a "blessing in disguise" that I did not get the job. This is a timely topic for many of us baby boomers who have the problem of preparing for the death of our parents. It is a huge weight on my shoulders. I felt that pre-need insurance or trust was the way to go. Maybe not. The Consumers Alliance seems to be a good place to start dealing with this eventuality. Again, many thanks.

  6. Lucy says:

    I am an embalmer and funeral director and as an independent company we are not tied to any specific sales targets. This is an area where small businesses are often easier to work with as we are not required to push anything, but as the member of the national association, we still have standards to adhere to. Our cheapest coffin is £64, and if it's just going to be cremated anyway, we see no point spending a lot. Not all funeral directors are the same.

    Embalming is not pleasant to think about, but like a lot of things in life, the idea and description is often worse than the reality. I have embalmed a man with his wife watching. She wanted to make sure he was treated correctly and as an ex-nurse I treat the deceased in the same manner I treated my living patients. I explained everything I was doing, without scary adjectives, and she was glad to be part of the process. She helped to wash and dress him at the end. While that's not for everyone to watch or be part of, it's worth remembeing that here in the UK it's not unusual in more heavily populated areas to be waiting 2 or even 3 weeks for a cremation slot at busy times, and if the family would like to have their loved ones rest at home, or even visit on a regular basis at the funeral home, it really is recommended. And that's why I hate embalming villified, as some people, such as those that need to have a family member transported to another country, have no choice, and they don't need to be made alarmed about embalming. The EU is clamping down on and banning many of our chemicals, so new, less toxcic ones are being introduced.

    The process of embalming is never going to make for pleasant reading, but then, neither is that of a colonoscopy. Or filling in a tax return. But there are times when they serve a neccessary purpose, and families should not be made to feel bad if it's one they need.

    • Kris says:

      Hi Lucy.

      I’m very glad to see both sides to this discussion, and your description is very accurate, thank-you.

      I’m going to add my own words at the end as a fresh comment.

  7. john says:

    Bravo and Thank you.
    When will the world realize we must not keep collecting our deceaced, polluting every square inch.

  8. Sam says:

    What you described is the Muslim burial tradition. Unfortunately, many American cemetery do not accept this method unless we go to the Muslim cemetery.

  9. joel says:

    Given a choice between rotting in the ground and donating my body to a medical school–not much of a contest. I rather help a young aspiring medical student learn from my body parts than be a food source to a family of worms. It is a much cheaper alternative than what is offered in this article.

    • Kris says:

      After the students are finished with you … They still ‘bury’ you.

      You get choices on the forms that this service takes … you could then choose to push up daisies, but from a cotton sack, or a pyre maybe.

  10. Melissa says:

    Wow. I’m very sorry, but I only got about 3 paragraphs into this before getting unbelievably angry. What you’re spouting is rubbish. As someone who works in funeral services I am appalled. It is NOT and industry and those that view it as one have no respect for what funeral services actually means. I have worked with MANY different belief systems and delt with many different types of families who have had a number of different wishes and different ideas. When embalming was not preferred, we explained the potential affects of having embalming and not having embalming clearly.

    Also our contracts are NOT vague. They detail every service and the REASON for each service offered.

    You’re ‘article’ is shameful, and you are the reason people are afraid if funeral directors or anyone who works in the profession. I am utterly appalled….

    • avincent98122 says:

      .. you're opinion re: "rubbish" is purely that .. your opinion. I, choose to go with facts and this article defines a great many, assisting me in EOL decisions and clearly away from the traditional funeral industry. Your industry is predatory and I will not support it in any way shape or fashion. Period.

  11. Walker Vreeland says:

    “Saving all the dead people for one part of town? What kind of medieval, superstitious religious bullshit is this?! Plough these fuckers up! Plough,them into the streams and rivers- we need that phosphorus for farming!”

    -George Carlin

  12. Mark says:

    Holy schizzle.. I have seen this play out. The funeral service will dick you at the worst time of your life. Thanks for writing this.

  13. Patty says:

    I have always said that they financially rape you at the worst time of your life. When you are incapable of making wise decisions. Very interesting read. Thank you

  14. Cashie says:

    I have always hated funeral parlors. They try to get you to agree to things no one in their right mind would agree to. I've buried a few family members and have never dealt with an honest funeral home. After our brother's funeral and the nightmare that entailed, my mom thought it would be prudent to prepay for her cremation. When we went in to talk to staff, they did their best to sell us an expensive urn (we didn't want it, my mom wanted her ashes scattered), and then when they heard our plans, they tried to talk us into a cruise ship and memorial party to toss her ashes at sea. When my sisters and I paused to think, my mom's significant other stepped in and said we would simply be taking her ashes with us, in a box and we didn't need any of this fancy stuff. We were very grateful to him because in our grief, we might have agreed to a lot of things we didn't need or want. I am going to prepay my own cremation costs with a company called Affordable Cremation. I don't care if it sounds lowbrow, they post all their prices up front on their web site, something I don't see any other cremation service doing, including Neptune Society.

  15. Bob says:

    Sam – this is also the Jewish burial custom. No embalming. No fancy box. Everyone goes out the same way.

  16. Yoyoyogi says:

    This is an important and well-written article, which I would love to have forwarded to my parents and elder relatives – EXCEPT that they would be offended and distracted by the language, and therefore less willing to listen for the actual message. Bullshit. Horseshit. Shitty. Shit. Bitchy. Crap. Personally I take no offense to this kind of language. But, some people do. Yeah, maybe they should just get over it and accept that this is how people talk now. But to people like my dad – people who might really need to read this – those words are enough to tune them out. Just something to think about when writing for a (hopefully) wide audience.

    • Bill says:

      Understandable. My mother at 99 (and quite lucid) is in that 'take offense to some words' group. I think I'll copy and edit out the expletives, then print it in large type for her to read!

  17. B-Guest says:

    Just like every profession there are scummy people who will try to take advantage of others. Just like the phony General Contractors who give good GC's (like my husband) a bad name when they swoop in on families who have just lost their home in a hurricane, then take their money and run. I know some very GOOD people who work in this business who generally care about people and would never do the things you describe. To lump all of them together is disgraceful.

  18. Lee Webster says:

    Learn more about avoiding all of this by doing a home funeral at http://www.homefuneralalliance.org. Membership is free for life and we can connect you to people who will teach you how to care for your own after death legally and with dignity and care.

  19. Jackie says:

    My brother and I were traveling in my RV back in 2008. Both of us retired, me a widow and him divorced, our time was our own as we meandered from MO to the East coast, headed to FL to visit relatives we hadn't seen in years.
    Unfortunately we got as far as Maryland when he became very ill with what we thought was flu but in reality was Viral Myocarditis. Got him to the hospital ER, they were too small to r=treat him so he had to be transferred to a teaching hospital just over the border in DE. My sweet brother passed away just 12 hours after arrival at first ER.
    Now there I was, camped in MD, he was in DE. Had to find a funeral home to make arrangements to have him taken to NJ to be buried with my hubby and our parents. The funeral home in MD charged me $1000.00 to bring his body just under 10 minutes to their place. Then charged me another $7000.00 for all at their funeral home, just a 10 minute viewing for me. Now they charged me another $4500.00 to take his body to the NJ state line to be met by funeral home there. That funeral home was told I wanted just a MAX viewing of 1 hour (which was actually 1 hour more than my brother ever wanted), the pastor to say a few words and on to cemetery. THAT WAS THE TOTAL I AGREED TO FOR THEIR SERVICES.
    Well his ex learned of his death through our younger brother, she made drastic changes to what I wanted, added hours to viewing, memorial cards, guest book, and so on. When I questioned funeral director about the length of viewing and it being over the hour was when I learned what she had done. It was at this point the same person wanted me to come into the office to sign as being responsible for paying them. The new arrangements meant the $2000.00 I was to pay them for picking him up at state line and for the hour viewing and transport to cemetery was now over $5500.00! The reason my original quote was so little was because he gave me a break due to having buried my father, mother, and husband. OF COURSE i DID NOT SIGN ANYTHING! Told him I would send him the amount we agreed to and not a penny more, his ex wife made different arrangements SHE could sign and PAY him.
    Well the long and short of it all? His kids got the over 100 thousand insurance, both boys bought expensive sports cars, they got his bank accounts and so forth too BUT never did any of them pay a dime for his time in NJ funeral home! So now when I pass I'm very sure they will either hit up my kids for that balance I refused to pay or refuse to have my services there.
    In all it took me nearly a year to pay off AND by God that MD guy? LIED about having the option to pay in full within 6 months no interest! AND his lie cost me a lot due to the other part of his lies, no payment due until that 6 month. I was in such shock over the loss of my brother so suddenly that I wasn't comprehending what I was reading and relied on the verbal. Was hit up 31 days after by the creditor BUT unfortunately that mail didn't catch up with me for 2 more months which then added fees, interest and penalty!

  20. Alexis says:

    My only questions and criticisms come from an old friend who was a licensed embalmer. He told me that embalming began to prevent catatonic people from being buried even though they were not dead. I think that the draining of blood from a person should be mandatory under the law. I certainly agree with the elimination of the other parts of embalming, but all blood should be removed. We have heard many stories of people being taken to morgues and “awakening.” This must be prevented at all costs.

  21. Kris says:

    We have all had experience of death, to one degree or other, maybe we have been involved in the funeral arrangements, maybe we we’re too young. Death affects us all; but differently.

    I haven’t had direct involvement since my mum died, 15 years ago, but even then the pressures mentioned above were prevalent, along with so many more. There was little respect in death, just profit.

    I’m glad this is changing however, not just via small companies standing up, to an ‘industry’ previously controlled by Common Purpose, and coerced by Masonic bullshit, nor just by having green funerals (which do sound a-fucking-mazing, who wouldn’t wanna regro via nurturing a tree?).

    I have multiple parts to my life: One part, was as a member of a very tight legal team, working on one single case. We took Betty/Liz (the lizard queen)(Queen Elizabeth II) to court. To the Royal Courts of Justice no less. Our client had been charged with wrongful disposal of a body type stuff … He had followed cultural tradition; with police involvement, but then the trouble started.

    A part to the defence was to rely on something that had happened many years ago … think back to black & white TV, the Queens coronation etc … That actual day, the reason so many bought in to television … but two days forward, to just after the coronation, a member of the coronation quest list, an Indian Princess, died, she had caught a cold – and being so unused to it, died very quickly. She had a type of cremation, within a day of death, following the same tradition I broached above, on the banks of the Thames, opposite Runymede, near Heathrow, this type of cremation is called a funeral Pyre. liz attended and watched, her first (& very unexpected) public engagement.

    Zoom forward to more recent years. A body was found, unidentified, and eventually police sent it for ‘disposal’ to an undertaker. During prepping the body, this skilled individual recognised things that the authorities did not. The torso, almost all that was left of the body) had a small tribal type tattoo, that indicated a connection to Sikhism, or less likely Hindu.

    Authorities were contacted, to see if this assisted identification, this did not however (quickly). A person, a leader respected by both faiths, with loads of human rights awards, helped. He advised the authorities that the deceased was Sikh, and quick arrangements were made to aquire land, and arrange a full funeral pyre, this time on the banks of the Tyne, west of Newcastle. After the ashes were ready, they were all put into the (now sacred) Tyne, as per the tradition. Then the police ‘had a quiet word’.

    Suing a queen, as she had witnessed one of her own laws being broken (& therefore nullifying that law), was a dramatic thing, and now, an epitaph. Pyres are now permitted in Eng/Wales, I’m unsure about Scotland, as our laws (I’m a Scot) are independent (& stronger).

    I tried to reply, to Lucy an embalmer from the UK, just to say thanx for her words. The site bounced my comment saying “Slow down, your posting comments too fast” … that was my very first comment :/ We’ll see how this one goes.

  22. elephantjournal says:

    Michelle: When my daughter died in my arms 10 hours after her amazing birth, I was so grateful to have known in advance that she would die so soon. During the last few months of pregnancy I did a lot of research and our small local funeral home in Ashburton, New Zealand, was wonderful. Suzannah was not embalmed, never went to funeral home and went into the ground to literally fertilize daffodils.

    Rachel: I am a former funeral director/embalmer. It most definitely is a business, there are times when some families were "urged" to upgrade or do more than required, because they aren't aware of what exactly they are required to do. Through that experience I've decided to be cremated, I cannot ask my family to spend thousands on things I don't need and that aren't important. The trend of family planned funerals is growing, that's the way it should be.

  23. Robin says:

    When I husband died, I had no idea what to do. His brother found a local place called Science Care. They took his body from the city morgue, used what they needed for science/medical, cremated the rest and sent me his ashes in a nice black box. All it cost me was the $35.00 to get the death certificates I needed, and to use the copier and fax machine at FedEx to get the signed paperwork to Science Care. This is what I want my kids to do with me, I have already signed up. It takes a lot of the stress away from them.

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