Death Calls for Conscientious Decision Making


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There are more unconsidered options when it comes to funerals and burials.

Gianna Griffith, Student Contributor

Imagine this: your family member dies, and you don’t know what to do with their body because they always flirted around the subject while they were still alive. Why is this? Why do we have this innate fear of the unknown, of what will happen once we “shuffle off this mortal coil,” as Shakespeare puts it? There is something in the way that that our society so ardently avoids the subject that is shown in our actions surrounding the processing of deceased bodies.

When a family member dies, one of the first things the average American family does is call a funeral home, who then picks up the body and prepares it at their facility. This is not required by law; however, a lot of people believe that this is the case, because it is the procedure that has been ingrained in the brains of the American people.

Preparation of a body usually means one of two processes. One of them is embalming, a  tactic that involves filling the body with formaldehyde. The body may then either be displayed at a funeral or put straight into a casket to be lowered into an underground cement vault.

The second mainstream option is cremation, which has become increasingly popular over the past couple of decades. During the process, the body is placed inside of a machine called a Cremulator and baked for a couple of hours.

The remnants from the machine are then blended and put in an urn for the family. This method allows for more portability with the remains and does not require family to pay for an expensive casket and a plot in a cemetery, making cremation a more environmentally and wallet friendly option for families.

“Cremation takes up less space, and we’re running out of [cemetery] space to put people,” senior Sam Wetzel said. “It may be morbid, but it’s a fact.”

One of the concerns that is becoming more and more popular among death enthusiasts and death-positive people is the concern that funeral homes may be taking advantage of the grieving families and their willingness to do whatever they believe is best for their deceased loved one. The raw emotions of the grieving people leave them more open and vulnerable to being persuaded.

Funeral directors and other employees at funeral homes can use this opening to convince families that their loved one would appreciate a fancier casket or urn, one that is out of the funeral budget. The truth is that, let’s say, an already passed great aunt would not care whether she was buried in the cheap casket or the ten thousand dollar casket, but a vulnerable person who isn’t as knowledgeable about industry prices might be persuaded to spend the extra cash.

Because of these issues that are continuously occurring in the funeral industry, many people have taken to alternate family and environmentally friendly options for death care. There has been a small segment of people who consider natural burial, a much more wallet and environmentally friendly option for those who still want to be buried.

People can either be buried in a shroud or in a biodegradable casket, both of which cost less than the average metal casket, and are buried in specified plots straight in the ground without a concrete vault surrounding them. The gravesite is then only marked by a stone, rather than the traditional engraved headstone.

This method of burial is not only cheap, but also allows the body to decompose in the way that nature intended, straight back into the earth. The decomposing body adds carbon and nutrients to the soil and feeds the creatures that live there.

“I like [natural burial] more than other current burial methods because it is more sustainable and more in line with how I want to end up,” said senior Alyssa Kovacs.

Some families have also chosen to connect with the dead in the easiest and most traditional way: staying with the body after death. Some families will wash and dress the body, hold home wakes or funerals, or find other ways to connect with the deceased person and mourn.

This can arguably be the best way to overcome a fear of death, to surround yourself by those who have passed and realize that the average dead body is no more dangerous than the average avocado. Personally washing and dressing the body of a loved one may help a person find closure in doing something to help them, considering how impersonal the funeral industry has become.

It can also help people come to terms with what it is like to be dead, and may make those afraid of death realize that it isn’t so bad to be surrounded by family that cares about you. It is completely legal in most places in the United States to keep a body at home, although Pennsylvania law requires that a body be refrigerated if it is going to be kept around a house for more than a full twenty-four hours. From a home wake or funeral, the body can then be picked up by a funeral home to be cremated or buried.

“I feel like it really depends on what the family wants for themselves, and they should have that choice to have a home funeral if they want,” sophomore Joy Fan said.

Perhaps the option for softening fear of death that is seemingly the most efficient and difficult is talking about it. Although it can be difficult to address what is going to inevitably happen, it is incredibly important for both the person and their family to discuss death plans. The hardest thing for a person to go through is the death of a family member, as it is hard on a person emotionally, mentally, and financially.

By having discussions with members of your family about what they want to happen to them when they die, whether that be funeral type or disposal type, it eases the difficulty of the death by a small degree. It can be comforting to a person to know that the cremation that you chose for your Aunt Sally was exactly what she said she wanted when she was alive. It is as if you are fulfilling that last of your wishes that you are physically able to do.

“My husband and I have drawn up our wills. This brought up a discussion about death,” English teacher Mrs. Sheryl Ciotti said. “We determined what we wanted to happen upon our death. Personally, having an idea of my final resting place offers me peace of mind.”

People don’t like to talk about death. They don’t like thinking about what they will look like lifeless, what will happen after they take their last breath. Fear of the unknown is ingrained in us. If we as a society can begin to open up to these sorts of discussions, we can begin to realize that we do control our deaths, in a sense. Even if we can’t control why, where, or when it happens, we can still control what happens to our bodies when life is over.