Embalming and 4 Other Funeral Extras to Skip
While some ancient civilizations practiced embalming, in the United States, it was the Civil War that made the practice more common. But embalming carries both environmental concerns and extra cost, so it is helpful to know what it is and when it is needed.
What is embalming?
Embalming is a process used to preserve a body after death. It lasts about two weeks and is often used when families want to see a loved one’s body in a viewing or traditional funeral arranged by a funeral home.
According to the Funeral Consumer Alliance, a consumer advocacy group, embalming is a cosmetic, temporary measure to preserve a body. It is not a legal requirement and is never routinely required by law, though many people mistakenly believe it is. The group explains that no state laws require embalming as a condition of viewing the body, but almost all funeral homes require it for public viewing.
With direct cremation, no embalming is necessary since the cremation takes place “directly” (soon) after death and bodies are held safely in refrigerated storage while paperwork is completed. There are other arrangements that also take place quickly where embalming is unnecessary, such as immediate burial.
Knowing about your choices can help reduce your environmental footprint and your cost.
“Burial with embalming and a vault and nonbiodegradable casket, in terms of the climate, the first bar for me is ‘Can we do better than that?’” says Mallory McDuff, the author of “Our Last Best Act.”
Beyond embalming, the following four items can be skipped if you find them unnecessary and/or outside of your budget. Funeral homes are regulated by the Federal Trade Commission’s Funeral Rule. Under the rule, you cannot be forced or pressured to buy these additional items or services.
1. Cremation casket
The Funeral Rule gives you the right to choose an “alternative container” for direct cremation. No state law requires a cremation casket. The alternative container may be made of a wood product or cardboard and is burned with the body during cremation. A funeral home has to tell you that alternative containers are available. An alternative container is included in Solace’s inclusive price.
For those who are planning to have a funeral or viewing before cremation takes place, there are also rental options for traditional caskets you use and return. A traditional casket is usually one of the most expensive items in funeral costs, so this can be a good option for some. But, you also have the legal right to buy your own casket and are not required to get it from the funeral home.
2. Funeral or memorial service planning
You do not have to buy a funeral arrangement package that includes funeral or memorial service planning by your chosen funeral home. Instead, you can select from a la carte “choose-what-you-want” options and do your own event planning.
Frequently, families choose to hold a “Celebration of Life” event in a church, park, club, community center, golf course or other location that held special meaning for their loved one. Scattering ashes with a smaller group or a simple, brief ceremony are other popular options.
3. Burial vaults and grave liners
According to the FTC, funeral homes may suggest a burial vault or grave liner. Their stated purpose is to prevent the ground from caving in as the casket deteriorates over time. A grave liner only covers the top and sides of the casket, while a burial vault is more substantial. However, neither will prevent the eventual decomposition of human remains. Funeral directors also can’t claim they will prevent water, dirt or debris from entering the casket if untrue.
4. Gasketed, protective or sealer caskets
No casket, regardless of its qualities or cost, will preserve a body forever. The FTC says these caskets have a rubber gasket or other features to delay the penetration of water and prevent rust, but the Funeral Rule forbids claims that these features will preserve the body indefinitely — because they don’t.
Whatever choices you make, knowing what’s optional and what’s required is a good place to start. At Solace, we encourage you to choose what’s right for you and your family.
For those looking for a simple, direct cremation, Solace offers a single price with no add-on fees and an easy process.