Every culture treats their dead in a different way. The way the dead are treated has evolved because of local beliefs and sometimes out of necessity. Here we are going to consider the American practice of embalming the dead. How this practice has evolved to be the norm in America demonstrates what we mean.
Most Americans do not realize that how they treat their dead makes them different from nearly every other culture in the world. By looking at the work of the oldest embalming school in the US, The National College of Mortuary Science, we can get a better understanding of why the dead are embalmed in the US, but not in other countries.
Since 1882, generation after generation of mortician’s in training have enrolled at the NCMS to become experts in the American rituals of death and burial. American Funeral Directors know that their clients want the dead to look as they did in life. They want to see their loved one in a very natural peaceful state.
In the US embalmers work not just to disguise the power of death.
They work to stop its inevitable destruction of the body in its tracks.
Using modern embalming techniques the decay can be stopped several years. The body can be preserved by using several gallons of a chemical preservative called formaldehyde. This practice of routinely embalming the dead would be taboo in many other cultures. Even in mortuary school, embalming is practically a ritual with clearly defined steps.
The steps of embalming explained
First, the body is cleaned and prepared or laid out in a natural repose. Natural and proper mouth closure is crucial to get a natural expression.
Next, the embalmers locate the blood vessel into which they will pump the formaldehyde solution. As the solution works its way through the body, it displaces the blood. The blood escapes through an incision made in a vein, usually in the jugular vein. Almost immediately, the corpse begins to harden. This may seem like a process dreamed up by a mad scientist but in reality, the practice has deep historicaland religious roots.
Why embalming became necessary in America
In America, the motivation behind the practice of embalming the dead is not from a quest for immortality. Rather it stems from what is perhaps the nation’s greatest tragedy – the Civil War. When the war started modern embalming techniques had just been invented.
During the war, hundreds of thousands of young men died on the battlefield. Often, they were far from home when they died. For the first time soldiers families could request that the bodies of their sons and husbands be preserved and returned for burial.
There were many who welcomed the new technique as a godsend. For many Christians embalming is a perfect fit with their religious beliefs. Many believe that the body and the spirit will be reunited at the resurrection.
Embalming is just one of the diverse rituals that we practice to honour the dead. It is also part of our attempt to make sense of and cope with death.
Funerals are something that most people do not really want to think about. Of course, this is natural. However, we have to accept that at some stage we are all going to die, so it is very important to plan our funeral.
A very convenient way of doing this is to buy a funeral plan. Doing so allows you to think about your funeral in advance. It forces you to ask and answer the questions that you would normally avoid. In addition, it gives you the chance to easy for your funeral in advance, and spread the cost.
The vast majority of the time buying a funeral plan is a good move. However, there are a few things that you need to bear in mind when buying one. Here we look at the main things you need to consider.
Buying the right type of funeral plan
The first step to determining which funeral plan is right for you is to understand the different types that available.
The main types are:
Prepaid funeral plans
With this kind of funeral plan, you pay for your funeral in advance. What is covered by the plan should be laid out clearly within the policy and you should understand this before you purchase. Every policy is different so it is very important to read the small print carefully.
Insurance based plans
Another increasingly popular form of funeral plans are insurance-based plans. With this kind of plan, you are normally buying a whole life policy, but the insurance package also covers the cost of your funeral. Again, how much you pay and how much coverage you get varies from company to company.
Sometimes these plans are called over fifties plans or no health check plans.
What is typically covered?
As we already mentioned exactly what is covered varies from company to company. There is a huge variation between different policies and the different firms.
What is covered is also affected by the country in which you live and the funeral customs in that country. For this reason, it is hard for this site to cover the subject in much detail.
However, over the coming months we do plan to write some more in-depth articles about funeral plan coverage in all of the largest English speaking countries, so watch this space.
The vast majority of funeral plans normally provide some level of cover for the following expenses:
The cost of picking up the deceased from the place of death
The cost of preparing the body for burial or cremation
The cost of the coffin or casket
The cost of transporting the deceased to the place of burial or cremation
Some plans also provide cover for the transfer of relatives to the place of burial or cremation. Often, these plans also cover the cost of keeping the body in the funeral home for a short period before the funeral can take place.
A funeral plan is basically a form of insurance policy As with any policy take your time to shop around and find the best deal.
Dealing with a death in the family is always difficult. Even more so if you are on your own without a spouse or children to help you to deal with your grief and make the funeral arrangements.
Often someone in this situation will turn to his or her friends for help. If you should find yourself being asked by a friend to help arrange a funeral this is how we suggest you approach what could be for you a delicate or daunting situation.
Do not take over completely
In this situation, you need to be careful not to inadvertently take over completely. Your friend needs to be the one to make the key decisions.
By all means make suggestions, but try to ensure that it is your friend who decides on the type of service and details like whether there will be flowers and what will happen after the funeral. Asking about the wishes of the person who has died can often provide answers to the type of funeral that needs to be arranged. It acts as a catalyst, which can motivate them and keep them on track.
Often all your friend needs is someone to assist them. They are really looking for someone who will make sure that nothing is forgotten. Often those who are grieving do not feel in complete control and are frightened that they will forget something important. Often having you there to monitor progress is what they need the most.
Make a list
As with any complex task, it is best to make a list of what needs to be done. If you make the list on a spreadsheet, you can put the date each task needs to be done by then sort your list by date. That way the most urgent tasks will be at the top of the list.
As you, complete each task tick it off. You can print the list off and cross things off as you do them or do that on the spreadsheet. Even relatively simple tasks like putting together a funeral order of service or ordering the flowers should be on the list to ensure nothing is forgotten.
If you are at all unsure about what needs to be done for a funeral ask someone who knows. The best sources of information are funeral directors and the person who will conduct the service.
Offer practical support
As well as helping to make the funeral arrangements offer other practical support if your friend needs it. For example, cook them a meal or walk their dog.
You could take phone calls when they are resting or just need a break from talking to other people. If your friend does not have appropriate clothes for the funeral take them shopping for them. Perhaps your friend has young children, in which case you could help with meals or playtime.
Do not take on too much
Our last piece of advice is to be careful not to take on more than you can handle. From the start, try to enlist the help of others, so you have the option to delegate tasks should you need to. Speak to your friend before doing this to make sure they are comfortable with your asking these individuals for help.
A casket or coffin is a final resting place for a loved one, but it can be much more than that. It can be an expression of pride in remembrance one of love. They can even celebrate a loved one’s interests and passions during their life.
Caskets come in a range of colours and styles
Coffins and caskets come in many different colours and shapes. They are made from a wide variety of materials. Through a combination of good design high quality materials and workmanship, you can end up with a beautiful final resting place for your loved ones.
What determines how much a casket will cost?
There are six factors, which determine how much you are going to pay for your coffin.
- The materials used
2. The size of the coffin
3. The workmanship involved in making the casket
4. The degree of personalisation
5. Where you buy the casket
6. Your choice of materials
Wooden caskets are the perfect choice for many families. The natural warmth of a wood casket can evoke memories of time spent close to nature. It has the beauty and craftsmanship of a piece of fine furniture.
The type of tree used is an important factor when it comes to price. Woods that are more exotic cost more, but they look stunning.
It is up to the family to decide on the right finish. The type of wood used to some extent dictates which the best finish for a wooden coffin is.
For those with a big budget copper or steel coffin is an option. These resist the elements, so are becoming increasingly popular. Stainless steel is also rust resistant.
You can also choose the interior finish of the coffin. Again, the materials used will affect the price as well as the way the coffin looks. Most people choose high quality yet lightweight materials because they look nice, but are not extremely expensive.
We all come in different shapes and sizes and over the past few decades the average height and girth of the population has grown. For this reason, the best funeral homes and directors offer a wide range of different size coffins and caskets. These larger sizes require more labour and material to build and naturally come in at a higher price.
The workmanship involved
How skilled the craftsmen and women have to be to create the coffin also affects the price. Creating beautiful round shaped lids and corners take longer than it does to create caskets with simple shapes and square corners require less time to make so they cost far less.
Hardware designs range from simple fixed handles to coffins with handles that are shaped and handcrafted. These design elements combine to create a distinctive style for the coffin, and the more elaborate the design the more work goes into it, so the more the casket costs.
The degree of personalization
The interiors can also be personalized with custom embroidery. Adding symbols to make the casket more relevant and personal to the honourees is another way to personalize a casket.
It is also possible to produce beautiful sculptural corners that celebrate anything from a love of nature to a long career. Themed hardware can also celebrate the person’s career or love of a certain hobby or interest.
Where you buy the casket
The last thing that affects the choice of caskets you get and how much you pay is who you buy from. Prices vary widely depending on which funeral director you use.
How much life insurance or life assurance you need depends largely on your personnel circumstances, for example whether you’ve got a mortgage or children. Here we look at some of the factors you need to consider.
The amount of life insurance cover you need depends on the needs of your dependants. It also depends on how much you can afford to pay out each month. Here are the main items you buy coverage for:
Cover your mortgage payments
Your mortgage repayment is normally your biggest outgoing. If you are the main source of income for your family, your loved ones will not be able to easily take responsibility for it should you die.
You may have already made some provision for it to be repaid in the event of your death. Some lenders may have requested some form of life security on the loan in any case. But, now is the time to double check that you have enough cover. You need to make sure that your existing policy covers capital as well as interest repayments on the mortgage.
Coverage for all other loans
Most of us have other loans, credit card debts and car loans. Once again, you need to ensure that these debts are covered in the event of your death.
These two are obvious, but the elements covered below are less so.
Education and childcare expenses
Should something happen to you it is important that your child’s life continues as near as possible the same way. If they are currently in private education, you will want that education to continue. For your child being able to stay in the same school and close to their friends will make a huge difference to them as well as the quality of their education.
If you want your family to continue to enjoy a similar quality of life after you are gone it is important that your policy provide them with some form of income. Your partner will eventually be able to find work, but it is hard to do immediately after the death of your life partner.
Income replacement protection will give your partner the breathing space they need to find a job or re-educate themselves. It buys them time to get over their grief and adjust to having to look after the family on their own.
Critical illness coverage
Given the fact that close to 40% of us will at some point end up suffering from cancer or another serious illness critical illness coverage is well worth having. This kind of coverage pays out some of the policy amount should you be diagnosed with a terminal illness.
Having access to this money can help you to cover the additional costs of transport to and from the hospital and other additional practical expenses. It also gives you the chance to enjoy quality time with your family perhaps a last dream holiday.