OFF THE SHELF: Due diligence in death-care

Funeral directors sometimes get a really bad rap for fake sympathy and unctuous hand-wringing, as they usher bereaved clients toward way-over-the-top options for putting bodies underground — be they whole or pulverized.   Despite the occasional misplaced can of cremains or coffin, as per our last post — Lost and Found, when it comes to care of the deceased, funeral folk are often more diligent than families.  To recap, if as a rule, one per cent of cremains are abandoned, and one million cremations are performed every year, every 12 months the United States adds a cool 10,000 cartons to its population of erstwhile citizen left-behinds.  Thanks to a variety of benefactors of varying  motivations, a small fraction of these discarded were offered eternal relief via the delayed group burials we cited.  Any kind of final farewell has to beat cooling your ashen heels forever –  even going out via gang-bang.

But some can only lie in wait.  Boston’s WBZ-TV reported last year on a Mt. Auburn funeral home that constructed an entire underground bunker for its unwanted, dubbed the “receiving tomb,” which at the time, held some 150 boxes of beloveds.

It makes sense that funeral professionals would be more reverent about the dead  — it’s how they make their living.   And though almost every locality in the US has laws about the obligations of crematories and funeral homes towards human remains, in our litigious land, lawsuits remain an ever-present threat, no matter how painstaking the funeral provider.   An article in Plaintiff Magazine detailed the money-making potential of “mishandled remains” cases, pointing out to its attorney readership, that

Representing family members in an action against a funeral services provider may be one of the most rewarding cases of your career. They involve heart-wrenching and emotional issues, and achieving justice for a family wronged in this way can be immensely satisfying.”

Safe to say that funeral directors are not in business to give said immense satisfaction to lawyers.

As for the bereaved themselves — hard to say just why they sometimes wash their hands of beloveds once they’re reduced to ash.  Funeral directors grouse that some customers mistake cremation for dispersal — as though firing up the crematory oven also fired the deceased into the atmosphere.   (Although, to some extent, cremation does exactly that.)  But at the end of the process there is a significant pile of cremated remains begging for a final home other than moldy cardboard box or rusty tin can.

Compared to a body, ashes do seem less – corporeal — and being almost out of sight, perhaps – easier to put out of mind? On the other hand, it is hard to find just the right spot for burial or scattering.   And some grieving souls may be stymied by environmental regulations.  Then again, could it be TMI? There is a burgeoning array of things to do with ashes – perhaps over-whelming for those in mourning, who simply can’t make this final traumatic decision.  Think of it: from coral reefs, to outer space, to fireworks to jewelry crystals to tattoo ink – a lot of big options for a little pile of bodily remains.

But whatever the reason, although strictly speaking not “lost,” the thousands of cartons of former people parked in funeral storage have certainly not “found” their lasting rest, instead using up space, running up utility bills, and perhaps even the cost of an occasional dusting — all of which leaves funeral directors continuing to wring their hands – in this case with genuine angst.

But there are those who think the problem is merely one of imagination.   You have only to identify THE perfect spot for the remains of your departed – and dispersal of said remains will follow as the night does the day.

 Up next:   Holy Land Ash Scattering announces the ultimate answer to a funeral director’s prayer


About Pat Hitchens

I write nonfiction, some of it creative and hard to describe and some of it straightforward -- "just the facts." When my parents died two years ago, I discovered that parting with the remains of loved ones is not necessarily straightforward. There are wildly inventive options -- and many facts to consider. This blog is a conversation about my discoveries.
This entry was posted in Burial, Farewells and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to OFF THE SHELF: Due diligence in death-care

  1. Peggy says:

    So incredibly interesting. This is the stuff that series TV writers should follow, as they could not possibly make up anything better than what Pat has written here.