conventional funeral & BURIAL
What is a "conventional" funeral?
The conventional funeral, sometimes called a traditional or "full service" funeral, includes the viewing by family and friends of an embalmed and casketed body in a funeral home or place of worship, followed by a funeral ceremony, and concluding with burial in a cemetery. It was the standard American funeral for over 100 years.
What does a conventional funeral usually include?
What does a conventional funeral usually not include?
There are many reasons why you might choose a conventional funeral. Some of the most common are:
The National Funeral Directors Association (NFDA) has calculated the median cost of a funeral by totaling prices for the items listed in the chart below. IMPORTANT NOTE: The total does not take into account cemetery costs (a grave plot, opening and closing the grave), monument or marker, or items such as flowers and obituaries.
According to the NFDA, the national median cost of a funeral for 2017 was $7,360. If a vault is included, almost always required by a cemetery, the median cost is $8,508.
Possible additional charges: church rental, honorarium for clergy, fees for musicians, cost of a luncheon or other refreshments following burial.
You better shop around
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) strongly recommends that funeral consumers do comparison shopping before they buy. It's often too late to do this once someone has died, and time constraints and other factors make shopping for a funeral stressful.
Every funeral home is required under the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Funeral Rule to make a General Price List (GPL) available to anyone who stops by, no questions asked. The GPL is an itemized list of all the services the funeral home provides – something like a menu. Go to Understanding Funeral Home Pricing to learn more.
Checking out conventional funeral goods
All funeral homes are also required by the FTC to maintain a Casket Price List (CPL) and an Outer Burial Container (OBC) Price List. Most people call an outer burial container a vault. All funeral homes maintain a room where casket models - and examples of various casket materials, interiors, colors, finishes, design elements and optional features to personalize the casket - are on display along with burial vault options and other funeral goods. For many people, the first time they visit a funeral home display room is when a loved one has died, and they've come to make arrangements, often under duress.
It’s your funeral
It will be your funeral, and that means it's your right, your choice, your decision. As you think it over, you may want to know more about two central features of the conventional funeral: Embalming and Caskets. (See right column.)
National Median Cost of an Adult Funeral
with Viewing and Burial: 2017 vs. 2014
EMBALMING: THE HEART OF THE MATTER
The most prominent feature of the conventional funeral is embalming. The funeral industry promotes embalming as the most fitting, loving and respectful way to prepare the body for burial. Embalming allows the family and members of the public to view the body as if in repose or asleep, lying in a bed of satin or polyester, head resting on a pillow, one hand on top of the other, in a half-opened casket. Viewing the embalmed body in this way, the funeral industry believes, provides loved ones with a beautiful memory picture of the deceased, and helps the grieving process.
What is embalming?
Almost never required by law, embalming is a process that involves puncturing internal organs, draining the body of fluids and injecting a formaldehyde-based fluid, along with other chemicals and dyes, to provide for temporary preservation of the body and a life-like appearance to the skin and other features of the body, especially the mouth and eyes.
Most people are unaware of what is involved in the process of embalming and other body preparation. To learn more, go to the Wikipedia entry on Embalming.
How did the practice of embalming begin?
Embalming was never a ritual practice of any of the three Abrahamic faiths (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam). In fact, Jews and Muslims look upon embalming as an invasive procedure which dishonors the body and largely forbid it.
Modern American funeral practices began during the Civil War when families demanded the return of their fallen loved ones. Embalming, previously used to preserve cadavers for scientific research, was adopted to slow the decomposition of the war dead long enough to transport them over hundreds of railway miles. Over the past 150 years this wartime necessity transformed into our routine death care practice.
Embalming, and later, widespread use of refrigeration, allowed the body to be kept above ground for a longer period of time, extending over a few days what would have all taken place within 24-48 hours.
Embalming restores a lifelike appearance to the deceased. Refrigeration does not, which may only matter if you expect the dead to resemble the living.
Mark Harris, GRAVE MATTERS: A Journey through the Modern Funeral Industry to a Natural Way of Burial (2007)
The casket is usually the single most expensive item of a conventional funeral. The majority of caskets sold in the U.S. today are made of steel. In 1950, half of the caskets sold were cloth-covered caskets. After the Korean War sheet metal became more readily available and metal casket production exploded. By the 1970s, two-thirds of the caskets sold in the U.S. were metal. Today, the cloth-covered casket has become the casket of the poor.
Choosing a casket
In making arrangements for a conventional funeral, the selection of a casket is certainly the most emotion-laden task. Metal or wood. If metal, what gauge? If wood, what kind? What would Mom want? Does that color fit Dad's personality? What impression will the casket make on those who come to view Grandma? What can we afford? Is that color masculine enough for Dad? Or feminine enough for Mom?
For all practical purposes, the casket serves one basic function: as a container in which to display, transport, and bury a dead human body.
Casket selling points
A major casket selling point is the degree to which it will protect the body from the elements, the elements being anything that can seep, creep, crawl, or otherwise get into the casket after burial. (The same goes for burial vault features.) A casket and vault may delay decomposition, but will not prevent it indefinitely. Since many funeral consumers are willing to pay a lot for these added protective features, is it because they believe such protection better honors and respects the dead?
Our forebears buried their beloved dead in a pine box or directly in the ground without a protective vault. Underground protection of a dead human body was not a value before the rise of the modern funeral industry.
One is hard pressed to think of another material consumer purchase that costs several thousand dollars, is viewed, on average, three to six hours, and is then buried underground, never to be seen again. (One hopes.)