Planning a Low-Cost, Green Funeral

Learn about the costs of funerals, how to plan an inexpensive funeral, and how a green funeral can be good for the Earth and save you money.


| August/September 2001



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Traditional caskets are now available online, and the plain pine box has given way to simple designs with character, craftsmanship and handmade charm.


Photo courtesy WEBCASKETS (LEFT); NEW MELLERAY ABBEY (RIGHT)

Guess what? You're going to die. Not today (with luck), not tomorrow (you hope), but some day. The Grim Reaper waits. Sure, you already knew that, and you try not to think about it. But before you flip the page, let me tell you the problem with death denial (those undertakers who happily profit on death fears can stop reading now). Ignorance may be bliss when it comes to mortality, but it's going to cost you. Funerals are often more expensive than we expect, but learning about how much the average funeral costs and how to plan a low-cost funeral can really help save you money. If you have a green funeral, it can be relatively inexpensive, as well as better for the Earth.

A couple of years ago, hitting my mid-50s, I'd heard about enough overpriced funerals and unsatisfactory memorial services to take a stab at saving my relatives some money, and possibly unnecessary grief and confusion, by making my own funeral plan. I was also inspired by the story of a northwoods logger who built his own coffin and slept in it, "To get used to it," he said. Talk about confronting your demons.

I'd already spent plenty of time trying not to think about death. (My favorite ale was a dark brew called Courage.) But how long can you ignore the gray hairs, back aches and general dilapidation? So I hit the road, dropping in on undertakers and coffin makers, stone carvers and grave diggers, looking for a simple exit strategy. In the process I gained a surprise dividend: emotional peace.

There was a bottom line rationale for my quest. As a tight fisted Vermonter, I don't like the notion of being fleeced by an undertaker when I'm in no position to fight back. Maybe you heard about the unidentified woman who froze to death under a car in Minnesota. In compliance with state law, an undertaker was appointed to handle her funeral arrangements. He planned to a collect the usual nominal fee from the state, until it was discovered that the deceased had an impressive estate. The undertaker was able to raise his fee and, according to an attorney in mortuary law, "earn some extra income for a limited amount of work." A nasty preview of the surprisingly common fate many of us will share: Post-mortem larceny.

Strange, how little we're taught about one of life's big events. According to a recent study, 75 percent of hospice patients don't discuss death with their families. Marriage, sex, birth, growing tomatoes  we're up to the neck in life skills information. But death? Leave it to the experts.

There are 23,000 funeral homes in the United States, and they take in $25 billion every year (more than the airline industry and garbage collection). Not bad for a business that hardly existed 150 years ago, when deaths were handled by families, the church or the local sawbones.





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