Putting the fun into funerals

Samantha Bee examines how the funeral industry persuades people to pay far more for funeral costs than is necessary, by not revealing prices up front, by making survivors feel guilty if they don’t pay for premium services, and by falsely telling people that certain things such as embalming are required when they are not.

Part 1:

Part 2:

In the next segment, Bee discusses the death positivity movement that seeks to take the fear out of death by having people confront it directly. She also talks to people about the ‘green burial’ movement that seeks to be as environmentally friendly as possible.

Striking a balance between the wishes of the person who died and those left behind is not simple. While one might hope that the deceased person’s wishes as how their body is to be disposed of would prevail, one does not want to make their loved ones’ lives difficult by choosing something that they find uncomfortable. This is why decisions about what to do should be made while people are still alive so that the bereaved are not pressured into making quick decisions at a time when they are most emotionally vulnerable.

I have given instructions that my body is to be disposed of as cheaply and as safely as possible. Since I wished to be cremated, I have stated that a cardboard box would be quite adequate in which to store whatever remains of my body prior to cremation, after any usable organs have been harvested. The whole idea of having a luxurious coffin strikes me as bizarre. The person in it is dead after all.


  1. sarah00 says

    I don’t know if crematoria are different in the US, but when I worked at one in the UK I was told that cardboard is actually a really terrible material for coffins if you’re being cremated. The coffin helps contain the heat so that the body burns quickly. However, cardboard burns so fast this containment is lost and the body takes longer and need more energy to be cremated. If you want to be cremated and want to do it as cheaply and environmentally-friendly as possible then go for the cheapest wood coffin you can get.

  2. Bruce says

    In California, when my parents and aunt died, they had specified cremation. The mortuaries we used did not say anything about any coffins being involved, so I would not request anything special. Just make clear you want the cremation with the least fuss or expense. Rather than receive the ashes in any container, we paid a small fee for the mortuary to scatter the ashes at sea (which I think they do weekly for everyone, with no mourners aboard). They sent us the GPS coordinates of the scattering.
    My parents felt it would be inappropriate to associate their remains with any objects or locations. For my own case, I agree with this. I don’t keep a box with all my prior hair cuttings or fingernail clippings, so I think saving dead body fragments is not for me. Others are free to care, but they can’t persuade me to value that.

  3. Mano Singham says

    Bruce @#2,

    My wishes are exactly the same as your parents so I thank you for letting me know about a process that seems to have the minimum of fuss and bother.

    I like that the mortuary scatters the ashes because that seems simple. Some people specify fairly elaborate disposal locations such as shooting them into space or burying them in some ancestral home, which could be in another country. Honoring those wishes can be really difficult for the bereaved.

  4. mnb0 says

    “While one might hope that the deceased person’s wishes as how their body is to be disposed of would prevail …..”
    Why? I assure I won’t care if my loved ones decide to deviate from my preferences -- I won’t be there. That’s what I’ve told them too. My testamentory executor is free to deviate if he/she’s fit. I’ve done the same with the cremation of my father. Thus far he hasn’t protested.
    Thanks for pointing at the “green funeral”; thus far I didn’t know that that was possible.

  5. springa73 says

    It’s interesting how people have such different opinions about these issues. I like the traditional burial precisely because it creates a specific location and objects associated with the deceased person’s memory. Having that is significant to me, and I would prefer if the same thing were true for my own remains.

    My parents are buried about a half hour drive from where I live, and I still go and visit the grave every week or two on average. My brother also lives nearby but I don’t think he visits much because the grave site has no emotional significance for him. If my parents had been cremated and had their ashes scattered, or some other method of disposal that didn’t leave a specific grave, I doubt my brother would have been bothered, but I would miss having a grave to visit.

  6. Mano Singham says

    springa73 @#8

    It is very true that people differ widely in the way they remember their loved ones or want to be remembered. My parents are buried in Colombo. My sisters take care of the graves and visit them regularly. Even though my parents were wonderful people and I loved them dearly, I have never been to the grave site even once, even though I have been to Sri Lanka many times. It just does not have any significance for me. My memories of them are all I want or need.

  7. Holms says

    Similar to Mano, my memories and photos of the living are the most important to me. My deceased relatives so far have been cremated, and I don’t miss the lack of a burial plot. I too am willing to be an organ donor and medical cadaver.

  8. maryb says

    When my mother died she said no funeral because she had been traumatized when young by an open casket. And cremation. Otherwise, she said she didn’t care. One of my brothers really wanted a grave so he bought one. Others were sure she had a morbid fear of being trapped underground and would not want her ashes buried. I suggested that some of her ashes could be sprinkled over the top of the empty grave. I believe funeral practices are for the living, not the dead. I believe my compromise met everybody’s emotional needs and did not cut anyone out. Plus the cemetery wanted a lot of money to bury ashes.

  9. anat says

    When my mother retired she took up some new hobbies, including making mosaics. There was one she made with her name, which she intended for her gravestone. When she died my father paid for a double grave and had that piece plus another of her work set into the stone. When his time comes, we already know what to do. (He also made a playlist for his memorial service.)

    For the first few months after my mother’s death my father visited her grave frequently -- he said he had a lot to say to her. Then he found a new relationship that took him out of the gloom. He is in great health so it will probably be a while until we need to follow his instructions, but we know what they are.

    BTW in Israel a basic grave and a basic tombstone are covered by the government. you only pay for extras, such as reserving a plot with a loved one or extra-fancy adornments.

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