Returning your Body to the Earth – The Ultimate Gift upon your Departure?

Death may be natural, but modern burial actually is not: The steel and millions of acres of trees used for caskets and vaults, along with formaldehyde used in embalming, are part of the growing carbon footprint that is being left behind after death. And, although better for the earth in many ways, cremation requires fossil fuels, therefore still not completely eco-friendly. In today’s society, where we know that our lifestyles have a major impact on our environment, sustainable burial options are becoming more viable and appealing. But will the rituals around death be redesigned and accepted to become more sustainable overall?

For some earth-lovers, they can think of no better gift back to this earth than to turn their body into soil-building material for nearby farms and community gardens, so they literally become part of the city or town they lived in. For the past three years, Urban Death Project designer Katrina Spade has been working on a green alternative to allow for just that – a compost-based renewal system. Along with the environmental issues, the design also addresses the problem of space – since cemeteries in the U.S. take up about a million acres of land, and as populations grow, even more space is needed. The benefits are numerous, and the idea that we can be productive and help solve our environmental crisis – even after we die – is a concept that we hope catches on.


Obesity Effects Both Life AND Death

We are all aware that obesity is a considerable issue in our society today, effecting people’s quality of life and our healthcare industry. However, it may not be realized that this also has a significant impact on the death care industry. Funeral and cremation providers are being forced to adjust their practices to accommodate the growing number of obese people that they are caring for. Often, people are surprised at how many different aspects of their funeral/final wishes are affected by obesity – and therefore are surprised at the additional expenses that are incurred as a result.

Here are some things to consider when planning final arrangements for someone that may be considered obsese:

Casket – Most caskets come in a “standard” size, therefore an “oversize” casket is required if the standard size isn’t sufficient. This oversize casket then needs an oversize vault, and the grave often needs to be dug larger to accommodate the larger casket and vault.

Transportation – When a casket is larger and heavier, special considerations are needed for transportation. Many funeral homes do not have a suitable vehicle and need to outsource alternate transportation, therefore incurring additional costs.

Cremation – Most crematory’s equipment is designed to handle a “standard” size body. For example, at our crematorium, we are not able to safely cremate someone that is over 600 lbs, as that is the manufacturer’s safety weight maximum.

Pallbearing and Lifting – Typically, funeral homes move around the deceased with manpower, but with someone that is overweight, that is a safety risk or impossible. In addition, a traditional funeral usually requires pallbearers to carry the casket. In these cases, a funeral home may utilize sophisticated lifting equipment and trolley equipment.

Body Donation – Some people wish to have their body donated for medical research upon their death. However, some programs have a body mass index maximum that cannot be exceeded in order to effectively use the body for research. A family from Maine recently learned this after their mother’s passing, when her body was rejected.

Thirteen Years Later – 9/11 Pain and Grieving Doesn’t Go Away

9-11-memorial-never-forget-7Today, on the thirteenth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, ceremonies have been taking place around the country to honor those lost in the attacks, and the many heroes that emerged. A solemn reading of the names. Moments of silence to mark the precise times of tragedy. Stifled sobs of those still mourning. Painful memories are still acute and forever lingering.

I don’t think any of us will ever forget where we were or what we were doing on September 11th, 2001. I was at Mt. Calvary cemetery in Manchester at a graveside service when one of the cemetery workers told me what happened. The priest doing the service actually made an announcement and said a prayer. I didn’t have a full understanding of the magnitude of the situation until I later began watching the news coverage and watched the events unfold. I was utterly captivated by the heart-wrenching events that were taking place before my eyes. And of course, I was only watching this through a television screen. I cannot even begin to imagine what the thousands of survivors and heroes saw, and the psychological impact that this has on people.

We know that grief is not something that “goes away.” Even under typical circumstances for death, grief lingers for quite some time, and never truly is gone. It is something that you have to learn to live with and cope with. In most cases, it is not disabling for someone. However, when grief from unexpected death is compiled with trauma from such a devastating and haunting experience, the result is often debilitating. I saw a report a couple years ago that stated that at least 10,000 police officers, firefighters, EMTs and civilians were suffering from PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder,) and in a kind of mass grieving, many of them have yet to fully recover. So on this anniversary, let us not only be reminded of the lives that were lost and the sacrifices of the first-responders — firemen, police, and emergency medical personnel — but also of the long-term impact of the tragedy on those who survived.

Helping Children Cope with Death

When a loved one dies, it can be very difficult to know how to help children cope with their loss – especially when it is their parent that they have lost. And when the adult is trying to work through their own grief, it makes it even more challenging to handle things in a constructive and appropriate manner. It can be helpful for children to see adults sad, although, adults need to try to keep their emotions from getting out of control, as this can make children feel insecure. The most important thing to remember is that children faced with loss need to feel safe and have constant love and support from the adults around them. They need to be talked to about death, and allowed to ask any and all questions that they may have.


How much kids understand about death depends on their age, developmental level, personality and life experiences. Parents may feel powerless to make a child feel better. However, parents have a natural ability to soothe – even if they are sad themselves. This love and support, along with some carefully chosen words may make all the difference in how your child copes with death. I found a great article from the Child Mind Institute that provides some excellent advice for what to expect in children’s behaviors, how to go about conversations about death with children (both short-term and long-term following the death of a loved one,) and how to decide if the child should attend the funeral services or not.

Additionally, I found this personal story from Shelley Gilbert – a psychologist who was orphaned at the young age of nine years old – to be particularly moving as she addresses her experience as a bereaved child amid a “conspiracy of silence.” She drives home the importance of talking to children about death and letting them grieve, as opposed to sheltering them from the topic of death.

You Can Make a Difference – Suicide Prevention

Helping HandFollowing Robin Williams’ devastating suicide, everyone is thinking, Why? Why do people choose to take their own life, rather than hold onto hope, and make changes so that things will get better? For Robin Williams, it is incredibly hard for most to imagine how he could feel completely helpless and hopeless, when he had an uncanny ability to make everyone else around him laugh – and from an outsider’s perspective, seemed to have it all. I, like everyone else, was stunned and saddened when learning of this tragedy. This is a very blatant reminder of how real and serious depression is, and how all-too-often suicide warning signs are missed, even by the closest of family and friends. Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death, with nearly 40,000 Americans taking their own lives each year. Of course that doesn’t include those that have attempted unsuccessfully. The numbers are staggering.

Unfortunately, we have dealt with many families coping with suicide. Typically, there are so many emotions that accompany their grief, including anger and guilt. Anger, because suicide is considered to be selfish in many ways (people don’t often understand the severity of depression,) and guilt because they feel as though they missed warning signs and could have done something to help. Depression is very real and very debilitating for those that suffer from the disease. In some cases, if people were better educated on the warning signs, they would have a chance at preventing a loved one from taking their own life. I found a great resource for assessing someone’s grief or depression that will help to shed light on the suicide warning signs and hopefully arm loved ones with the tools to help prevent such a tragedy. The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention provides a comprehensive overview of risk factors, warning signs, and actions to be taken if you suspect someone may be considering suicide. I hope that you never need to utilize such resources, but if you do, that you find it very helpful.

Facing Death – Over Cake and Coffee

There are always plenty of support groups to cope with grief, as well as groups and seminars to discuss making end-of-life decisions. However, Death Cafes, where individuals simply gather to discuss mortality, is still a relatively new concept. The Death Cafe notion was started in the United Kingdom by Jon Underwood. They are offshoots of Cafe Mortel events that emerged in France and Switzerland in the early 2000’s. At these events, people come together in a relaxed, confidential and safe setting to discuss death, drink coffee (or your favorite beverage) and eat cake or cookies. In the last couple of years, these Death Cafes have really taken off in the United States, helping to normalize a common, not morbid, topic.

The goal of these casual forums is to increase awareness of death, with a view of making the most of your life. People attend these groups to find meaning in death and mortality, ask profound questions, and reflect on what’s important. Conversations can often be philosophical in nature, they can include medical concerns, advanced directives, financial concerns, wills, suicide, funerals – you name it – anything goes.

Although the name “Death Café” may sound a little intimidating, I think that they are anything but, and are an excellent way to remove the taboo that all too often comes along with discussing death. If more people can talk about death, ask questions, share experiences, and come to accept this as part of life, I feel that they will be able to live their lives with more purpose and without a fear of dying.

The Importance of Choosing a Trusted Cremation Provider

Last week, the remains of thirteen unidentified individuals were finally laid to rest after an exhaustive nine year investigation following the scandal at Bayview Crematory in Seabrook. The unlicensed crematory was found to have unlabeled urns of ashes, forged certificates, and multiple remains being cremated together in the same oven – just to name a few of their horrific offenses. It’s an unthinkable crime against families in mourning, and the deceased who deserve a dignified final sendoff. Unfortunately, this goes to show that consumers need to protect themselves from being a victim of such a crime, by ensuring that they take the proper precautions and do their research. Here are a few things that one should consider when choosing a cremation provider:

• Look to work with a provider that owns their own crematory and ensure that their licensing is up-to-date. Many funeral providers offer cremation services, but they contract out the cremation to a third party, therefore leaving them with little-to-no control over who actually performs the cremation or what happens when the deceased leaves their care.

• Ask about their operating procedures and policies. Be sure that they have outlined strict policies to minimize the potential for human error – such as a thorough identification and documentation system – and that their crematory is operated by licensed funeral professionals who oversee the entire process. Here is what our rigorous standards entail at Cremation Society of New Hampshire:

• Do your research on the provider’s history and reputation, including checking with the Better Business Bureau.

• Don’t hesitate to ask if their crematory is available for inspection.

By asking the right questions and doing your due-diligence, you can provide yourself and your loved ones with peace-of-mind that you are working with trusted and compassionate professionals.


Funeral Selfies Not Going Away

Funeral photography is always a tricky concept. We understand that photographs are a tangible way of remembering someone, but photographs at funerals have often been a source of discomfort. Some find it shocking or disrespectful to photograph the deceased, but, as the digital generation is aging, we have seen an increase in the desire to take those photographs.

Taking pictures with the deceased is a trend that is getting a lot of public attention, and not in a good way. The world of social media has dubbed these photographs ‘corpsies’ in the place of the term ‘selfies’. This new movement, as off-putting as it initially comes across, reveals how younger generations are attempting to deal with loss. Instead of inhibiting this form of remembrance, we have a few suggestions for those of you who have the desire to take such photographs.

First and most importantly, make sure that you have permission from the deceased’s loved ones. While such photos may help you deal with loss, if they shock or hurt others, they come at too high a price.

Different generations are going to have different ideas about what is appropriate behavior. Today’s younger generations may see these photos as an appropriate expression of their loss, as it is the norm for them to photograph all significant and insignificant life moments. Older generations may, however, see them as disrespectful, so please be courteous and considerate of others before snapping a photo.

Second, be aware that, while it is okay for you to take this photograph for yourself, sharing it on social media platforms forces the image on an unsuspecting audience and crosses a line. This type of photograph should not be shared publically; it should be for personal use and reflection.

Finally, if you are concerned about upsetting funeral goers, but do feel that having photographs is important to you, there is always the option of hiring a photographer. Professionals may ease the strain of navigating these new waters and are more likely to be discreet.

Putting the ‘Fun’ in Funeral?

We all know the expression ‘there’s no I in team’, but most of us haven’t heard anyone say ‘there’s no funeral without fun’. And why haven’t we heard this? Because loud, celebratory, fun-funerals are not as common in America as they are in other parts of the world. But we have been seeing a few movements and individuals who are trying to give people the chance to make that final goodbye as unique as possible, which sometimes means as fun as possible. Teddy Lee, a funeral home director and magician in the Bronx, is a great example of this fun trend because he combines his skills: he’s a mortigician. When his clients request his funeral homes’ services, they also sometimes ask that he incorporate magic into the service. He incorporates a respectful show element in the funeral that entertains and celebrates the life of the loved one who has passed. It’s through people like Teddy that we see how our culture is redesigning the classic funeral. These days, you can request almost anything – from specific music sets, performances, and themes, to dress codes or costumes for funeral attendees and/or staff. We are dealing with different generations who have different values and funeral needs, and I am excited to continue to see the growing demands placed on our industry, as well as the industry’s varied responses.

If you’re struggling with the idea of breaking the norm, but are tempted by it, you’re in good company. There are funeral workshops and cafés popping up around the country that help you figure out how to say a personal goodbye that suits you, but will also help your friends and family. While I understand that there is a fine line to walk with these ‘fun’ funerals, they can serve as one last thing for your loved ones to do for you, in a time when they might be feeling very helpless. Again, they are not for everyone, but they are a very good reason to start talking to your loved ones about your wishes and theirs. We understand that it can be a very hard conversation to have, but, because there are so many options, it’s important to find the right one for you and prepare your loved ones for your decision.

Aspiring to Work in Death Care

It seems a growing number of young people have been entering the death care industry in the last few years, and most don’t have a family background in the field. The funeral/death care industry has long been dominated by family-owned businesses, such as ours, who hand down the business from generation to generation, and very few who simply “choose” this career. But, times are changing and all too many family-owned funeral homes have had to close their doors or sell out to large corporations. Even still, I think that most find it interesting that one would choose this line of work.

After spending 25 years in the business, I can tell you that it is a calling and not simply a “job.” In fact, I wouldn’t consider it a job, nor would I call it a profession. If you are doing it right and are going to last for the long haul, it is a lifestyle. You need to have an understanding and appreciation of caregiving, and a desire to want to help people. You need to be stable, and be able to separate your personal life from what you see and do throughout your workday. You need to be able to offer a calm and caring voice, helping people have a dignified and well-run service. And, of course, you must have good business sense and keen organizational skills to be successful.

So what draws people to the death care industry? For most, I believe it is the concept of caregiving and being able to help grieving families. Whether they are looking to be a mortician preparing a body for the families viewing, or a funeral director executing a seamless service – those that truly have the calling want to help families receive closure, and to provide the deceased with a proper, dignified send-off.