Connecting Death to Life – Green Funerals

An increasing number of earth-conscientious Americans are looking at how they can make their funerals and afterlife more planet-friendly. For those who strive to help preserve the environment, green funerals and green burials are an innovative way to do just that, while also providing a more meaningful end of life. A green funeral (also known as a natural funeral, eco-funeral or environmentally-friendly funeral) is generally any end-of-life ritual that provides the least amount of harm possible to the environment. No embalming fluid is used and no concrete vaults. Burial of the body is done in a bio-degradable casket, shroud, or a favorite blanket, and can be done in a conventional modern cemetery, in a green cemetery, or a natural burial ground that uses eco-friendly methods. In a green burial, graves are dug by hand and concrete vaults or grave liners are not used. Green cemeteries do not use pesticides or herbicides, and promote growth of native trees, flowers and shrubs, bringing birds and wildlife into the area and contributing to the ecosystem.

Although this is a growing trend, it seems that – in general – New England is slow to adopt it. Here in New Hampshire, our firms are the only funeral service providers that are certified by the Green Burial Council. Vermont has only one ‘green’ funeral home, while Massachusetts has two. Although our firms work with smaller cemeteries that offer eco-friendly burials, there is only one cemetery in all of New England that is certified by the Green Burial Council. Recently, interviewed our President, Buddy Phaneuf, in regards to this issue. To read the article, visit

Funeral Procession Etiquette

In this fast paced world that we live in – with drivers that are all too often in a hurry or worse, are distracted – I thought that I would provide this reminder of proper etiquette when you encounter a funeral procession.

First and foremost, be aware of your surroundings. Distracted driving is the biggest culprit of car accidents, but also for disregarding a funeral procession. Second, be respectful. Once the lead car has entered an intersection or made a turn, all cars in the procession have the right of way, regardless of the color of everyone else’s traffic lights. Never cut into or cut off a procession, as this is not only disrespectful, it is illegal. Allow each and every car to continue through before you resume. All vehicles in the procession should be marked with a funeral flag and/or have their headlights, tail lights and hazards on. The last vehicle may have two or more flags on it.

Lastly, do not attempt to pass a funeral procession on a two lane roadway and refrain from honking at them.  Remember, the procession of a loved one to their final resting place should be a sign of respect for the deceased, so please be patient.

Latest Funeral Scam

There is yet another scam for grieving families to be cautious of, and this one is masked as an opportunity for families to help settle debts for a deceased loved one. Scam artists do their research to find people who have recently passed, and then devise a portfolio of fake debts that they look to grieving families to settle. You may see invoices from credit collection agencies come in, but never let the threat of a collection agency scare you into paying a bill that you have validated. Always research the source of debt to confirm it’s legitimate before making any payments. If you utilized hospice care, your loved one will have had a hospice social worker assigned to help sort through finances and most should be taken care of prior to their death. And if not, ask your funeral home if they can help (our firms do), or if they can recommend someone that can help. Don’t hesitate to consult with experts or trusted sources in these times of need, because unfortunately there are individuals that try to take advantage of families in a very vulnerable state, and you can never be too careful.

Bereavement Airfare

Bereavement fares are meant to offer customers travel options when faced with a last-minute emergency. Although it seems that the number of airlines that offer special fares to passengers who are booking last-minute flights due to a relative’s death is dwindling. Last week American Airlines announced that it would no longer offer bereavement fares. The change is a result of the airline’s merger with US Airways, which does not offer such fares.  Up until now, American Airlines would extend special fares to passengers who were booking last-minute flights due to a relative’s death. However, they are still allowing customers to buy changeable and refundable tickets, and will waive the fee to apply future reservations to a last-minute flight.

As far as I am aware of, United Airlines does offer a bereavement discount of 5% on the lowest rate when the ticket is purchased.  Other than that, I don’t know of any other airlines that are directly offering a special fare for grieving passengers. But does it matter?  In most cases, the minimal savings one would receive with these “discounted” fares isn’t worth the added inconvenience, as booking usually needs to happen on the phone and proof of death or illness as well kinship is required.   Discount travel sites may claim to offer bereavement fares that range from 10-75% off full fare prices, but their policies are typically based on airline’s policies, which means that there aren’t very many that carry them at all – and if they do, they usually end up being more than a sale ticket.

The Truth About Hospice

So often I realize there are a lot of misconceptions about what hospice care is and what it provides to a terminally-ill person and their loved ones.  First and foremost, hospice isn’t actually a place; it’s a type of care. Therefore hospice care is provided wherever the patient may be, or wants to be. It can be utilized in their home, a nursing home, assisted living facility, hospital, or in a hospice home. Hospice is for anyone with a life-limiting illness – not just the elderly.

Hospice homes aren’t a place where one goes when there’s nothing more a doctor can do. They are a place where hospice professionals help terminally-ill patients make the best of every minute that they have left. It’s not about getting ready to die. It’s about living the best possible life right up until the very last day. This may mean that the patient plays cards, listens to their favorite music, eats their favorites foods and goes to a casino, golfing, or to family functions. Whatever means the most to them, if it is possible, hospice workers will make it happen.

Another common misconception is that families won’t have the opportunity to care for their loved one if hospice care is being utilized. However, family members are encouraged, trained and supported by hospice professionals to care for their loved ones, and these professionals are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to help family and friends care for their loved ones. Hospice doesn’t take control from the patient or their family. Instead, hospice workers keep patients aware of their options and keep them in full control of decision-making regarding their end-of-life care.

Beware of Funeral Burglars

An unfortunate and hard to swallow trend among thieves is breaking into homes while families are at visitation or funeral services for a loved one. It’s hard to imagine wanting to prey on grieving families, but desperate thieves seem to have no boundaries.

Although it may be difficult to consider this when you are stricken by grief, it is important that you take some precautions to make sure that you and your family aren’t victims of a home invasion while you are paying your final respects to your loved one. Since the obituary is where burglars find their victims, it may be best to exclude some of the key information that would help them determine where these families live. I suggest leaving out the full names and hometowns of relatives, and certainly don’t include the address of the deceased. The most important thing that you can do is have a friend or family member stay at the home during the services to deter thieves.

Evolving Funeral Traditions

Over the years, funeral service and memorialization customs have evolved to reflect changes in cultural and religious beliefs and lifestyles, as well as popular trends in society. Funeral rituals that would at one time have been considered sacrilegious are commonplace today. You see people “checking in” to a funeral via Foursquare or other social networking sites, and even taking pictures of themselves at a funeral to share with others. It is currently popular for deceased sports fans to have sports equipment, team jerseys or other sports memorabilia buried with them.

Those that love ecology are turning to Eternal Reefs, a Georgia-based company that blends cremated remains with concrete to create spheres that are then lowered into the ocean at a designated site, which will help build up fragile reefs and provide a fish habitat. The site can be visited by families and they can be assured that these reef memorials benefit the ocean’s ecosystem while providing a long term tribute to their loved one.

Others are shedding gloomy traditions and are shifting into more of a celebration-of-life style funeral service. These optimists forego the somber black attire and opt for more colorful and cheerful clothing.  Celebrations can include singing and dancing and even some unique twists, such as shooting the cremated remains of their loved out up in the air with fireworks.

With the decline of institutional religion and changing belief systems, traditional rituals may not be preferred by everyone. However, the need to express grief and honor the deceased still remains an essential part of human nature.

Pet Obituaries

In the news this week was a very touching story of a Massachusetts State Police officer who was forced to make the difficult decision to put down his terminally-ill and suffering K-9 partner. The state trooper, along with his wife and children, had a deep connection with the dog, considering the dog to be a part of their family. On his way to the veterinarian, to put the dog to rest, the trooper wrote an obituary, which has since gone viral and is providing an outpouring of support for him and his family. You can read the obituary here:

This brings up a very interesting subject. This online obituary seemed to be well received. However, would they have felt the same way if they saw it published in the newspaper, next to their loved one’s (human) obituary? Some may consider it to be offensive when they see an obituary for an animal in the newspaper, alongside humans. From professional experience, I can say that I have heard some people say it is “distasteful” or “disrespectful.” But why is an online pet obituary more acceptable than when it is printed in the newspaper? Should pet obituaries be included on a funeral home website? I try to consider why a newspaper’s obituary provokes more negative emotions when other customs that honor a pets’ death do not. There are many on-line memorial pages, physical or virtual pet cemeteries and people that share their pet memorials with other pet lovers. Perhaps obituaries in newspapers are viewed differently since they are considered a highly visible matter of public record that many people automatically view each day, as opposed to seeking out news online?

Those that are in favor of allowing pet obituaries to be published alongside human obituaries argue that this assigns value to a life – to a life that was truly defined as part of a human family. They feel that all animals should be treated with care and dignity – in life and in death.

What You Should Expect From Your Funeral Home

When you choose a funeral home to work with in a time of need, you are putting your faith in them to not only take care of your loved one whom has passed, but you are also trusting them to take care of you.  Losing a loved one is traumatic time, and the grief and sadness you feel can make decision making difficult and leave you feeling pressured and impulsive.  Your funeral care provider needs to be sensitive to your grief confused state, and should never put pressure on you to make decisions or take advantage of you in any way.  If you ever feel pressure from a funeral home to buy something that you don’t need or want, or is more expensive than you need, you should simply fire them.  Seriously.  It may be difficult or awkward, but if they are making you uncomfortable and you don’t trust them, then it will probably be worth it. You are already clouded by grief and stress – the last thing that you need is someone trying to exploit you.   And always remember – pre-planning funeral arrangements can prevent loved ones from having to make these difficult decisions while in a grief stricken state of mind.

Responsibility in the Death Care Industry

All over the news this week is the story of a New Jersey daughter who discovered the wrong body in her mother’s casket, just moments before her wake began.   Her mother passed away while vacationing in the Caribbean and her body was supposed to have been transported back to New Jersey for her funeral services.  However, someone else all-together was delivered to the family, but wearing the clothes of their mother.  This tragic mistake is one that this family won’t ever forget, and instead of grieving the loss of their mother, they are hiring private investigators to track down her remains.

Unfortunately, this isn’t the first time that this has happened.  In fact, it was just in October 2013 that a similar incident occurred.  I find stories like these to be so troublesome.  Families put their faith into death care professionals to help them, and take care of them at this most vulnerable time.   All funeral homes should have strict procedures and safeguards in place to prevent these types of mistakes from occurring.  For example, our crematory and all of our staff strictly follow our ten-step “Peace-of-Mind Cremation Process,” to minimize any potential for human error.  Neither this process nor many of our other safeguards are required by law, but we feel it is our obligation to take every possible precaution to prevent traumatic mistakes from being made.  It is the responsibility of each person in the death care industry to be sure that they are highly trained and capable to help alleviate some of the stress and burden placed on families that are grieving the loss of a loved one; not to contribute to it.