Funerals: Expenses, Ideas and Alternatives

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When approached with the topic of mortality—one's own or a loved one's—most people tend to shy away.

Still, this heavy topic is one most of us will encounter. Staying informed about your options is essential to easing any stress and financial burden placed on those we may eventually leave. Having a plan ensures one's wishes are honored, conventionally or otherwise.

The Funeral

A funeral allows loved ones to honor, recognize and celebrate the life of the person who died, in a way unique to them.

The median cost of a funeral with viewing and burial is $8,755, according to the National Funeral Directors Association. Broken down, the cost usually includes services such as transfer of the remains, embalming, viewing and ceremony, casket, vault, funeral transportation and professional services fees—and doesn't include flowers, plot or headstone.

Outlining steps for a funeral with a funeral director will provide assurance and peace of mind, something Sandy Bewell, pre-planning specialist at Gerst Funeral Homes says you'll be happy you did. While some funeral homes offer monthly payment plans if prepaying all at once isn't feasible, prepaying protects against inflation.

"Individuals I meet with who plan ahead are often astounded at the number of things to be considered when making arrangements," said Bewell. "I walk them through all the components of creating a memorable and meaningful service, to ensure that the loved ones left behind have memories that are embraced and a path that nurtures healing while celebrating the life that was lost."

One option people are often unaware of, Bewell adds, is casket rental, which allows individuals to have a formal service and have the body cremated afterward.

Don't be surprised if you find therapy dogs in funeral homes. The NFDA notes some funeral homes are answering the call of 35 percent of Americans who say they'd like to see more furry companions there for comfort.


If a standard burial isn't appealing, financially or otherwise, cremation is a popular and rising decision. According to the Cremation Association of North America, just 5 percent of people opted for cremation in 1970, versus roughly 55 percent this year. Cremation increases options as to where memorial services can be held. Costs vary depending upon factors such as whether a direct cremation is requested or if a formal funeral service is desired.

Wakes and Home Funerals

Reflecting the past and gaining in popularity are wakes and home funerals. With Celtic roots in Ireland and in contrast to somber gatherings, wakes—filled with eating, drinking, dancing and laughter—tend to be less formal than modern funerals and allow for more socializing.

Home funerals revive the more intimate practice of family caring for loved ones at home, from death to final disposition.

Science and Body Farms

There's an increasing call for burials and funeral methods to shift in a more environmentally and socially conscious direction—motivating some to consider alternatives to the well-established and traditional. Donating your body to science is one way to continue giving back to society, or even help solve a crime, once you're gone. Garnering more and more attention are Body Farms.

Despite only eight of them in the United States—the first established in 1971 at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville and the latest at Colorado Mesa University—Body Farms have revolutionized the field of forensic anthropology. At the UT Body Farm, officially named the Anthropology Research Facility, donated bodies are used to learn more about human decomposition and aid law enforcement in solving criminal cases in varying settings and climates. Once analysis is complete, skeletal remains may be returned to families upon request or are otherwise donated to the William M. Bass Donated Skeletal Collection for further anthropological study.

Alternatives for the Nontraditional

  • Ashes may be pressed into a cultured diamond, a vinyl record, fireworks and more.
  • A green burial uses biodegradable urns, designed to allow remains to grow into a tree.
  • Burial suits transform remains into clean, pollutant-free compost through mushrooms.
  • Memorial Spaceflights launch ashes into deep space, among the cosmos.

Written by Sarah Suydam, Staff Writer for West Michigan Woman.

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