Sunday, January 13, 2008

Maybe a little too dark...

Nota Bene: So I decided to write a Walletpop post about saving money on funerals. However, my wife argued that this was more ideally suited to my blog. Having organized my parents' funerals, I discovered fairly early on that dark humor was my way of getting through the tough times. However, the wife thought that this seemed seemed a little insensitive. Looking over it again, I think that maybe she was right. If graveyard humor (combined with money-saving tips) is not your cup of tea, please hold off on this one--I promise to post something new within a day or two.

In 1963, Jessica Mitford wrote The American Way of Death, an expose of the funeral industry. In her book, she examined the numerous ways that undertakers worked to squeeze pennies out of families, methods ranging from price-gouging on caskets to miscellaneous charges, to selling coffins that were too small and cutting off the corpses' feet to fit.

Well, the more things change, the more they stay the same. Although many of Mrs. Mitford's criticisms were taken to heart, funerals are still obscenely expensive, and funeral homes charge premium prices for everything from astroturf rental to flower transport to dressing the body. If you're an orthodox Jew, things are looking bright, because of the religious restrictions against embalming and caskets with metal, but for the rest of us, funerals are one of those things that you should probably start planning for now.

However, even in this most final of ceremonies, there is room to save and personalize. I'm not talking about extreme ideas, like doing your own embalming or holding the wake in your family playroom. After all, embalming takes years to master, and nothing kills a party like...well, you see where I'm going. However, there are little things that can make a huge difference.

For example, if you're working on a funeral, you might ask family members and friends to hold off on the flowers. Apart from the fact that these "floral tributes" cost a fortune, you will also be responsible for trucking them out to the cemetery. In all likelihood, you will probably end up subcontracting this out to the funeral home, who will do so at a premium. Instead of having your loved ones invest in flowers that you will neither enjoy nor keep, you could suggest a good cause for them to donate the money to, or request that they simply show their love by being there for the service. While we're on the subject, you might want to shop for a cemetery that doesn't require underground vaults. In addition to interfering with the natural decomposition of your body, these monstrosities massively add to the cost of your funeral.

You also might consider making your own casket. This is a great way to save money, get in touch with your worries about death, and build an awesome piece of furniture. Also, it will save you a lot of money. Even discount coffin companies (yes, they do exist!) charge $700 and up, and prices can go well over $20,000. Let's face it, that's a lot of money to shell out for something that you're only going to use once!

Essentially, a casket is nothing more than a wooden box, approximately six feet long, and about 12"-18" square. Depending on how you accessorize it, it can make a great bookcase, an oversize coffee table, a large hope chest, or even an entertainment center. While you can create something much more elaborate, this can also be a very simple carpentry project. In addition to several kits, MHP Caskets carries a wide selection of casket plans at very reasonable prices. If you want something a little more elaborate and fun, you might take a peek at Casket Furniture. In addition to a wide variety of kits, they also offer some truly fantastic pieces, including a casket coffee table, a casket phone booth, and casket sofas. Granted, most of these items are aimed at the Goth market, but they are available in beautifully-finished light wood, which means they'll blend well with all your Ikea furniture. Best of all, you'll always be prepared for a visit from your in-laws...or the grim reaper!

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  • Love it. Hmmm...maybe I am dark too. Crank, you're funny and inforamtive. For what more could we ask?

    By Anonymous Franki, At January 14, 2008 at 9:59 AM  

  • Here in the UK, you can buy carboard coffins for next to nothing - they're billed as eco-friendly because they decompose quickly.

    And an acquaintance of mine, who is HIV+. built her own coffin some years ago, painted it, and now uses it as a window seat. She said it was a very important step in accepting her own mortality.


    By Blogger Glamourpuss, At January 14, 2008 at 10:54 AM  

  • Oh man!! I nearly busted a gut laughing!! I find the idea of embalming completely disgusting. Maybe I should convert just in case anything ever happens to me? My mom has already made the arrangements for my dad to avoid that type of gouging-and although it may seem shocking to some, there will be no funeral. I like that idea actually.

    By Blogger Claudia, At January 14, 2008 at 12:48 PM  

  • HA! Not too dark at all!! I find it light and witty. Practical too!

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At January 14, 2008 at 4:01 PM  

  • I have instructed my family to dispose of my corpse w/ a pair of concrete shoes and the rowboat in the tool shed.

    Seriously, here's how I want it to go down. Since I'm an organ donor, I'd want every last scrap of my body salvaged, including skin, eyes, et cetera. Whatever remains, I'd want incinerated at a discount incinerator. Any insurance I have would go to my family rather than some corporate undertaker. How appropriate that a corporation would see me to the gates of hell.

    That said, I'm not totally certain I'll ever have to die.

    By Blogger M@, At January 14, 2008 at 9:45 PM  

  • We have yet another thing in common. Dark humour about death and funerals.
    This is a great post!! I bet it helps many people who come upon it :)

    I think things are a bit different in Canada. Here, if someone dies of AIDS, the vault is mandatory. Otherwise, no law requires a vault at any cemetery. I've buried 3 family members now without a vault.

    Embalming is also optional in Canada. It used to be that funeral homes automatically added it in. Then somebody in Canada did a news report on the industry and I learned embalming is actually optional. So, the first was embalmed because it was summer, hot, and a 3 day visitation/funeral event. The last two were not embalmed at all as there was no visitation and small graveside services.

    The flower thing, here funeral homes automatically transport them. Then after the graveside service, they put them in the family vehicle (which was my truck). My brand new truck I might add. It smelled like embalming fluid for days. I drove with all the windows down for a week. Ick.

    A funny to share...when choosing a casket for my sister, my parents had this decision but I was with them for support. They were so upset I didn't want them getting gouged for money. Anyway, the casket they chose sported a 20 year warranty! I couldn't take it anymore and had no sleep for 2 days so I blurted out...."what do you do, dig her up every few years to check?" Well, my parents burst out laughing and that got them through the rest of that first day.

    By Blogger Echomouse, At January 14, 2008 at 11:28 PM  

  • Crankster,

    Definitely re-think the wallet pop submission. I think it would be a perfect companion to the wedding pieces and unusual enough to attract real interest.

    By Anonymous john, At January 16, 2008 at 5:36 PM  

  • Franki-
    Maybe my blog self-selects for dark humor? I'm glad you liked it!

    I haven't seen cardboard coffins offered over here. I wonder if the death industry has stronger control in the U.S.?

    Personally, I like the idea of all my friends and family getting toasty and enjoying a good meal while thinking about me. Screw the rest of it!

    Reflecting Pool-
    So maybe I land somewhere between Dorothy Parker and Martha Stewart?

    Or is that aiming too high?

    Of course, the best way to win is to live forever. Good luck with that.

    Thank you. I won't go into the terrible jokes that my sisters and I made at our parents' funerals. Suffice to say, though, that it was horrifying. In fact, I'm pretty sure that God has a sense of humor, as none of us was struck down.

    I think that, given the other options, humor is the only way to get through a death!

    By Blogger Crankster, At January 16, 2008 at 11:06 PM  

  • John-
    I'll give it some thought. Thanks for the advice!

    By Blogger Crankster, At January 16, 2008 at 11:06 PM  

  • I dont want a funeral... I will be cremated and the day after my death if my family feel the need just say something nice and leave it at that.
    funerals are a pure waste of time and money as far as I am concerned and its a terrible way of pouring salt on wounds you thought were healing....
    I dont want anybody to celebrate my body when it was my mind that was the life

    By Blogger Nosjunkie, At January 17, 2008 at 7:13 AM  

  • Have you ever read Evelyn Waugh's "The Loved One?"

    I'm leaning toward cremation so my children won't have to provide expensively for a body I have already left. The world is running out of real estate and would be better served by growing food for the living than planting corpses.

    There is little difference between my in-laws and the grim reaper.

    By Blogger heartinsanfrancisco, At January 18, 2008 at 9:20 PM  

  • Nosjunkie-
    Beautifully and succinctly put. Celebrating the mind, not the body, is definitely the way to go!

    I haven't read the Waugh, althought I'll put it on my list. And, yes, I think you're right about the idea of saving space for the living. Although, to be honest, I love the idea of being buried in a field, where I will fertilize food.

    By Blogger Crankster, At January 22, 2008 at 7:08 AM  

  • I do, too, but unfortunately it isn't legal in most places and cemeteries are kind of an abomination.

    I have always loved a song from "Oklahoma"which contains the lovely words,

    "The daisies in the dell
    will give out a different smell
    because poor Judd is buried 'neath the ground."

    By Blogger heartinsanfrancisco, At January 28, 2008 at 2:42 AM  

  • Hearts-
    I ended up doing some posts on Walletpop about burial and found out all about "Natural Burial." Basically, it's getting buried in a field or under a tree with minimal modern intervention. It's pretty cool!

    By Blogger Crankster, At February 23, 2008 at 9:55 AM  

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