All human societies have developed rituals associated with death, including remembrance of the deceased, disposition of the body, and assistance to families and communities in the grieving process. These customs differ across cultures and religions.
You may have a clear idea of your wishes, or you may want to seek the guidance of family, clergy, or some other adviser, in addition to a funeral director, in making your decisions. If you want to ensure that your wishes are carried out, and are comfortable doing so, you and your loved ones can plan for your funeral and body disposition while you are still healthy enough to participate. This planning might include decisions concerning cultural and religious considerations, cost, and the participation of family and friends.
Many people turn to a funeral home to help with the funeral planning process. Others join memorial societies - membership groups that can help with the planning and offer information, support, and access to lower-cost funeral arrangements. The Federal Trade Commission regulates funeral homes at the federal level. The Massachusetts Office of Consumer Affairs publishes a consumer fact sheet on funerals, with basic information on issues related to purchasing funeral arrangements. This agency also publishes Buyers' Guide to Pre-Need Funeral Arrangements, which funeral directors must give you as part of any discussion of pre-paid funeral arrangements.
There are many options to consider when choosing a funeral home. Some people may choose a funeral home close to where they live or near where they plan to be buried. Others consider religious, cultural, or ethnic affiliations when making this decision. In Massachusetts, there are more than 700 licensed funeral homes. Funeral costs can vary widely for similar products and services, so there is value in exploring more than one option.
Federal and state regulations require that funeral homes follow certain procedures regarding funeral arrangements and costs. They must provide consumers with an itemized general price list and must not require that specific funeral packages be purchased. They may not require that you purchase a casket from the funeral home. These requirements, as well as guidelines and suggestions for funeral planning, are included in Funeral: A Consumer Guide, published by the Federal Trade Commission.
Paying for a funeral can be a financial hardship. Some limited options for financial assistance may be available. Social Security pays the direct survivor a small lump sum. Veterans may be eligible for a burial allowance. The Massachusetts Department of Transitional Assistance pays for part of the cost of a funeral for MassHealth (Medicaid) members and other low-income, financially qualified individuals. Some unions, fraternal organizations, and mutual aid societies may also offer funeral benefits.
for the Body after Death
While most people use the services of a funeral director to assist them in the handling and disposition of the body, Massachusetts does allow families to care for their own dead. In these cases, it is important to understand the state and local regulations and to carefully plan in advance. The Massachusetts Department of Public Health publishes consumer guidelines to assist you.
The casket can be one of the most expensive costs in a funeral. Caskets can range in style and price from very simple and inexpensive to very ornate and expensive, costing from a few hundred dollars to thousands of dollars. Most people purchase caskets through the funeral home, but federal regulations require that funeral homes allow caskets to be purchased independently. Consumers have the right to buy a casket directly from a casket retailer or over the Internet or even to make their own. Massachusetts law also allows caskets to be rented. The burial site must also be considered. Many issues, both financial and personal, may influence the decision about where to be buried and whether to purchase a burial site in advance. Contact different cemeteries and carefully compare options and costs.
Veterans, along with their spouses and children, may be buried in a national cemetery free of charge. Massachusetts also provides a cemetery for Massachusetts veterans. The Massachusetts Secretary of State publishes a fact sheet on veterans' burial benefits.
In the process of cremation, the body and its container are both incinerated with intense heat. While commonly called "ashes", the remains following cremation are calcified bone fragments that resemble finely broken seashells.
The crematory is responsible for careful identification of the ashes so that they may be returned to the proper family. Most crematories do this by placing a numbered metallic disc in the container with the body to provide for identification of the ashes.
There are several options in disposing of the cremated remains. The ashes may be placed in a niche in a columbarium, a special structure at a cemetery or church; be buried or put in a crypt in a cemetery; be kept at home; or be scattered on land or at sea.
It may be important to talk with a member of the clergy before choosing cremation. Some religions forbid the practice, including Islam and Orthodox Judaism. Other religions, including Mormon, Eastern Orthodox, and some conservative Protestant denominations, look on the practice with disfavor. The Roman Catholic Church permits cremation within certain guidelines.
to filling a societal need, donation for research can be the least expensive
means for disposition of the body after death.
Since not all body donations are needed at the time they become available, and therefore are not accepted, it is a good idea to have an alternative plan. In Massachusetts, the donor
must personally arrange the donation before death. It is also important
that issues about transporting the body and its final disposition after
research be clarified in advance. The National Anatomical Service provides
information about medical schools that accept body donations.