April 27, 2014

Ways In Which We Handle Our Dead


Setting a corpse on fire has been a favored method of disposing a body since pre-antiquity. In technical terms cremation is using high temperatures to reduce a human body to its chemical compounds.
Modern cremation is done in a crematory, a building equipped with a cremator, a furnace that can generate temperatures up to 1,800 °F. Cremating an average person takes 2 to 2 1/2 hours. The body is either cremated within a casket or a simple cardboard box. You do not need to purchase a casket in order to be cremated.

The organic material of the body is completely burned after the 2 1/2 hours and all that is left is bone fragments. The cremated remains are removed. Any metal such as joint replacements are removed with a magnet. The remains are then put into a processor and crushed into a fine powder material, giving the remains the appearance of baby powder.

There are many options to then "house" the cremated remains. The most common methods are in an Urn either placed in a niche in a mausoleum, buried in a cemetery, scattered, or just left in an urn in possession with the family. The selection of urns available is numerous. There are many options to complement the personality of the deceased.

In places around the world, such as India. The body is cremated in open air. Indians believe that touching a dead body is highly taboo, and only members of the lower cast are allowed to do this. The body is placed upon a funeral pyre, made out of logs, and sticks. The pyre is placed next to the Ganges River which is considered holy for Hindus.

There are other less common methods such as making the ashes into diamonds, sending them into space, placing them in a locket or a pendant, burying them in an underwater reef, and having them turned into ink and incorporation into a tattoo. According to LowCostCremation.com, the national rate for cremation in the United States is 2011 is 42%.

For more information on Cremation please visit:
The Cremation Association of North America
The Internet Cremation Society
Celestis, Inc. - Post-Cremation Memorial Spaceflights
LifeGem Memorial Diamonds
Eternal Reefs
Cremation In India- Short Online National Geographic Video

Traditional Funerals & Earth Burial

© Alexandria Barrington 2014
The most popular method of handling the dead in modern society is having a traditional funeral at a mortuary and earth burial in a cemetery. When a person dies, assuming it was a natural death, not needing a corner or autopsy, a funeral director is called and the body is taken by the funeral home to the mortuary to be prepared, in most cases, for a viewing, than a funeral.  The body is cleaned, embalmed, dressed, and placed in a casket.

According to the Federal Trade Commission's Guidelines for Funeral Service Providers (The Funeral Rule) "Except in certain special cases, embalming is not required by law. Embalming may be necessary, however, if you select certain funeral arrangements, such as a funeral with viewing. If you do not want embalming, you usually have the right to choose an arrangement that does not require you to pay for it, such as direct cremation or immediate burial." Embalming is the process of removing blood and gases in the body and replacing them with a strong disinfectant and preservative."

Except in certain special cases, embalming is not required by law. Embalming may be necessary, however, if you select certain funeral arrangements, such as a funeral with viewing. If you do not want embalming, you usually have the right to choose an arrangement that does not require you to pay for it, such as direct cremation or immediate burial." The casket is then buried in a cemetery with a vault. A vault is basically a concrete or metal box that houses the casket. The vault is used to keep the ground from caving in during time. Burial vaults have started to now serve the function of protecting the casket. This type of vaults are much more expensive then a regular concrete vault. They are hermetically sealed and covered with a veneer either made of bronze, granite or marble.

However embalming and protective burial vaults are only meant to deter the process of composition. Eventually the body will decay, and it's illegal for a funeral director to tell you otherwise. Burial vaults are required by most cemeteries to keep the ground from settling in above the casket. This help with the lawn maintance of the cemetery.

The choice of caskets is numerous.

Batesville Casket Company headquartered in Indiana is one of the biggest companies to manufacture caskets. They can be individualized according to the families wishes. Caskets are most often purchased through a funeral home, but one can also buy directly through a company and have the casket shipped to the funeral home. For example Walmart is now selling caskets. (Check out my earlier post on this subject.)

Coffins and caskets have become interchangeable words in modern society both essentially meaning the same thing. However, there are differences between the two. A coffin is a six sided box made out of wood. It fits the shape of a body. Coffins are often used in vampire movies. A casket is a 4 sided box that that can either be made out of wood or metal. It has a split top to allow viewing of the body. The inside is padded with material, and gives the illusion of being "comfortable" and "restful" to the dead. It is thought by historians that the funeral director or mortician's selling of a casket vs. a coffin would be more pleasing to families of the deceased. Since it looked more like a bed then something to bury a body in.

Today, the post popular option of disposing of a dead body is traditional earth burial but that cremation will likely become the most popular method in the near future.

For more information on traditional funerals and burials please visit:
National Funeral Director Association
Batesville Casket Company
Funeral Service Foundation
Natural Museum of Funeral History- Houston, Texas
Embalming- Wikipedia
Colourful Coffins- Coffins as unique as you are!
Headstones & Memorials- A provider of headstones and memorials throughout the continental United States.

Photo by Dave Bouskill

The most well known mausoleums around the world, include the Taj Mahal in India, The Pyramids in Egypt, and the Lenin Mausoleum in Russia.
 "A mausoleum is an external free-standing building constructed as a monument enclosing the interment space or burial chamber of a deceased person or people"[Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mausoleum]
Mausoleums became quite popular in at the end of the 19th century in America. America's industrial elite such as Cornelius Vanderbilt, railroad tycoon, Frank W. Woolworth, founder of Woolworth Company, Charles H. Schwab, American steel magnate, Charles G. Dawes, vice president under Calvin coolidge, Aaron Montgomery Ward, famous for the Montgomery Ward Catalog, and Richard W. Sears, founder of Sears, Roebuck and Company, all chose this method of burial. It was a way to leave a legacy. A reminder of their wealth, and status. When the Depression hit mausoleums became a less popular option for interment. However, they are now starting to become more popular. Companies such as American Mausoleums are making some beautiful mausoleums that are equal to their earlier counterparts, in elegance and status.

For more information on Mausoleums please visit:

Mausoleums.com - A provider of custom private mausoleums throughout the United States
The Taj Mahal
Lenin Mausoleum
Cornelius Vanderbilt Mausoleum - Youtube
Frank Woolworth Mausoleum - The Bowery Boys @ BlogSpot
Charles Schwab Mausoleum - David Gayon Photos via Flickr
Charles Dawes Mausoleum - Kenneth Watson via Flickr
Richard W. Sears Mausoleum - Graveyard of Chicago

Green Funerals
Photo from http://www.musgroves.com/

Green or Natural burial had been in place for thousands of years. It wasn't until the Civil War that the modern funeral in the United States, or the practice of embalming came into place. With so many decaying bodies of dead soldiers, families wanted a way to stop the decomposition in order to have their bodies shipped back home. President Abraham Lincoln was one of the first people whose body was preserved with the new technique of embalming.

Green or Natural Burial is the process of burying a body in the earth without a traditional coffin, or a vault. The idea is to have the body have contact with the Earth and decay naturally and be recycled or returned to the Earth. The body is not embalmed or injected with chemical preserving agents. The body is most often put in a simple shroud before being placed in the Earth. However, the body may be placed in a biodegradable coffin.

A natural funeral is also attractive to people who are looking to lessen their environmental impact on the Earth. In addition to recycling, driving electric cars, and buying organic and free range produce and meat, people are also wanting their funerals and burials to be green.

The disuse of chemicals to preserve the body, and cutting down trees to build a wooden coffin is attractive to this type of consumer. They want their body to be returned back to the Earth, and not have their body's decomposition deterred.
There are natural burial sites around the world that look more like a simple field or forest than a cemetery. There are no traditional grave stones or monuments. Natural landscaping such as boulders, rocks, and trees are the only ornaments. Bodies can be buried with GPS locators to mark the place of burial. "The United States now has about a dozen green cemeteries, while Great Britain has about 200.
While more than 70 percent of Americans polled by AARP prefer green burials, most funeral homes and directors don't offer this service to the environmental conscience consumer." [source: Trimarchi, Maria.  "How Natural Burial Works"  15 January 2009.  HowStuffWorks.com.  13 April 2014].

For more information on green/natural funerals and burials, please visit:
Green Burial Council
A Greener Funeral
The Natural Burial Company
Final Footprint- Green Caskets


Cryonics is the practice of storing a body in extremely low temperatures in the hopes of reviving the person one day when modern science has the ability to cure disease the person died from.
In cryonics there are two terms that used often and difference between the two is important to understand: Legal Death, and Total Death. People who undergo cronics must be legally dead, that is their heart must have stopped beating. Total death, is the when brain function stops. cryonic scientists say the that without total death the brain still has cellular function. They state that a person can be resurrected as long as they are not in "Total Death".

A person's body isn't simply frozen to preserve it. If you froze a body the water within the cells of the body would form ice crystals which would destroy the cells, making the ability to resurrect a person completely impossible. The water from your cells is replaced with something called a cryoprotectant, a glycerol based chemical that protects the cells and tissues from forming ice crystals. Vitrification is the process of cooling the body at extremely low temperatures without freezing it.

Neurosuspension is the process of removing the head of a body instead of whole body cryogenic preservation. The thought behind this, is the brain is the only organ that is essential to restore a person back to "who" they once were, with their thoughts, and mind. The hope is that science of the future will give the ability for a body clone or some sort of robotic body will be available to attach the head to.

The body or head is then stored in a tank filled with liquid nitrogen, for the inevitable future. You often have "room mates". These tanks can store up to four bodies and six heads.

Cryonics definitely isn't for the penny pinching consumer. It can cost up to $150,000 for whole body preservation and up to $50,000 for just your head. [Source: Watson, Stephanie.  "How Cryonics Works"  05 January 2005.  HowStuffWorks.com.

For more information on Cryonics please visit:
Cryonics Institute
Alcor Life Extension Foundation

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