Frequently Asked Questions

General Funeral Questions

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General Funeral Questions

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What is a funeral officiant?

The funeral officiant is the person who leads the funeral or memorial service. If the memorial or funeral service is traditional or religious-based, this person may be a pastor or priest. The officiant’s role is similar to that of a master of ceremonies; he directs the service from beginning to end. The officiant’s duties include gathering information from the family in order to portray the life of the deceased; preparing and delivering a sermon or eulogy in honor of the deceased; starting and ending the service at the funeral home, and conducting the graveside service and overseeing the reception afterwards.

Can I bury the deceased on private property?

Yes. Provided you are in compliance with any local and state zoning laws and other regulations, and are the owner, or have permission from the owner, of the property.

What is a direct burial?

A direct burial is the least expensive of funeral options because it involves only the most basic of funeral services. With a direct burial, the body is buried very soon after death, so no embalming is needed. The casket is usually very simple and economical, and there is no formal funeral service or pre-funeral events, such as a viewing, visitation, or wake.

Where can I locate cemeteries that provide natural (green) burial?

The Green Burial Council offers a searchable database for green burial cemeteries at http://www.greenburialcouncil.org/finding-a-provider/.

What type of container or covering is used in a natural burial?

The body may be either buried in a biodegradable casket, a fabric shroud, or wrapped in a blanket or some other covering made of natural fibers.

What types of biodegradable caskets are used in a green burial?

Biodegradable caskets may be made of unfinished wood, fiberboard, pressed wood, woven grass or willow, or cardboard.

What is a natural burial?

Also known as “green burial”, natural burial practices are characterized by their simplicity and natural aspects. Advocates of natural burial believe in letting nature take its course at the burial site, with as little interference or disruption from the burials as possible.

Unlike a traditional cemetery, with its concrete vaults, and casketed, embalmed bodies, a natural burial site is intended to remain as undisturbed and natural as possible in character and appearance. Bodies are not embalmed beforehand, and they are buried in a biodegradable casket, fabric shroud, blanket, etc.

Minimal environmental impact, habitat restoration and preservation of open spaces are key objectives in the movement toward natural burial, and native grasses, wildflowers, trees, and plantings are part of the natural landscaping.

What is a green burial?

Also known as “natural burial”, green burial practices are characterized by their simple and natural aspects. Advocates of green burial believe in letting nature take its course at the burial site, with as little interference or disruption from the burials as possible.

Unlike a traditional cemetery, with its concrete vaults, and casketed, embalmed bodies, a green burial site is intended to remain as undisturbed and natural as possible in character and appearance. Bodies are not embalmed beforehand, and they are buried in a biodegradable casket, fabric shroud, blanket, etc. Minimal environmental impact, habitat restoration, and preservation of open spaces are key objectives in the movement toward green burial, and native grasses, wildflowers, trees, and plantings are part of the natural landscaping.

Why are funerals usually held soon after the person has died?

Funerals are usually held within a few days after the death occurs, due to the problem of inevitable decomposition. Modern embalming is done to delay decomposition so that funeral services may take place. Embalming only temporarily halts the process of decomposition in a dead body, and does not preserve the body indefinitely, even within a sealed casket.

Is embalming required for a traditional funeral?

Embalming is not required by law, except in a few states where the body is going to be transported across state lines. If embalming is not performed, the funeral will need to be held very quickly following death, or other preservation methods (such as refrigeration) put in place until the funeral can be held.

If you are an organ donor, how do you make sure your wishes are carried out by the funeral home?

If you want to be an organ donor after your death, you should:

  • Sign up as an organ and tissue donor in your state’s donor registry (you can locate your state’s donor registry at www.OrganDonor.gov.), or fill out an organ donor card when you get or renew your driver’s license
  • Include organ donation in your advance directives, will, and living will
  • Tell your family you have elected to be an organ donor after you die
  • Tell your physician, friends, and pastor or other faith leader

Having this information on record will enable the funeral home to make the appropriate arrangements.

Does body donation interfere with funeral arrangements?

While it is not possible to have an open casket viewing with a whole body donation, the donor family may opt to have a memorial service with the cremated remains.

What happens to the body when the medical school has finished its research?

Once the school is finished with its teaching and research, the remains are cremated. The cremated remains may be dispersed or buried by the school, or they may be returned to family if so desired.

Can you donate your body to science, if you are also an organ donor?

No. Most medical schools want to receive an entire body with intact organs. The one exception they allow is eye donors. Most schools will accept a body whose eyes have been donated as long as the rest of the organs are intact.

Can you still hold a funeral or memorial service if you donate your body to science?

Yes. You can still have a service in the days following your death, even though the body will not be present. Alternately, if your family chooses to wait until your cremated remains are returned by the medical school, they can have your remains present in an urn during the service.

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