In early America, home funerals were the practice everywhere, and each community had a group of women who came in to help with the "laying out of the dead." Visitation was held in the front parlor followed by a procession to the church and cemetery.
At the time of the Civil War, embalming came into practice for shipping bodies over a long distance. By the turn of the century, the newly formed National Funeral Directors Association was pressing its members to consider themselves "professionals," not tradesmen as the earlier coffin-makers had been. Regular use of embalming was encouraged, and the new "professionals" used it to suggest they were keepers of the public health.
However, according to a recent opinion from the Center for Disease Control in Atlanta, GA, there is no public health purpose served by embalming. It is not required by law except in unusual circumstances by a very few states. Refrigeration is the usual alternative to embalming when the body must be preserved for later disposition. In other countries embalming is rarely used.In some parts of North America, religious and ethnic groups have maintained the practice of caring for their own dead. With the spread of the Hospice movement, families are assuming more responsibility at the time of death, and home or church funerals are again returning. Those who have been involved with such funerals have found them therapeutic and meaningful, with costs being minimal.
When the term "traditional" is used it generally means:
- A time of visitation with the family, during which the casket may be present ("viewing" is most often done by the immediate family and friends during private time),
- A religious service in a church,
- And/or a graveside ceremony for earth burial of the body or cremated remains.
The cost of funerals in recent years has risen to $5,000 or more, not including cemetery and monument expense. Ask the funeral home, if you use one, whether "professional services" are billed at a fixed fee, or by the hour. The more responsibility a family assumes, the more affordable a funeral can be. Schedule visitation and services at the home or church to limit costs. If there is no mention of a funeral home, your paper might print the obituary free. Perhaps a mortuary will be used only to transport a body or for refrigeration until the time of the funeral.
In fact, in most states, family members can file the death certificate and permits, allowing the family or a church group to handle all death arrangements without the use of a mortician. Some FCA affiliates arrange with cooperating funeral directors to provide a "traditional" funeral at a cost of under $1,000. For many people, this will be the most convenient choice. If that option is not available in your area, there are books that provide useful details for family involvement.