Meet Margaret

This column originally appeared in the November, 2012 issue of Funeral Home and Cemetery News by Nomis Publications, Inc.

Answering the Call for Green Funerals

...but I don't want a typical funeral with all that unnecessary expensive stuff!

Keep dancing, Margaret.
Meet Margaret.  In her sixties and still working as a nurse in a county hospital for the elderly, Margaret has dedicated much of her life to caring for people in their final moments.  Margaret is familiar with death, even comfortable with it.  Less than three weeks ago Margaret learned the uncomfortable feeling in her throat was more than just a lump.  Margaret expects that esophageal cancer will take her life before the Thanksgiving holiday.

Without a moment to spare, Margaret took it upon herself to plan her own funeral.  An eccentric and sophisticated woman, she wants to be buried in an old rural cemetery with a reputation for being haunted.  Margaret had professional pictures taken of her as she danced in this haunted cemetery in a night gown.  I met Margaret when she called to ask about a simple green casket.  I invited Margaret to my home to see and touch some of our green caskets.  Upon her arrival, Margaret had a cascade of questions.  How do I find a green cemetery?  What is a burial vault and are they required by law?  Do I need to be embalmed?  How will my family transport my body from the hospital to my home and to the cemetery?  Do I need to be stored in a refrigerator?  Where can I find a refrigerator? What is required to dress and prepare my body for burial?  Can my children dress me?  Are there any requirements for my monument?  What happens to my body if sealed in a burial vault vs. a wooden casket buried in the ground?

I have answers to all of these questions and am happy to participate in such discussions.  I refer Margaret to John Leiting at Murray Funeral Home in Beaver Dam, Wisconsin.   I am a casket maker.  These are questions better suited for a Funeral Director--a licensed professional with all of these answers and a deep understanding of the federal and state laws, local regulations, and cemetery policies.  Margaret is visibly uncomfortable with my advice--as uncomfortable as her daughter was a few minutes prior while Margaret was explaining that she wanted her two daughters to transport and prepare her body for burial.  She tells me she doesn't want a typical funeral with embalming, fancy casket, and all of those unnecessary expensive services--I want a Simple Green Funeral, she tells me.  I explain that John Leiting is a professional and will listen to her, answer her questions, and carry out her wishes.  Margaret only finds comfort when I tell her John did something similar for my own Grandfather eight years ago when I built my first casket.

We receive a lot of calls from people like Margaret--about two per week--and refer them to their local funeral director to answer questions about Green Funerals.  I am constantly reminded by these families that green funerals appeal to a wide variety of demographics.  From my anecdotal experience, I've had this same conversation with people both young and elderly, religious and secular, conservative and liberal, affluent and impoverished.  It occurs to me that the characteristics of a natural burial are generally appealing and often sparked by those searching for alternatives to the conventional (a.k.a. "traditional" burial).  What troubles me is that people like Margaret don't feel they can go to their local funeral director to have this conversation and ask these questions--that the funeral home only sells one kind of funeral service.  I am committed to help change this perception--even if we have to by answering one call at a time.

If you've read this far, you might be a professional in the death care industry.  Maybe you are not a licensed funeral directory, but perhaps your work is related to a cemetery, church, or hospital.  I ask that you keep reading about Green Funerals and if you aren't already, be prepared to have conversations with people like Margaret.  Her family will benefit from the help of a funeral service professional when she passes.  There's value in the services a funeral director provides to ensure Margaret receives the right-of-passage she desires and her family is left with peace of mind knowing that all the details a funeral requires have been tended to by a professional.