DIY Funeral

Okay, here's the deal:
In Washington State, you have to come up with a serious bundle of cash for the priviledge of dying. Or for the privilege of surviving someone else's death rather, if you don't want to store the body in your freezer–which, in Maryland, is actually legal. 
I did that research I promised–had some pleasant conversations with several cemetery owners and various government officials–and the facts are thus: here in Washington you must notify the coroner of a death and get a death certificate. At that point you can either call a funeral home or you can contact the county health district for a permit to transport a dead body. (Traffic tickets can get astronomical if you're pulled over with a corpse in the backseat.) 
If the funeral home will be in charge of the body, obviously they take it, embalm, wash, dress, paint, etc, and the entire process is taken care of for a possibly very grief-stricken family. This will cost the family anywhere from $3,000 to $5,000
The body then must be buried in a licensed cemetery. Plots around here cost anywhere from $1,000 to $4,000 depending on where you buy it. The open/close fee–for whoever digs the grave and afterwards buries the coffin–ranges from $750 to $1200.  With the exception of two new "green" cemeteries in Washington state, all licensed cemeteries here require, at the least, a polymer or cement liner which costs anywhere from $800 to $1,200. 
Are you adding this up? Carry on–there will be an endowment fee added to the cost of the plot to ensure its upkeep and this fee is based on a nebulous percentage nobody was eager to discuss clearly. But at the very least, the total for plot, liner, and the cost of opening and closing the grave will set you back a minimum of $3000. What's that you say? If you add up all the above minimums the total is closer to $2500? Ah, but that's the trick. One cemetery might only charge $750 for a liner, but they'll charge $250 more to open the grave or to maintain the plot. 
The barebones minimum, economy burial, including funeral home care but before the cost of a casket or marker, was $5982. The most basic headstone available–a flat, 32"x20" piece of granite–and yes, it must be granite–will cost you $1140 for the stone itself, plus $385 minimum to set it, and a $92.25 fee for maintenance. So your total now is closer to $7,600 before the cost of the casket which can cost anywhere from $1000 to $15,000.
So we're looking at close to ten grand even with an economy package. I asked the lady out at the Moses Lake Cemetery if that figure is accurate, and she agreed–according to her, statistics show that dying is number three on the list of biggest expenditures in your lifetime–right behind your house and your car. 
Being the cheapskate that I am, I'm thinking, where can I cut costs? How much room is there for DIY skills when it comes to disposing of a corpse? They won't let me use my own property (unless I battle the zoning commission to declare said property a cemetery proper, form a corporation, deposit $25,000 in an endowment fund, etc, etc.) so that's out. I'm looking at three grand for just the plot, the liner and the digging, since they won't let me do that, either.
I looked at two green cemeteries in Washington that don't require coffin or liner but the plots there are $3000. Three thousand seems to be the agreed upon minimum for a bit of dirt to decompose in. I asked the cemetery people if more than one family member died at once–say, in a car wreck–if we could bury them all in the same bit of dirt.  Maybe a mother and a baby in the same coffin, said one. Absolutely not, said the others. 

Since I don't really see the difference between decomposing in one or a thousand years, I can skip the embalming and for a small daily fee just rent space in the mortuary's refrigerated section until the funeral. If the family does the transport, that'll save three grand. I probably won't look like a picture perfect mannequin but if you really want one last look at me, get out the photo album and peruse the images of me there, when I was, you know–breathing.

You could save on a casket, since those aren't required, but unless the family wants to sling the corpse over a collective shoulder, as it were and do the old heave-ho into the pit, you'll need something to carry the body and it must have folding handles, according to cemetery personnel. They can, if you really, really, really don't want a casket, provide a cremation tray, which will run you three to four hundred dollars.
But that's as DIY as it gets–the stone, the plot, the liner, those are all non-negotiable. Someone has to pay. Washington State discontinued indigent burial assistance almost twenty years ago (as have most states), so I asked the powers that be what happens when a family is too poor or if there is no family and the funeral directors confidently informed me that usually they charge whatever the insurance will pay. But what if there is no insurance? I asked. The answer? Someone in the family or close to it can generally be found to cough up $1000 for the cost of cremation.  Still not chump change, to be sure, but significantly cheaper.
Even at that price, when I start counting the cost, really, of not just one death, but of all the living-now-but-eventually-dead people I know, I'm thinking we should get together and buy a piece of land out in the country somewhere, come up with twenty-five or thirty grand or whatever it's going to take to turn it into a cemetery, and start our own. People could dig their own graves and they could bury their entire family in the same hole if they wished. In bedsheets even. And who needs landscape maintenance? We can plant a tree on each grave and let the wildflowers take over. When I asked one local cemetery owner if she would ever consider developing a part of her 85 acres into a "green" section like this, she was aghast. "Maybe one day," she said, "But it would cost a lot of money–from an ecological standpoint I see how it's a laudable thing to do, but a people think that a "green" burial like you are describing will save them money but in reality, it will cost significantly more than a standard burial. People don't understand that."
For the love of a five dollar Wal-mart garden spade and some tunneling worms, WHY?

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10 responses to “DIY Funeral

  • P.S.

    I have always been horribly bothered by the "display " of the person who has died. Why on earth do people pay someone to glue the corpses eyelids closed, and paint them with makeup? When someone dies, I do not want to see the Morticians paint job. I prefer to not see the body- I don't want that last image in my head. When I think of loved ones that have passed on, I see them laughing, smiling- beautiful and living. All I ever hear from people that view a body- is , "um, it really didn't look like them."
    I was expressing this to my husband when he blew me away by telling me that he prefers to see the body. I honestly asked him why- but he really didn't have an answer. He told me that I was in the minority. That most people want to see the body. I think I've seen a lot of indifference. What have you seen? What is your opinion?

  • Kimber

    I really, REALLY don't want to see my loved ones mummified. I don't want to ever see my child embalmed, waxy, fake. I don't want to see my parents or anybody like that. I'm totally with you!

  • Sam's Life

    I personally want to be cremated and my ashes spread over Wal-Mart so my wife will visit me. My fourteen year old son says he wants to have an open casket because he looks so good everyone should have the chance to look at him one more time.

  • Flamingo Dancer

    What about cremation? Cardboard casket and then ashes scattered?

  • Kimber

    Ha! That's funny–oh to be fourteen and so confident again!

  • Kimber

    My brain tells me that cremation has to be the best answer–takes up less space, after all. Simple. But there is some part of me that would prefer to just dig a hole and rot, I guess. I cannot logically explain that–burial should seem more gruesome to me than incineration, but something in me has always balked at the idea. Maybe it is somehow subliminally connected to stories of the holocaust, or that in my childhood I survived two different and completely devestating house fires. I don't know. As for what happens to me, I don't care–it's deciding what I should do for others that perplexes me!! I think we need a live volcano to jettison them into. That might be a good end.

  • viki

    Something else that our family learned from sad personal experience may be of interest here. After one has purchased the plot, the funeral has been conducted, the ceremonial kiss has been partaken of, and the hole covered up, the plot actually reverts to the ownership of the cemetary. So, even after you have gone to all the trouble and expense of burying your loved one, legally the cemetary owners can prevent you from doing anything-including cleaning the headstone-to the burial site. That is the truth in Washington state. My sister had to get a restraining order against the cemetary owner so that she could WASH off her baby's headstone.
    When my sister moved to another area, they considered moving their baby. However, the cemetary owner would not allow another person/contractor come in to exhume the coffin, and would charge my sister 15 grand in order for them to do it.

  • Kimber

    Seriously? I have heard horror stories like that about the cemetery in Moses, but wondered if they could possibly be true!

  • Kara

    I knew I was going to like this post when I saw the title. I've had similar thoughts since attending my G's funeral over a decade ago. Why does this have to be so expensive? I want in on your green-burial-space-tree-growing-out-of-my-bosom idea. Sign me up.

  • Kimber

    I bet there's lots of wide open spaces we could use up near you guys! The only problem around here is it would have to be sagebrush growing out of your bosom. . .trees like more water than is native to this part of the world.

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