Ashes Piling Up at Funeral Homes

 Culture, General, Society  Comments Off on Ashes Piling Up at Funeral Homes
Aug 222008

I’ve occasionally talked about my previous career working in the funeral service. Given that, any article about funeral homes tends to catch my eye, as did this AP report about unclaimed cremation ashes at funeral homes.

In the story they talk about how some funeral homes have storage spaces overflowing with the cremated remains of people that are never claimed. I know at the funeral where I worked in Greensboro, we had a closet full, and that was over 20 years ago.

Cremation Urn Most states have laws or regulations allowing funeral homes to eventually dispose of cremains, but some states don’t have anything. This means funeral homes really have to keep the ashes or face litigation later.

I don’t even remember if we had regulations in North Carolina, but I know that most of the funeral homes I know of would never dispose of cremains, and would hold them forever.

The sad part of the story is that these represent people that once lived and had some impact on the world. I guess most were loved by someone. How is it that you wind up at the end of your life with no one who cares enough to at least claim your ashes and scatter them.

I hope I’m never in that boat.

I suppose it has always been hard for me to understand because I come from a southern background where a life is acknowledged after death with a wake, a funeral, and usually a graveside service. I think I don’t so much like the recent trend of “disposal.”

Humankind has a need for rituals and recognition of significant life events. Nearly every culture, no matter how primitive or advanced, develops rituals around life’s major events, and most observe some sort of ritual related to death. I think it would our loss to give these up. We have a chance to share the grieving process,and celebrate and at least acknowledge a person’s life.

Frontline-The Undertaking

 Culture  Comments Off on Frontline-The Undertaking
Oct 312007

I watched most of an excellent and touching Frontline episode last night on PBS. It was called The Undertaking. Thomas Lynch is a writer and poet in a small town in Michigan, and he’s also a funeral director. His family has been caring for the dead in his hometown for three generations. Given my background, this certainly caught my attention. I was not disappointed.

Matt Roush with TV Guide described the show this way:

Steering clear of Six Feet Under irony, this deeply moving meditation on mortality shows the Lynch family business going about its work with quiet reverence. … Far from being depressing, The Undertaking lifts the spirits by reminding us that, in Lynch’s words, ‘The dead matter to the living,’ and that the ritual of a funeral helps return the grieving ‘to life with the certain knowledge that life has changed.’

Lynch believes as do (and recently commented on), “We have in some ways become estranged from death and the dead. We’re among the first couple of generations for whom the presence of the dead at their own funerals has become optional. And I see that as probably not good news for the culture at large.”

The Lynch family believes that the rituals of a funeral are more than mere formalities. “Funerals are the way we close the gap between the death that happens and the death that matters,” Lynch contends. “A good funeral gets the dead where they need to go and the living where they need to be.”

I want to read Lynch’s book now, but I would encourage everyone to try to watch on-line or order the DVD. This was a very thoughtful look at something that haunts us all.