This is a comprehensive guide for consumers making funeral arrangements with or without a funeral director. It contains detailed descriptions of the "tricks of the funeral trade", to avoid unwanted and overpriced goods and services, and how to file a complaint when subjected to unethical funeral home practices. It provides practical information on all aspects of death care, so that family, friends, and church groups can perform some or all of the functions themselves rather than hiring a funeral director. The laws and regulations of each state are described in easy-to-understand language, with listings of "consumer concerns" in states that have inadequate protections for consumers. The individual chapters for each state also include contact information for medical schools that have a need for body donations, crematories, local non-profit memorial societies, and specific statewide cautions about dealing with funeral and cemetery establishments. The Federal Trade Commission's Funeral Rule is explained, including the protections it provides for consumers and also its shortcomings.
In "Caring for the Dead," Lisa Carlson provides both an informative guide to DIY funerals and cremations, as well as a searing exposé of the funeral and cemetery industries.
Carlson divides her book into three sections: "Personal Stories" is a 40-page introduction to the text in which different individuals (including Carlson) discuss their experiences with death and the subsequent disposal of the dead; "General Information" consists of 14 chapters and explains both "traditional" and non-traditional funerals, as well as cremation and body and organ donation; finally, "Caring for the Dead" details the relevant laws and regulations of all 50 US states.
It was the "General Information" section that I found most captivating. I've never had to arrange a funeral (and hopefully I won't need to for some time yet!), so I was woefully unaware of what actually takes place during the course of planning and implementing one. Carlson demonstrates how greed and callousness have pervaded the funeral and burial industries, causing prices to skyrocket while sales tactics plummet to new levels of depravity.
Through manipulative techniques and downright lies, funeral directors convince John Q. Public that embalming is both required by law and essential for public safety (in reality, it is neither, and the chemicals used are actually toxic to the environment), while cemeteries strong-arm consumers into paying maximum price for a minimum amount of real estate, all the while demanding that any upgrades be purchased, installed, and maintained solely by them (for a hefty fee, of course!). Even cremations don't come cheap, as crematories guilt-trip survivors into buying expensive caskets (which will simply be destroyed within days) and cemeteries deceive them into buying niches in which to "bury" the cremains.
While this is all quite appalling, it hardly comes as a surprise; after all, it's just another example of capitalism at its worst. Harder to comprehend is how funeral homes and cemeteries are allowed to get away with this sort of crap! Well, again, I guess I shouldn't be shocked - we are talking about the FTC here. Like many savvy businesses, funeral homes and cemeteries simply band together in the form of associations, which then employ lobbyists, apply a modicum of political pressure, and top it all off with campaign contributions, and - presto! - the FTC at your command!
End of political rant, back to the book review!
In essence, the "General Information" section serves as an excellent consumer guide, informing you of your rights, detailing the immoral and sometimes illegal sales tactics you're likely to encounter, and teaching you how to come out victorious over those who wish to separate you from YOUR money and rob you of the valuable opportunity to care for YOUR dead, YOUR way. The final chapters on state-by-state laws offer an excellent supplement to the general information.
I highly recommend "Caring for the Dead" to EVERYONE, whether you anticipate planning a funeral in the near future or not. Many Americans are duped into buying funeral and burial services that they neither need nor want. Chances are that, sooner or later, we'll all be responsible for "caring for the dead," or will know someone who is. As consumers (it sounds rather crass, but `tis true!), we must arm ourselves with information so that we aren't caught off-guard when a death does occur. After all, we shouldn't expect those involved in the funeral business to look after our bests interests; the bottom line is that they're businesspeople who are concerned about their bottom lines! Educate yourself, and share your knowledge with your friends, your family, and anyone you know who's in the unfortunate position of having to arrange a funeral or cremation.
Another excellent book that deals with this subject is "The American Way of Death Revisited," by Jessica Mitford (to which Lisa Carlson contributed). Ms. Mitford deals with the subject in more of a muck-raking journalistic manner (as opposed to a consumer guide, as is "Caring for the Dead"), but it's a highly informative analysis of the "American death" nonetheless. After developing a sense of the funeral industry's antics in "Caring for the Dead," you'll appreciate Mitford's dry wit and humor in "The American Way of Death Revisited."
Books like this should be required reading for every American who anticipates dying. A short* yet comprehensive analysis of the "American way of death" and its tricks and alternatives, Caring for the Dead opens the reader's eyes to possibilities outside the box (pun intended) and the need for constant vigilance in dealing with the funereal profession. While far from the only book to deal with this subject, it may be one of the most accessible because of its relatively short length and easygoing voice. My one caveat is that, as more time passes and states' funeral laws change, the reader should probably go to the Funeral Consumers Alliance website to make sure they're working with current law for their state.
*Don't let the high page count fool you. The book is about 200 pages of information everyone should read plus 450 pages of state-by-state breakdown of funeral law. Unless you either plan on planning funerals in all 50 states or are a real funeral law wonk, you can skip a lot of that section.
This book is exactly what I was looking for -- an encyclopedia of information on taking control of the bureaucracy of death, and dealing with the the remains of a loved one. When it arrived in the mail, I set it aside, thinking it would be a depressing read. It was not - it was uplifting to read story after story of people taking control, making decisions and taking action - performing truly loving act by caring - in the most literal sense - for a dead family member.
Laws vary from state to state, and this book covers the intricacies of and dealing with them all. I'm glad to have this information, and that it's something that we can talk about in our house.
If you want to know whether or not you can be buried in your back yard you should read this book (the answer depends on what state you live in and whether or not you can get the correct certificates to transport a dead body in a timely fashion). It's also full of useful suggestions like: if you want to make your own coffin and have it handy, you can use it as a bookshelf while you're waiting. This should be attractive to many Good Reads readers.
Informative and disturbing -an excellent reference for anyone hoping to do right by their dead, or hoping their left-behinds will do right by them. Bottom line: don't take any crap from anyone and ask to see it in writing.
- Interesting true stories of the funeral trade, anecdotes, your rights, etc. I think this is pushing me more and more toward home funerals for me and mine. They have genereal information in the beginning of this book and state-specific information after that. I will admit I glossed over most of the states except Iowa. Interestingly enough, when this book went to print, the death rate in Iowa could support 116 full time mortuaries. We have 582. G'damn! Also in most circumstances, it is really easy to get ripped off if you prepay for your funeral for a variety of reasons.