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Simple Funeral Arrangements

Updated on January 12, 2016

The Case for Modest Funerals

Many funeral plans are dictated by religious ceremonies and traditions. I have nothing but respect for those traditions. But more and more people consider themselves spiritual rather than religious. Many have no ties to particular churches. These people have a wider range of options when it comes to funeral arrangements, including the option of leaving this world quietly, without. fanfare. Funeral plans don't have to be elaborate and funeral costs don't have to be out of control.

I have discussed my personal preferences with my family. I would like my body to be quietly cremated, with nothing more than a modest gathering of family and friends to mark the event. The most common objection to my idea for a modest funeral is that the funeral is not for me, but for loved ones. That is a powerful objection. My answer is that my wishes are just that - wishes. If my family chooses to go forward with a traditional funeral, I won't be around to object. I just want to make my wishes known. I'm going to describe the kind of funeral I prefer and explain how it could be arranged.

I know that this is a sensitive subject. Many people refuse to discuss their own funeral because it somehow represents "thinking about death." My answer that is that death is insignificant. Planning a very modest funeral is my way of "not thinking about death." I prefer not to make a big thing out of it. The pain of death comes from separation. A funeral does nothing to lessen that pain.

The Casket vs. the Urn

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Cremation is at the center of my idea for a modest funeral. I was somewhat surprised to learn that cremation does not involve a roaring fire. Modern day crematories are more likely to use industrial machines that efficiently incinerate the body. I was even more surprised to learn that what we call "ashes" are not ashes at all. The remains commonly placed in an urn following cremation consist of tiny pebbles from the brittle, calcified bones. These tiny pebbles are further refined into a fine sand which we call "ashes."

The Catholic Church recently clarified its position on cremation. Cremation is an option for Catholics, however traditional burial is preferred. I have also read that Orthodox Jews forbid cremation, but it is an option for Reformed Jews. Members of these faiths will be more familiar with the rules. I am only pointing out that cremation is an option that is growing in popularity. It is the hottest trend in the funeral industry (sorry).

There is a myth that you are required to purchase an urn to house the remains. The crematory will give the family a simple container and you may do what you like with the contents. It is also a myth that it is illegal to dispose of the remains in places like golf courses or other favorite spots. As long as you have permission for property owners, most states have no laws against disposing remains as you choose. Without a packaged memorial service or an expensive urn, the total cost of a cremation should run somewhere between $500 to $1,000

The Memorial

Sparky Anderson was one of the most famous managers in the history of baseball, When he died, the funeral would have attracted everyone who is anyone in the world of baseball. His family chose instead to bury him quietly - no funeral, no memorial. I did a little research on the story. They say Sparky made the decision when a priest spotted him in a hospital room and left the bedside of a dying man to greet Sparky and talk baseball. At that moment Sparky made up his mind there would be no church funeral for him, though he was a devout Catholic.

"Sparky" was gone when he retired from baseball. He was George to his family and they had no desire to resurrect "Sparky" for a showcase funeral. By all accounts, George left the world quietly in the loving embrace of his family. There was a feeling among some that they were deprived of the chance to say good-bye to the man they loved.

That's why the memorial is the most complicated aspect of any plan for a modest funeral. Complicated because the wish for quiet anonymity conflicts with the wishes of friends and family to gather for a traditional farewell. I searched for some kind of compromise. My preference would be to do nothing. Call the crematory; have them dispose of the body and that's it. People can mourn of celebrate as they like. That's my idea. But people want some kind of service or gathering or memorial where they can say good-bye. Is there a way to compromise?

Maybe a virtual funeral is the answer. Invite everyone to visit a website designed for the occasion on a specific date a couple days after the death. I could have a video for visitors to view where I say goodbye and express my gratitude to them. There could be a way for visitors to say their good-byes and pass on their thoughts to my family. This simply makes the most sense to me. No one has to travel any great distances, or feel guilty about not traveling. People have their chance to say good-bye without anyone having to put a big dinner together or worry about arrangements. Just a website. I haven't thought of any negatives or pitfalls in this plan. Maybe it seems a bit impersonal, but in my video, I would invite everyone to talk to my family if they would like to visit. If I have a widow, I think it would be better to visit her quietly than to give her a hug in a big crowd at a church or cemetery. Visit when you can arrange it to suit your own schedule.

I need to think more about the virtual idea. It could be that it's already being done and I just haven't heard about it. The point is to find a way to honor my wish to pass without ceremony and respect the wishes of family and friends to say good-bye. My sons could have a kind of open house that day, so people who visit the website would have another option to see the family. Everyone welcome, but no formal dinner and no schedule - just a home open that day for those who want to share their feelings in peace and in person.

Social Media and Other Online Accounts

Someone told me about a service that closes your social media accounts when you die. This becomes an important issue as we do more business online and more and more socializing takes place online. You may have an account that is generating income and you want to pass it on to your spouse or one of your children. The video in this section gives you a quick overview of some of the issues and how you can arrange to have your wishes carried out when you are gone.

The point here is that we shouldn't leave everything to others because we "don't want to think about it." At the same time we should not make demands that place a hardship on people after we go. That includes insisting on "no funeral" if that decision is going to hurt family members who need a traditional memorial for what they call "closure." Make your wishes known, but leave wiggle room, maybe a Plan B to avoid family fighting. Include an option for a memorial service at the crematory in case the family just is not ready for a virtual memorial.

My purpose is not to tell anyone what they should do. Rather, it is to stimulate thinking. Think just long enough to decide what you want and then make your wishes known. Funeral arrangements don't have to be packaged. Funeral costs don't have to be high. Go visit people while they are here. Spend time with friends while you can, even if they live far away, and especially if you know the end is near. Don't wait for a funeral to express how you feel about them. Our real life is not here and I believe our real life never ends

Funeral Song from TV's NCIS


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