A tale of two families—and why funeral directors matter

She was 63 years old; we’ll call her Sally. She was having surgery on a broken ankle that had not healed properly. Her two children had come to see her at the hospital the night before, hugged her and told her they would see her in the morning after she came out of surgery.

There was no danger; it was supposed to be a routine operation. And then she was dead. Heart attack or aneurysm—no one could be sure. All that was certain was that a mother, grandmother, sister and aunt was suddenly gone, and her 27-year-old daughter and 25-year-old son were left with decisions and plans that no one was ready make.

She was going to be cremated. The son and daughter, we’ll call them Mike and Jane, chose a cremation-only firm with the word “affordable” in the business name.

This company is run by very nice professionals, well-meaning people who believe they are providing a service that people are looking for. They advertise that they are serving the needs of those who wish a simple, dignified disposition for their loved ones without the added cost of involving a traditional funeral home. They are very clear in their message: We are here to take care of the body.

I’m not sure why Mike and Jane chose that company, but my assumption is they knew their mother wanted to be cremated and this was the first firm they found on the web. They had never planned a funeral; they had no idea what they were going to need.

I received a call from the daughter. She had called my church because her cousin attended it for a while and she didn’t know where else to turn. My minister referred her to me (see previous articles about my unofficial “parish funeral director” role). He no longer conducts funerals for non-members and sends all such inquiries to me.

When I visited with the daughter, she was distraught. She wanted to have a service for her mother, to honor her life and to gather friends and family together, but had no idea where to turn. She was willing to spend the money. She just didn’t know how.

When family members choose a “cremation-only” firm, they are virtually set adrift to fend for themselves, to take care of all the details that a funeral director would routinely handle. Families do not know this when they make that choice. They find out after the fact exactly what they are missing.

Jane had many questions: Where can we have the service? Who takes care of the obituary? How do we get service folders? What about a video tribute? Who will play the music? Where do I start???

She asked about having the service at my church, but we both agreed that for smaller gatherings, the sanctuary is simply too large. So she embarked on a search and found a lovely little historic chapel in the art district of our city called the Old Trinity on Paseo. You can look it up online to read about how it was built in New Brunswick, Canada, in 1842 and then moved to Oklahoma City, of all places.

It is almost exclusively used as a wedding chapel, and the women who run the chapel are wedding planners and floral designers. Jane’s cousin had attended a wedding there and suggested calling to see if they would be willing to host a funeral. They were most gracious and agreed to a date and time.

I arrived the next day at Sally’s sister’s house for the family meeting and was met by a flustered family. The sister and brother-in-law, two nieces, Mike, Jane and Jane’s husband all sat there looking at me with the proverbial “deer in the headlights” stare.

They knew that there were many, many details to take care of and they had no idea how it was all going to get done. Before we could even begin the family meeting during which I could hear the stories about Sally, we had to spend almost an hour talking through all the elements they wanted incorporated into the service that they were going to have to handle on their own.

After our meeting, Jane was headed to Kinko’s to try to design a service folder and have a picture enlarged to display at the service. Mike was diligently working on the video tribute, and we had a conversation about how it would be played and what kind of sound system the chapel might have. We spent some time working on the obituary, and we discussed music selections.

In other words, I spent the first hour of my family meeting—the time we celebrants spend with family members to help them on their grief journey and to gather information for the service—dealing with all the issues and tasks that a funeral director would have expertly taken on, if there had been a funeral director involved.

Poor Jane was beside herself trying to get everything organized. Finally, I gently said to her, “Sweetie, if you had chosen a funeral home, the funeral directors would be doing all of this for you.”

She looked at me in amazement. “Really?” “Yes, really.”

She was at sea, and didn’t realize that she didn’t need to be—if only they had chosen a full-service funeral home, rather than a disposition firm. She kept saying, “I don’t know how to do this without your help.” Honestly, she should have been saying that to a funeral director, not a celebrant. (Though I am a licensed funeral director, these days I work as a celebrant and educator.)

The day of the service came and I arrived at the chapel an hour early. As anyone who has attended our celebrant training will tell you, we are pretty insistent about showing up early.

Jane, her husband and Mike were already there, trying to get things set up. Amy and Alisha, the chapel coordinators, had arranged to rent a projector and screen so they could show the video tribute, but had no way to hook the computer up to their sound system.

I had brought along my Jambox, a bluetooth wireless speaker (I am not receiving payment for mentioning it in this article) and tried to connect it to the computer. Mike’s computer was a Mac and it was being a snob and not wanting to affiliate with my speaker.

And so, at 12:40, 20 minutes before a 1 p.m. service, I was downloading the video tribute onto a flash drive and setting it up on my laptop, which I knew would connect with the speaker.

As I sat there on the floor in my “funeral suit,” plugging things in and making sure everything was working, my only thought was, “Why isn’t there a funeral director who could take care of this for us?”

The service itself couldn’t have been lovelier. The chapel only holds about 100 people, so it was standing room only as people snugged themselves in to pay tribute to a wonderful woman.

As people arrived, they were greeted with a table of goodies and a glass of wine if they wished. The entire ambiance was warm and felt like a giant hug for this bereaved family.

During the service, I shared her story and talked about her heart, her strength and her love for her family. One of the things she loved to do was buy little trinket jewelry for her 4-year-old granddaughter, so I had found necklaces with beads in the shape of hearts to be the memory take-away.

At the end of the service, Amy and Alisha handed out glasses of champagne, while I handed out heart necklaces to everyone. Then her niece, who adored her like a mother, gave a beautiful toast and everyone stood, wearing their heart necklaces, and toasted Sally.

The service folders were beautiful; the music went off without a hitch, played from Jane’s iPod by one of the chapel assistants; the video tribute worked. It was a very good day.

After the service, as everyone stood around and visited and shared stories, I saw Mike and his father, Sally’s former husband, hauling plants and flowers to their cars, making multiple trips to try to fit all the floral tributes into vehicles not made for such cargo. Again I thought, “Where is the funeral director to help the family?”

I hugged the family and they were overcome with thanks for taking their hands and walking them through the most difficult days of their lives. They said they had no idea that the service would be so wonderful and so perfect. They loved the heart necklaces and the weaving of all the stories of their mother, sister and aunt.

They thanked me for helping with the video tribute and for just being there. I was truly glad that I was there. I was truly sad that a funeral director was not.

Another sudden death, another cremation

He was 70 years old. We’ll call him Bill. He had had some health issues over the past two years, and the last bout of pneumonia had put him in the hospital on a vent. His loving and attentive wife of 50 years and his four children and their spouses sat vigil with him every day.

On Wednesday, the doctors told the family that he was much improved and they were going to take him off the vent and put in a trach so his lungs could continue to heal. They all hugged and kissed him and went home. And then he was dead.

Heart attack or aneurysm, no one could be sure. But what was certain was that this husband, father, grandfather and great-grandfather was suddenly gone, and his wife and children were left in shock, trying to plan a service.

He was going to be cremated. They called a funeral home that uses Certified Celebrants quite often, and as soon as they said they had no church affiliation, no one they wanted to lead the service, the funeral director said, “you need a celebrant.”

When I arrived the next day for the family meeting, I had 16 people in the room—a large group of people, all still having a hard time grasping what had happened. However, we were able to spend our entire family meeting time sharing stories and talking about Bill, because the family knew that all of the details were being taken care of by the funeral home.

Family members had already brought pictures for the video tribute to the funeral home, had told the funeral director what music they wanted played and had dropped off memorabilia to be displayed. They could relax, because their funeral professional, who had given them options and guided them in the planning, was handling everything.

When I got to the service an hour early the next day, the video tribute was playing, the flowers were set up, the display and pictures were ready, the register book and service folders were beautiful and waiting.

The family arrived about 10 minutes before the service, knowing that they didn’t have to be there early to set anything up. I watched as the funeral director gently guided and escorted them into the service, making sure that everyone was taken care of and comfortable.

I watched again as, after the service, the funeral director took the hand of the bereft widow and led her to the foyer, where she could receive hugs, tears and support from the 100 friends who had come to honor her husband.

During the service, we talked about how much Bill had loved his family, and how he enjoyed putting together bags of goodies to give to his kids or to leave as a surprise on their doorsteps.

I had little gift bags to give everyone so they could remember how much he reveled in giving things to others. I asked two of his young granddaughters to help me hand them out to everyone there.

The daughter-in-law who had been in charge of most of the arrangements said to me, “That was so very much more than I could have even imagined. The gift bags just blew us away; that was so perfect. Thank you for telling his story.” I was truly glad I was there. I was also truly glad that a funeral director was there.

What we can learn from these stories

There are several lessons to be learned from these two families’ stories.

1. Busy families are not grieving families. When family members are left adrift, forced to take care of all the service details by themselves, they literally have no time to process, to reflect, to think.

Even for people using a funeral home, the days leading up to a funeral are pretty hectic. Family members are coming into town. Pictures need to be located. Calls and condolences are flooding in. But when you are sitting at a Kinko’s at 10 p.m. the night before your mother’s service, you have absolutely no time to allow yourself to feel, much less begin the grieving experience. You are focused, exhausted and overwhelmed.

Family members should not be messing with a computer 20 minutes before the service; they should be hugging and crying and soaking in the love and support of the people who came to join them in their sorrow. The ex-husband should not have to haul flowers for his former spouse, no matter how understanding his current wife might be.

2. Families want the option of food and drink. I say this to my all of my colleagues— those who can offer food and beverages and those in states that prohibit it: People want to offer hospitality and find a moment of normal in this very unfamiliar situation.

When guests come to your home, your first instinct is to offer sustenance. When guests come at your invitation to honor your loved one, your first instinct is to welcome and thank them with food. People want food and drink!

Some firms have figured this out and are making a wonderful impression and a wonderful profit from these additional services. Some firms choose to offer snacks or even full catered meals, but refuse to allow wine or beer for a variety of reasons.

Some firms in the few states that do not allow food in funeral homes are very happy that they are prohibited from this option. One funeral director I was talking to about this snorted and said, “I didn’t go to mortuary school to be an event planner.”

Really? And what exactly do you think a funeral service is, if not an event—that you are planning?

That sweet family I helped in the absence of a funeral director just wanted to be able to offer guests a small glass of wine when they arrived, and wanted a way to toast their loved one at the end.

This was not a kegger; no one was going to drink to excess, and nothing was spilled. Everyone was comfortable and it was wonderful that the chapel was more than willing to accommodate the request.

3. People don’t know what they don’t know. I know this is a cliché used in training all the time, but just because you’ve heard it before doesn’t mean it isn’t the truth.

A large majority of people who choose stand-alone, cremation-only businesses have no idea that they will be receiving no support, no guidance, no assistance in creating a service. They do not understand what they are facing and that they will be facing it alone.

Would it be helpful if those businesses explained options and offered referrals to another funeral home that would be willing to help families who want services, not just efficient disposition? Would it be helpful if these firms had a list of celebrants who could accompany and assist the family?

Yes, that would be great, but I don’t see that kind of collaboration or cooperation happening anytime soon.

Would it be great if people experienced meaningful, personalized services and realized that they were worth choosing to go to a funeral home that would provide those services for them?

Yes, that is my eternal hope, and it is why we continue to carry the celebrant banner.

We believe in the value of funeral service, and in our assertion that your potential future customers are the people sitting in your chapel today, deciding whether or not what you’re offering is something they want when the time comes for them to deal with a loved one’s death, or to preplan their own service.

Would it be a wonderful day if funeral homes could use their time and advertising dollars to explain how important a funeral is to the grieving family instead of, or in addition to, showing off their chapels or selling preneed?

Yes, that would be a huge step in the right direction, if we could convince funeral directors that families need to know what they have to offer and why they need to have a professional take care of them. Tell families how you can serve them, not what you can sell them.

4. Vacuums are quickly filled. The other interesting result of the service for Sally was very predictable. Amy and Alisha, the wedding coordinators at the chapel the family used, grabbed me after the service. They are very smart businesswomen. They can see an opportunity when it presents itself.

“I think we should put a funeral tab on our website,” Amy said. “This is the third funeral we’ve been asked to do in the past few months. Our chapel is not booked during the week or during the day on weekends, and this would be perfect.”

We chatted for a while, and I mentioned some of the details that they would need to consider, all of which they are more than capable of handling, given their experience with weddings.

And so, for those lonely people at sea after choosing what turns out to be a body disposal firm, this chapel, and thousands of other event and wedding chapels just like it across the country, would be thrilled to step in and fill the void.

They are more than happy to fulfill any request that a family has, they understand the concept of catering and serving drinks and they are proud to be considered event planners. They can learn how to produce video tributes, if they aren’t already offering those for weddings. They certainly can design and print service folders; they know how to greet guests and arrange flowers.

They would be thrilled to have a list of Certified Celebrants for referrals to conduct services, rather than telling families, “We always use the Rev. Rolodex.”

When we first began training celebrants, one of the concerns voiced by a few funeral directors was that we would take services away from funeral homes. I can assure you that 99 percent of the services I am privileged to conduct are in funeral homes.

But I can also assure you that if funeral homes do not find ways to offer the services that today’s families are looking for, others will be more than happy to make use of our skills.

Wedding chapel professionals come to this opportunity focused on serving the customer. They don’t understand the words “We’ve never done it that way before” or “My families don’t want that” or “We don’t allow that at my firm.”

The time is now. When cremation is the overwhelming choice, a funeral home is an optional choice. We need to have a conversation about the message we are giving our buying public.

Either we believe in the sacred time of gathering, how healing it is for families, and the importance of having a funeral professional present to assist the family, or we all decide to become stand-alone cremationonly firms. There is very little leeway in between.

Can we begin to examine how we talk to our families about the value of funeral service?

Can we end the debate about receptions and serving alcohol?

Can we possibly consider that we need to create liaisons between cremation-only firms and full-service funeral homes that could help the family with a service? Can we at least hope that stand-alone cremation-only firms need to rethink their message to the public that disposing of the body is the only important thing that needs to be done when a loved one dies?

Can we embrace the concept that celebrant-led services are among the best advertisements you could possibly place in front of your community?

Can we honor and appreciate tradition while embracing and accepting the challenge of a changing world?

It’s very lonely out at sea, alone. We shouldn’t leave our families there to try to navigate the waters by themselves. If funeral directors don’t step up to help them find their way, someone else will respond.

‘Death simulator’ attraction to open in China

Tired of the same old roller coaster experience at your local theme park? This ride in China will really burn you up.

Samadhi: 4D Experience of Death at The Window of the World theme park is meant to simulate death, cremation and being reborn, according to a UPI.com post.

The ride begins in a “morgue” before riders are placed in a casket and carried on a conveyor belt to be “cremated,” which is simulated by a blast of hot air that reaches temperatures of up to 105 degrees Fahrenheit. The experience is meant to be “an authentic experience of burning.”

Finally, riders crawl up to an image of a womb and emerge in a white, padded room.

The Window of the World’s attractions are based on world tourism destinations, with replicas of the Eiffel Tower, the Statue of Liberty and even South Dakota’s Mount Rushmore.

Organ Donation Conference

On 14 and 15 May Unisa and CTE hosted a conference called RECYCLE YOUR BODY, with interesting and enlightening presentations on tissue, bone, kidney, cornea and skin transplantations.

Here are a few hightlights:

  • While 90% of donors are white, 90% of recipients are black. Because the donor bank is growing older and some of their organs are not acceptable any longer, and the white population in South Africa is gradually decreasing and organ donations are based on supply and demand, there are long waiting lists for all organs and tissue.
  • In South Africa there are thousands of people on waiting lists for kidney donations, only about 200 transplants done per year, and most of these kidneys are imported. In Singapore recipients of kidneys remunerate the donor, and this is controlled by a hospital ethics committee. In Iran the buying and selling of kidneys is legal, there are no waiting lists, and this is overseen by non-profit NGOs. Israel follows a point system to motivate people to donate, and the transplant centre bears the cost of burial and transportation. This ethical debate is still ongoing in South Africa while critically sick patients pray for donors, and the public remains untouched by, unaware of and ignorant about organ donations.
  • Xenotransplantation is currently being researched, with pigs, whose organs are basically the same size as that of humans and very similar, as the most popular ‘donors’. The ethical question: will the recipient, if necessary, appeal for human or animal rights, and should innocent animals be killed to save human lives?
  • The wishes of organ donors who commit their organs or tissue for donation can be vetoed by family members after death.


On an average Saturday, there are 80 to 90 funerals held at Avalon Cemetery in Soweto. More during the winter, reckons the guard at the gate.

As one funeral group enters, another leaves in a convoy that includes cars and two Putco buses filled with people just released from memorial services. From any one funeral, the marquee, buses and crowd of at least two others are plainly visible. And at every funeral the insignia of a different undertaker is painted on to the door of the hearse parked at the gravesite.

“There is lots of competition among undertaker companies. They are trying to outdo each other with speakers and cars,” said Pule Molabatsi, a mourner who came to pay his last respects to a neighbour.

“These are not like white funerals where people are invited,” said Molabatsi. “People from the community are expected to come to the cemetery. Where people can’t afford it, the community clubs together and burial societies step in to help with the costs.”

There are currently more than 100 000 burial societies in South Africa, according to Zulu Ratswana, general secretary of the Burial Society of South Africa, citing research conducted by the insurance sector education and training authority. A funeral can cost about R15 000, Ratswana said.

“The most expensive items are the coffin and the cow that must be slaughtered. A coffin costs R5 000, on average, and the cow about R6 000. Then there is the cost of feeding the people who come for the funeral.”

Funeral insurance policies go a long way towards covering the high cost. Although individuals can hold insurance policies, burial societies have specially designed insurance products so that members who make regular contributions can benefit from the cover.

Lavish expenses
When all is added up, a large amount of money changes hands on a regular basis. In the most recent calculation, funeral insurance contributed R4.9-billion to – and made up 1.7% of – the income of the long-term insurance industry, said Tembisa Marele, communications specialist at the Financial Services Board. This is in addition to a multitude of unlicensed insurance providers, many of which combine undertaker services and contribute to the lower end of the market.

With insurance cover, paupers are turned into princes in death. Research has shown that funeral costs weigh heavily on household funds.

Anxiety and depression
“A large amount is spent on ­animals to sacrifice, other food and on coffins. A quarter of the households borrow money, mostly from moneylenders at extremely high interest rates, in order to pay for the funeral costs.

“Households have fewer assets and report higher levels of poverty for many years after a death and this can be linked to the cost of the funeral, particularly when money was ­borrowed. We have found that children in households that experienced a death and had to pay for the funeral are less likely to be enrolled in school, and that adults in the household are more likely to show symptoms of anxiety and depression, and to report money problems.”

Efforts are under way to break the stranglehold of funeral costs. The Burial Society of South Africa was formed in 2010 as an umbrella body for burial societies across South Africa. “We are trying to say to people not to focus so much on death. It sometimes comes in 40 or 50 years, and who is going to look after the families in the meantime?” said Ratswana.

He said it was a history of deprivation that made rites of death so important. “Over time, black people focused more on burials also because of the history and lack of education because it didn’t give us things to improve our lives.”

Erik Bähre, assistant professor at the Institute of Cultural Anthropology and Development Sociology at the University of Leiden says, “The large expenditure on funerals is not traditional. Among the Xhosa, funerals usually were modest. Only recently did funerals become so expensive, probably since the 1980s. By then, some funerals became important public events in the struggle against apartheid. Comrades used – and some people that I interviewed said abused – funerals as an occasion to struggle against the atrocities of the apartheid regime. This made funerals much more than the burial of a bereaved relative, neighbour, or friend. At these funerals, public performance became more important.

“Although many feel that it is a problem to spend so much money on funerals, they also say that they cannot do anything about it. The main reason is that they are worried about their reputation. They are worried that neighbours might say that they neglected the deceased. The bereaved family is concerned about malicious gossip and that people will say that they are stingy, that they are irresponsible by not putting money aside for the funeral, or some might even say that they never really cared for the deceased.”

Finding space
The trend shows no signs of abating, leaving cemetery land at a premium. There is limited land for cemeteries; municipalities, which are responsible for maintaining them, are hard-pressed to find space.

A source from the City of Johannesburg, who asked not to be named, said there was plenty of “political pressure” on the city to make land available for burial. “In Alexandra township, for example, an election can be won or lost on the basis of burial space,” she said.

Although there is no crisis of space yet, it is suggested that overcrowding is more pronounced in black townships, where the concentration of people and the death rate are highest.

Funerals are, apparently, also going green. Wiesenhof Legacy Parks is a burial site based in Stellenbosch. Its chief executive, Werner Fouche, said that preserving nature is an imperative and their grave markers are as subtle as possible; with a plaque that barely protrudes from the ground as the most conspicuous. Another option is to use a tree as a grave marker.

“Instead of a tombstone, we can plant a tree on the grave and it becomes a living memorial. It is still a new concept,” said Fouche. Although an emphasis is placed on reducing the sinisterness, it is hardly a cheap burial option. Burials cost upwards of R28 000, and scattering ashes over the soil costs R6 000.

Clearly, when it comes to funerals, no effort is spared to comfort the living. But perhaps this is just the way it is. As the French author Antoine de Saint-Exupéry said: “He who has gone, so we but cherish his memory, abides with us, more potent, nay, more present than the living man.”

A deal not to be missed!!


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A preferential price reduction of between R15 000 and R25 000 of the advertised selling price depending on the vehicle (on the pre-owned side all vehicles are priced differently depending on costs, days in stock etc..)



Offering will be cost less 1% in total.

A 1% rebate for NFDA will be paid on a quarterly basis.



A preferential price reduction of between R5 000 and R10 000 of the advertised selling price to the general public depending on the vehicle.


Enquiries and Quote Requests:

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Confessions of a Funeral Director

Last week, a high schooler asked me, “Why are you a funeral director?” After a couple days of thinking about the question, here are ten reasons I’m a funeral director.

One: Service

A couple years ago, a granddaughter was giving her grandmother’s eulogy at the funeral home.  She shared that before she would take naps at her grandmother’s house, her grandmother would warm a blanket in the dryer, and as the granddaughter laid down, the grandma would drape the warm blanket over her.

After the service was over and before the family closed the lid on the casket, I grabbed the blanket that the family had laid in the casket and warmed the blanket.  When I gave the warm blanket to the granddaughter, she couldn’t withhold her tears as now she draped it over her grandmother.

Situations like this arise regularly in the funeral profession.  And, as a caregiver by nature, I find great satisfaction in seeing others have more meaningful death experiences because of my efforts.  I enjoy serving.

Two: Perspective

Emerson said, “When it is darkest men see the stars.”  We try our best to deny the darkness of death; we consciously and unconsciously build our immortality projects, hoping that we can live immortally through them.

And then death.  Weeping.  Our projects come tumbling down.  And it’s in those ashes, in the pain, in the grief, through the tears, we see beauty in the darkness.  This is a perspective that funeral directors are privy to view on a constant basis.  And, in many cases, the darkness can be beautiful.

Three:  Affirmation

Being told, “You’ve made this so much easier for us.” or, “Mom hasn’t looked this beautiful since she first battled cancer”, or “You guys are like family to us” means a lot to me.  It’s important to know that what you’re doing is meaningful for the person you’re doing it for.

That verbal affirmation is a big reason why I continue to serve as a funeral director.

Four: Safe Death Confrontation

When I was a child, I’d lay in bed and imagine myself dying at a young age.  I imagined Death as a Monster.  That fear, though, has dissipated as I’ve both worked around Death and I’ve grown to be comfortable with my own mortality and the mortality of those I love.

Perhaps there’s no greater freedom than to live life with a healthy relationship with Death.  That healthy relationship allows you embracing each moment, realizing that we are not promised tomorrow.  This good relationship with Death has been given to me by the funeral profession.

Five:  Kisses

From old(er) women.  Big sloppy kisses from older women.  And what makes it even better is if they follow up the kiss with a, “If only I was 50 years younger ….”

Six:  Power and Obligation

You give us power every time you open up your family life, your deceased loved one and your grief to us.   And when you give us that power, there’s a certain satisfaction that comes with treating that vulnerability with as much honor as we can.

We honor your loved one as we prepare them.  We honor you as we serve you.  The power you give us, and our obligation to that vulnerability is the grounds that produce honor.

Seven: Lack of the Superficial

There’s so much BS in the world.  People pursing bigger cars, bigger houses and bigger salaries, that we become so materialized we can barely stand honesty, vulnerability and spirituality.

That all changes around death.  Suddenly, you wish that the time you spend pursing that raise had been spent with your dad.  Suddenly, you find some honesty about your life, some perspective and maybe even some spirituality.

I hate BS.  I love honesty.  I love spirituality. And I love watching as death helps us become human.

Eight: Informs my Perspective on God

Whether or not funeral directors are religious, you’ll find that almost all are spiritual.  Whether or not they believe in God, death has a way of making us look at the deep, the beyond and the transcendent.

For myself, so much of my faith has been informed by the doubt of death.  I see God in a whole new dark.  And it’s good.  In fact, I’ve come to believe that God dwells with the broken because – it would seem – he too is broken.

Nine:  Constant Challenge

Somebody said, “It’s the perfect job for someone with ADHD because there is constant change.”   Constant change and constant challenge.

Whether a call at 4 AM; or a particularly tragic death; this job is always pushing us and (hopefully) makes us into stronger people.

Ten:  Our Associates

Today, a nurse – on her own free time – tracked down the hospital release for us.  I told her, “You’re wonderful.”  Every time we interact with hospice nurses, I always praise them for their work, for their love towards the family.  When a church provides a funeral luncheon, I try to tell the workers that they are providing grace in the form of food.  When a pastor totally connects with the family, I tell him/her how great a job they’re doing.

When somebody dies – during the hardest moments of life – we see the best in people.  As I said in the beginning, sometimes the darkness is beautiful; and, sometimes the darkness makes us beautiful.

There’s many a burden to be borne in this business; which is why I have to remind myself of the reasons I remain a funeral director.

Caleb Wilde, 2013

SALGA Workshop

The South African Local Government Association hosted a Gauteng State of Cemeteries Workshop on 27 March, which Mike Collinge, Inland chairperson and Ms Marthie Botha attended.

SALGA presented a framework for standard by-laws on cemeteries, crematoria and undertakers and mentioned the following challenges:

  • land availability
  • lack of knowledge among communities to alternative ways of internment
  • environmentally-friendly cemeteries
  • vandalism
  • limited budgets
  • poor maintenance systems

Important information shared is that only 9 out of the 35 cemeteries in Johannesburg are active as the rest are full. There is not a problem with space in Gauteng but with location.

Dr Matthys Dippenaar shared research that is currently being done in South Africa (first time ever) on the risks posed by cemeteries with regard to contamination of water sources such as rivers, wells, and drinking water sources.

How Green are our burial practices?

Question we get from time to time, is “How green are South Africa’s burial practices?” and “How do our burial practices compare to that of other countries?”

In this presentation we try to answer these questions, while also looking at new burial practices including Alkaline Hydrolysis.

Human Remains as Compost for Crops?

A Seattle, USA architect named Katrina Spade has proposed a new solution for urban food production: convert the recently deceased into nutritious compost to feed the food crops.

The project is called the Urban Death Project, and it describes the process of turning dead humans into food as follows:

The Urban Death Project is a compost-based renewal system. At the heart of the project is a three-story core, within which bodies and high-carbon materials are placed. Over the span of a few months, with the help of aerobic decomposition and microbial activity, the bodies decompose fully, leaving a rich compost. The Urban Death Project is not simply a system for turning our bodies into soil-building material. It is also a space for the contemplation of our place in the natural world, and a ritual to help us say goodbye to our loved ones by connecting us with the cycles of nature.

The donate page explains, “Your gift supports the creation of a meaningful, equitable, and ecological alternative for the care and processing of our deceased.”

Yes: in America today, if you buy compost from the big box stores — or even directly from some cities — you are growing your garden vegetables in composted human waste. Lovely…

The Urban Death Project wants to take it one step further. Instead of just composting the feces and sewage from humans, their idea is to compost the entire bodies of the deceased and turn them into nutrients for urban food production.

From an environmental perspective, of course, the idea of composting human bodies into nutrients for plants isn’t as strange as it might sound. In fact, the far more bizarre ritual is pumping dead bodies full of embalming fluids and burying them in overpriced luxury caskets full of synthetic resins and fibers. Embalming fluids are extremely toxic to the planet, and it seems far more respectful to put the body of a deceased person in the ground and let nature run its course.

After all, your body isn’t YOU. The body is just a vessel for the non-material spirit (consciousness) which leaves the body at the moment of physical death. If your time with your physical body is over, then why not return the body to the Earth from which it came in as natural a state as possible?

So from that point of view, at least the intention of the Urban Death Project can’t be faulted. The architect, Katrina Spade, appears to be approaching this from what she sees as a holistic community solution. But she’s so far missing some huge problems with this plan, as I’ll detail below. In fact, the Urban Death Project, if pursued as described on the website, would actually accelerate the death of the very same population it claims to help sustain.

Composting does not eliminate heavy metals and toxic chemicals

To understand the contamination problem with the Urban Death Project, consider this Q&A on the project website:

Q: Is it safe to compost bodies?

ANSWER: Composting creates heat, which kills common viruses and bacteria. Research into mortality composting of livestock has found that the temperature inside the compost reaches 140 degrees Fahrenheit, which is high enough to kill off pathogens. Farmers are using mortality composting in order to safely dispose of their dead livestock, as well as to control odor and runoff. The Urban Death Project is fine-tuning this process to be appropriate and meaningful for humans in an urban setting.

The problem with this explanation is that compost heat does not eliminate toxic heavy metals or toxic chemicals. It also doesn’t eliminate prions, the folded proteins associated with Mad Cow Disease.

The average urban dweller’s body, it turns out, is a toxic stew of lead, cadmium, mercury, fluorine, pesticides and other chemicals.

A typical city-dweller living in America today has an atrociously high level of toxic mercury in their teeth. On top of that, they have also bio-accumulated extremely high levels of lead, cadmium, arsenic and other toxic heavy metals which persist during composting. Lead is often bound to calcium in the human skeletal system. As those bones decompose, they release the lead which becomes part of the composted soil. This lead, in turn, is taken up by plant roots and shuttled into the food crops to be eaten by other humans.

Composting human bodies, in other words, would concentrate the toxic heavy metals and chemicals which are already causing a wave of degeneration and disease around the world. In fact, the mass of a modern human body would be considered “environmentally hazardous” by the EPA if it were water. That’s because humans bio-accumulate and concentrate the toxins of modern agriculture, animal feed, toxic medicine and toxic home building materials.

The Urban Death Project advocates precisely the kind of activity which would concentrate these toxic heavy metals to higher and higher levels in the urban food supply:

Loved ones are encouraged to take some compost back to their own yards and gardens. The compost is also used to nourish the site, and city parks use it to fertilize plants and trees. In this way, the dead are folded back into the fabric of the city.

From a scientific point of view, if a society is composting human bodies and human waste back into the food supply, that same society is inadvertently accumulating toxic heavy metals into higher and higher concentrations with each successive death. Over time, this creates an acutely toxic compost system giving rise to an acutely toxic food supply that accelerates disease and death, thereby reinforcing a vicious cycle of poisoning and death.

From: Natural News, 24 March 2015

Embalming Course

The first 8 learners successfully completed the 2-week embalming course held at Thom Kight & Co, Johannesburg. They have received NFDA certificates and will each have a business card with a unique number.

Luvo Titi Titi Funerals, Mthatha We are going to advertise on our website that we offer embalming and this will change the face of funerals.
Chantel Channer Thom Kight & Co, Johannesburg The course was presented very well in that the theory was combined with the practical, so that when I came across a blocked artery, we had a long discussion about it and I could apply the knowledge right away.
Lovemore Nhiwatiwa Collinge & Co, Fourways I see this as the future of the industry. We are prepared now to meet clients’ requests.
Wickus Dreyer Sonja Smith Funeral Home, Centurion I don’t regret attending this course. This will give our company the edge.
Oshir Jadoo Imbali Funeral Furnishers, Durban I learnt very quickly because we could also follow the information in our notes.
Edward Louwrens Olivier Grobbelaars and Church Street Funeral Services, Pretoria I have done a course in Embalming previously and could show the other trainees different techniques. This was a good refresher.
Vishnu Nellathumby Rand Funerals, Benoni The most difficult part is finding and lifting the arteries. Once you have achieved that the rest is easy.
Qaasim Muhammad Mogoai JD Funerals, Johannesburg It was wonderful to open up a body and see how the Creator has put a person together.


Only one space left.

Deadline for bookings and payment 8 April 2015.