Myths abound when it comes to the subject of death. Books and films are replete with examples of myths writ large. There is a myriad of less dramatic myths associated with funeral homes. While funeral myths may be less histrionic, they nevertheless are pervasive and impact the decisions many people make when planning funerals. 

You Must Hire a Funeral Home

The most pervasive myth surrounding funerals is that you must hire a funeral home, that you must hire a professional to tend to the body after a loved one has died. In fact, in nearly all U.S. states a family can tend to a body after death without the assistance of a funeral home. For example, according California funeral law you do not need to hire a funeral home. You are even legally able to transport the remains of a loved one from home to the site of final disposition, provided you obtain a proper permit (which costs $10).

Embalming is Required by Law

Embalming is not required by law in any state in the country, including California. In a few states do require embalming if the burial or cremation will not occur within 24 hours. However, in nearly all states, refrigeration is a suitable alternative to embalming if a burial or cremation will not occur immediately.

Embalming Preserves a Body Forever

There are some types of embalming that do preserve a body indefinitely. This type of embalming was used on high-profile public figures like Lenin and Stalin in the Soviet Union, Mao in China, and Eva “Evita” Peron in Argentina. A very complex embalming process was undertaken in these cases to preserve the remains of these individuals in a manner that permitted them to be placed indefinitely in mausoleums for public viewing.

Standard mortuary embalming does not have the same “lasting power.” The type of embalming undertaken by a funeral home slows but does not permanently stop the decomposition process. A typical embalming by a funeral home will allow a body to hold in a state allowing viewing and presentation for up to a couple of weeks.

Embalming Protects Public Health

Embalming does not protect public health. In fact, the chemicals used in the embalming process end up seeping into soil and water presenting a potential risk to public health. While a decomposing body does present biohazards, these are not necessarily eradicated through the embalming process.

Viewing a Body is Necessary for Closure after Death

A good many people contend that viewing the remains of a deceased loved one is necessary to more the bereavement process forward and permit a sense of closure. The reality is that all people grieve in their own way. Yes, some people do benefit from viewing the remains of a loved one after death, but not all people. Even if a formal viewing is not held, even if a body is not embalmed, arrangements can be made for an appropriate viewing by those individuals who feel the need to bid farewell to a loved one in this manner.

Protective Caskets Prevent Decomposition

Yet another funeral-related myth is that a protective (metal or high-quality wood) casket that is well sealed (gasketed) prevents further decomposition. The reality is that a body will decompose in a sealed or gasketed casket. What oftentimes happens in such a situation is that the decomposition process causes a casket to rust or rot from the inside out because of the fluids released as a result of the decomposition process. In addition, if the body was embalmed, the chemicals used in that process leave the body and ultimately end up in the soil or leech into water.

Sealed Vaults Around a Casket Preserve a Body

Nothing available from a funeral home preserves a body forever. This holds true for sealed vaults around a casket. Unfortunately, another problem exists with sealed vaults. If a flood occurs, sealed vaults are known to pop out of the ground and float away.

Vaults are Required by State Law

A wide spread myth is that state law requires the use of burial vaults around caskets. In fact, no state – including California – has a law mandating the used of burial vaults. Many cemeteries maintain rules requiring the use of vaults They require the use of vaults as means of preventing a grave from sinking downward when casket rusts or rots away and remains decompose. As an aside, vaults are never required by law to encase an urn containing remains. In addition, there is no issue with a grave sinking downward when an urn with cremains is buried. Thus, a cemetery with such a rule based on that contention is likely engaged in a fraudulent business practice.

Cremation Results in Ash

Another persistent myth is that the cremation process itself turns a body into ask. In fact, after the cremation process itself, bone fragments remain. These fragments are then turned into small pieces akin to aquarium gravel with the use a specialized instrument.

Cremains Must be Kept in an Urn and Buried or Place in a Mausoleum

One myth that is becoming fairly widely dispelled is that cremains must be buried or place in a mausoleum. In fact, no state has any law on the books the dictate what is done with cremains. Yes, they can be buried or placed in a mausoleum niche. Yes, then can be kept in an urn. However, none of this is required by the law of any state. Some religions do permit cremation but require the cremains to be interred in a manner similar to how a body is handled. The Roman Catholic Church is one such example.

In the final analysis, in order to be certain that you make wise decisions when pre-planning your own funeral or when planning the funeral of a loved one, you need to educate yourself and undertake a reasonable course of due diligence. A very solid starting point is to come to an understanding of the truth behind these wide-spread, persistent funeral myths.