The Funeral Ethics Organization
FEO’s mission is to promote ethical dealings in all death-related transactions by working for better understanding of ethical issues among funeral, cemetery, memorial industry practitioners, law enforcement, organ procurement organizations, and state agencies, as well as better understanding between these and the general public. (Lisa Carlson, featured in the film, is this organization’s executive director.)
Funerals: A Consumer Guide
This online pamphlet, produced by the Federal Trade Commission, outlines your rights and options as a funeral consumer under U.S. law, including common types of funerals and suggestions for shopping around. The site also lays out a funeral consumer’s rights under the federal “Funeral Rule,” which states that a funeral provider is required to give the consumer certain information, including an itemized price list, and must allow the consumer to buy a casket from an outside source.
State Laws For Funeral Service Providers
Learn the details of your state’s laws regarding acceptable funeral practices, including whether or not you may care for the body of a deceased loved one. This site, maintained by funeralplan.com, includes legislation information for every state except Virginia. For information about funeral rights in Virginia, see the State Board of Funeral Directors and Embalmers and the Virginia Department of Health.
Planning a Home Funeral
The Funeral Consumers Alliance
A not-for-profit advocacy organization, the Funeral Consumers Alliance works to increase public awareness of funeral options, especially affordable and home funeral options. They also monitor the funeral industry and advocate for political reforms that aim to de-institutionalize death and allow grieving families more meaningful, personal, and affordable options for care of the deceased. Also see their book Caring For the Dead. (see more about the book below)
Affordable Options: A Guide to Funeral Planning
This guide, produced by the Funeral Consumers Association, looks at the major ways people overspend on funerals and suggests affordable alternatives that are often overlooked.
Crossings: Caring for Our Own at Death
Crossings, founded by Beth Knox (featured in “A Family Undertaking”), works to transform society’s attitudes and behaviors at the time of death by making death more meaningful and valuable for the family and community. The site provides inspirational quotes, a FAQ about home funerals, and services to those seeking help and guidance in planning a funeral.
A pioneer in the modern home funeral movement, Final Passages is a California-based nonprofit organization that provides educational materials, consultations, presentations, referrals, and seminars that prepare and support individuals and the community to carry out a home or family-directed funeral. The site contains how-to and legal information for home funerals and a schedule of upcoming workshops and events.
Caring for the Dead: Your Final Act of Love by Lisa Carlson
A comprehensive tome on funeral law for the consumer, state-by-state — discusses how well, or not, prepaid funeral money is protected, ethical standards, and serves as a manual for families who wish to handle a death without the use of an undertaker. Lists crematories; also medical schools and the requirements for body donations. (Upper Access, 1998. 640 pages.)
Bali Royal Cremation
The Balinese bury their dead temporarily, waiting until the nationwide cremation ceremony that occurs every five years, at which time each village has a crematory feast, exchanges gifts, and builds a massive funeral pyre fueled by a colorful, burning wooden bull. Find pictures and a description of the elaborate Balinese funeral rites at this site.
Crossing the Gate of Death in Chinese Buddhist Culture
This article by Dr. Yutang Lin looks at Chinese attitudes towards and rituals surrounding death through the lens of Buddhist culture and religion. For more concise information, visit Chinatown Online’s Funeral Customs Site. Or for a narrative take, read authors Qiu Huanxing and Lu Zhongmin’s account of Funeral Customs in Yunnan Province, China.
Death: A Salon.com Special Issue
Gary Kamiya curates an special issue of Salon, the online culture magazine, on death and dying. The feature includes pieces on death rituals and customs in other cultures, an interview on accepting life’s inevitable end with noted psychoanalyst Irvin Yalom, a gallery of illustrations by five artists engaging visually with the issue of death, and more.
Funerary Customs in the Orkney Islands
Orkney Islanders traditionally believe that funerary rituals safeguard the soul at its most vulnerable moment, death, from the influence of dangerous supernatural forces. Orkneyjar, a site devoted to preserving indigenous Orkney Island culture, explores the death customs of these remote northern islands in Europe and includes excerpts from historical Orkney Island texts and images.
How I Sent My Father to Heaven
Vikas Kamat provides an illustrated, narrative account of his father’s funeral and his own mourning practices in a traditional Indian death ritual.
Huda, a Muslim educator and the writer of about.com’s Guide to Islam, outlines the Islamic protocols for dealing with the deceased and the symbolism behind them.
The Jewish Life Cycle: Death
This site explains the Jewish customs surrounding death – from the washing of the body, tahara, to Yahrzeit, the first year anniversary of a person’s death — and the symbolism behind these rituals.
Also on PBS and NPR
Frontline: The Kevorkian Verdict
This site from Frontline includes “The Death Interviews” with Kevorkian, four patients, and their families, a chronology of Dr. Kevorkian’s life, and a section entitled “How We Should Die in America” in which several doctors explore the future of assisted suicide in the U.S. (1996)
On Our Own Terms: Moyers on Dying
Bill Moyers’ special on end-of-life care asks how to balance medical intervention with care and comfort at the end of life. The site provides personal testimonies from the terminally-ill and their families, audio clips from the series, a glossary of terms, and extensive practical resources on everything from financial considerations to how to be with a dying person. (2000)
With Eyes Open
This Bill Moyers series on mortality, death, and the afterlife explores grief and mourning on a very personal level. For each of the four main sections of the site — Mourning, Intensive Care, Watch and Ward, and Afterlife — there is an expert Q&A, personal stories, and discussion areas. (September 2000)
Religion and Ethics Newsweekly: Jazz Funerals
Religion and Ethics Newsweekly covers New Orleans jazz funerals, unique spiritual celebrations of both life and death full of music and dancing. Watch the video or read the transcript of the Jason Berry’s interview with jazz musician Michael White and historian Sybil Kein. (January 2004)
Religion and Ethics Newsweekly: Jewish Burial Practices
Newsweekly’s Bob Abernathy interviews Rochel Berman, Nancy Klein, and Mina Crasson of the Chevra Kadisha, Jewish Burial Society about the tradition of tahara, the washing and purifying of a dead body, which is considered one of the greatest of all good deeds — mitzvot. Watch the video or read the transcript of the interview on this site, which includes reproductions of paintings depicting Jewish burial practices. (February 2004)
Religion and Ethics Newsweekly Profile: Thomas Lynch
Read Bob Abernethy’s extended interview with funeral director Thomas Lynch, author of The Undertaking: Life Studies from the Dismal Trade. (May 2001)
The End of Life: Exploring Death in America
This extensive website covers death in all its aspects. The site includes transcripts and audio from NPR shows; poetry, images, essays, and excerpts on death around the world and through the ages; an excellent bibliography prepared by the staff of All Things Considered; and extensive web resources. Of particular interest are the Morning Edition segments on home funerals and on alternative funerals.
Morning Edition: Dying in America
A new report, compiled by the national coalition Last Acts, grades the results of that effort, state by state. NPR’s Joseph Shapiro went to a Hospice home in Washington, D.C. — a place known for providing good care — to find out why it’s still so hard to help people die in comfort.
All Things Considered: Burial Society
Jon Kalish reports on Jewish burial societies known as Chevra Kadisha which perform ritual purification for observing Jews who have died. These rites have their roots in Biblical times and make reference to Moses’ journey out of Egypt.