Frequently Asked Questions

PBS Frontline Interview with Thomas Lynch

Why do we have funerals anyway?

A funeral has been described as "an organized, purposeful, time-limited, group centered response to death involving rites and ceremonies during some or all of which the body of the deceased is present." A funeral is the way that we take care of the dead -- by properly and honorably disposing of the body, usually through burial or cremation -- and take care of the living by providing the spiritual, social, emotional and practical context in which to take leave of their dead.

Have we always had funerals?

Since the Neanderthals first buried their dead with ceremony, over 40,000 years ago, human societies have always had funerals. Before we had agriculture or an alphabet, humans developed ways to say goodbye to their dead, to honor them, and to remember them.

What is the difference between a funeral and a memorial service?

A funeral always involves the presence and final disposition of a dead human body as part of the practical and ceremonial obligation. A memorial service is any service that commemorates a death but does not involve the presence or disposition of the dead.

How much does a funeral cost?

Like health-care, education, housing, or transportation, the range of expenses related to funerals is a wide one and will depend upon a number of variables. Staff and professional services, use of facilities, motor equipment, merchandise, cemetery and crematory fees, flowers, music, printing - all of these may be a part of final expenses. What is very helpful is that all funeral home fees are itemized by federal mandate. No discussion of funeral arrangements will be held unless the family has a General Price List in their possession, from which to make informed decisions. The General Price List is available to anyone at anytime who requests one in person at the funeral home, whether or not they are there to make funeral arrangements. Likewise, price information is available over the phone.

How much does a casket cost?

A full range of caskets is available at the funeral home. Prices range from a cardboard container for $79.00 to a carved-top mahogany container for $12,000.00 and everywhere in between. In addition to traditional caskets in wood and metal, cremation caskets are available in a variety of combustible materials and wood. At Lynch & Sons, we believe that the selection of a casket belongs entirely to the consumer. Our job is to make available the broadest possible selection at the most competitive prices. 

Do you have to have a casket for cremation?

For cremation or for burial, all that is required is that the dead body be "in" something so that crematory or cemetery personnel do not have to handle the body themselves. Whether that is a cardboard box or a mahogany box is a matter of indifference to everybody but the family of the deceased to whom that choice belongs.

When should funeral arrangements be made?

There is no especially "right" time to make funeral arrangements. Many families find that planning ahead puts their mind at ease, and for these families pre-arrangements may be very helpful. As many families feel that they need not make these difficult decisions until they have to, and for these families making arrangements when a death occurs makes most sense. For many families attached to religious or ethnic traditions, the arrangements and decisions are fairly simple, following a pattern long established by their church or culture. There is no time when information, education, and open discussion of these matters is not useful. Still, no one can "pre-feel" their feelings or "pre-grieve" their grief, even though they may pre-arrange a funeral.

Should the body of the deceased be present at the funeral?

The presence of the dead human body for visitation and funeral services provides a focal point for all of the changes -- social, emotional, spiritual and practical -- that a funeral service seeks to observe. In a sense, the best way to deal with a death is by dealing with the dead -- confronting the loss, honoring the memory, addressing the religious and spiritual beliefs and disposing of the dead body properly. For some families, the presence of the dead body is too painful to confront while for others, a funeral without the body present seems like the commemorative equivalent of having a baptism without the baby or a wedding without the bride. It lacks an essential witness. It is important for each family to make a decision that suits them best. In the name of convenience and cost efficiency, many people have felt that if they simply "disappear" the dead, they can avoid expenses and difficult emotions. But for most grieving people, going through, rather than around the difficult realities is most helpful and most healing.

Why do some people bury their dead and others cremate? What are some of the reasons for each?

All through history humans have looked for efficient, proper and honorable ways to dispose of their dead and to memorialize them. Burial was and remains the most often used method of disposition. But more and more families, in the last fifty years, have chosen cremation for a variety of reasons. About one in three deaths now ends in cremation in America. As a culture, we are more mobile, less "grounded" than earlier generations and cremation suits this cultural change. A century ago, people were born, lived, and died in the same community. It made sense in such places to bury the dead. Now that is not so much the rule. Our sense of "home" changes many times in a lifetime. So like living, which has become more transient and portable, cremation makes the dead more transient and portable. Cremation may cost less than earth burial -- though the difference is most often in the hundreds, not the thousands of dollars -- because crematory fees are most often less than grave opening charges. Still, when the cost of urns, nitches, or cemetery space for the ashes is added, the cost differences may be very little. Too often we mistake cremation as an alternative to a funeral rather than as an alternative to burial. Unlike cultures where cremation has been practiced widely and well, cremation in our culture has too often been seen as a way to get rid of the dead and avoid any bother or expense associated with the death. In some places cremation is highly ritualized, done with ceremony and symbol and has profound meaning for the living. It is seen as "cleansing," "release," or "reuniting with creation." But in western thought, our ideas about fire are often negative -- it is seen as wasteful or punitive -- and so too often it is at odds with our cultural conditioning. But the value of a funeral does not proceed from what we spend or from what we save. It comes from what we do about the fact that someone we love has died. Both burial and cremation can have positive meanings for a family. The question is not so much "what is done" but "by whom and for what reasons." As with all other important decisions, open discussion and careful consideration help to make for good decisions.

Are there books that cover these subjects -- death, grief, funerals, bereavement, and end-of-life issues?

Lynch & Sons maintains, at each of our locations, an extensive professional library of titles dealing with these subjects. They are available to the general public to borrow. We also make gifts of relevant titles to our local public libraries and maintain the Patrick & Thomas Lynch Collection in Memory of our father, Edward J. Lynch at Wayne State University Department of Mortuary Science. In addition to these resources, Lynch & Sons regularly provides speakers for local civic organizations on practical,ethical, social and consumer aspects of funeral service.

How does one become a funeral director?

In Michigan, as in most states, funeral directors and funeral facilities are licensed and inspected by the state. The Department of Consumer and Industry Practices oversees funeral service in Michigan. A state board of examiners made up of funeral directors and lay people are part of that oversight. In Michigan, applicants for licensure must complete a course of study that requires a minimum of two years of undergraduate school, a year of registered apprenticeship, and a year of Mortuary School (most often at Wayne State University). After studies and apprenticeship have been completed, a National Board exam must be taken and passed and then a State Board exam must be taken and passed before licensure is granted. In Michigan, we have single licensure: any licensed funeral director is also a licensed embalmer. In the past, funeral service, like many professional and occupational groups, was dominated by men. But in the past twenty years, more and more women have entered the field. Over half of the current graduating class of Wayne State University Department of Mortuary Science are women. Those contemplating a career in funeral service would be well advised to contact their local funeral director who can provide detailed information about requirements, practices and expectations. A good deal of information is also available on-line through the National Funeral Directors Association website.




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