Fun Funeral Facts by Gail Rubin, CT

Want to impress your friends with your knowledge of funeral facts? Here are some choice tidbits of information to toss out at the next party you attend.

Casket Versus Coffin

A casket is a rectangular box with a lid. A coffin is a six-sided box, wider at the shoulders and narrower at the feet. Caskets are more commonly used in the United States than coffins.

Cremation – Your Last Chance to Have a Smoking Hot Body

Classic RetortCremation reduces a body to brittle bones by exposing it to high heat and flame in a special furnace called a retort. Retorts generate temperatures of 1,600 to 2,400 degrees Fahrenheit.

The remaining bones are ground up in a blender-like machine called a cremulator. Any metal parts that survive the cremation, such as hip or knee replacements and dental work, are screened out before the remains are returned to the family.

In 1960, the percentage of Americans choosing cremation was 4%. The National Funeral Directors Association predicts the national U.S. cremation rate will exceed 50% in 2015.

There are no Cremation Police. You can scatter cremated remains just about anywhere. It’s a good idea to ask permission before scattering on private property.

It’s not illegal to scatter on public lands. You can get permits to scatter in most national parks. What is illegal is erecting a monument or placing a marker at the location of the scattering.

For those clients concerned about global warming, cremation does have a large carbon footprint. The cremation of an average sized person generates 532 pounds of CO2. It’s the equivalent of driving a car for 547 miles.

Cremation is an irreversible process that destroys DNA, the individual biomarkers in our cells. Some funeral homes offer a simple way to preserve DNA should the family someday wish to access that genetic information for ancestry or medical reasons.

From Hot to Cold

Cryonics involves cooling legally-dead people to liquid nitrogen temperature (around -124°C) where physical decay essentially stops. The hope is to revive them and restore them to youth and good health by future technologically advanced scientific procedures.

Neurocryopreservation is the practice of removing and cryopreserving only the head of a person declared legally dead. The theory is that only the information contained in the brain is of any importance, and that a new body could be cloned or regenerated at some point in the future.

Cryonic preservation requires advance funding by potential clients. You can’t just say, “I’ll pay you later.”

Embalming – a North American Phenomenon

The United States and Canada are the only countries in the world where embalming is widespread, considered routine and required. Despite notions to the contrary, embalming is almost never required by law.

For a viewing longer than 30 minutes with more than just the immediate family, many funeral homes will insist on embalming. In most cases, refrigeration can suffice before a body is buried or cremated.

The Centers for Disease Control has never prescribed embalming as a public health measure. Most dead bodies do not pose a health risk. Funeral directors pick up un-embalmed bodies from hospitals and homes all the time, usually dressed in business attire, not hazmat suits. They do use protective gloves when handling bodies.

Your Friendly Funeral Director

Funeral directors are generally the nicest people you will meet. Most folks are so afraid of death, by extension, they are afraid of the people who are there to help when there is a death in the family.

The family can conduct funerals themselves at home without the involvement of a funeral director in all but nine states (CT, FL, IL, IN, LA, MI, NE, NJ, NY). In spite of the ability to handle the death care arrangements for their own loved ones, most families prefer handing it over to professionals.

Funeral directors help families get through what may be the worst day of their life. While you can still laugh in the face of death, you can make that day less awful. Plan ahead and make arrangements, before there’s a death in the family.


Gail A Good GoodbyeGail Rubin, CT, is a death educator who uses humor and funny films to attract people to discuss mortality, end-of-life, estate and funeral planning issues. The Doyenne of Death® is Certified in Thanatology: Death, Dying and Bereavement, author of the award-winning book and host of the TV and radio shows A Good Goodbye: Funeral Planning for Those Who Don’t Plan to Die and creator of Mortality Minute radio spots. Her website is

A Good Goodbye