Thursday, June 2, 2011

Crematoria Exemption Legislation Passes

LD 286, "An Act To Allow Oak Grove Cemetery To Operate a Crematorium on a Parcel of Land Less than 20 Acres" was passed and became effective on 05/24/11. Current law allows crematoria only in cemeteries with 20 or more acres of land, which have been operated for at least two years. This bill specifically exempts Oak Grove Cemetery in Gardiner and Kelley Family Cemetery in Steuben from these criteria. The full text of the bill may be read at on the Maine Legislature's web site.


Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Cemetery vandals’ sentences include $20,000 in restitution

Two convicted vandals of Riverside Cemetery in Lewiston were ordered by a judge Tuesday to pay $20,000 in restitution — roughly half the estimated damage to more than 100 toppled headstones and monuments. Read the entire article on the Bangor Daily News.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

The Rise of Home Funerals

Over the past decade, a trend toward holding home funerals has been gathering momentum (legal in all states except Connecticut, Delaware, Indiana, Nebraska and New York as far as I have been able to determine). This may be due in part to a more environmentally aware, or “green” attitude among us, or a response to increasingly expensive commercial funerals. Perhaps it is simply a manifestation of a desire to return to simpler times and giving a more personal farewell to our loved ones. Regardless of the reasons, the trend shows no sign of abating.

It seems odd to me, that in a society that is inundated daily with images of violence and death on television, in movies, on the internet, and even in print, most Americans never deal with death up close and personally. When a loved one dies, she or he is typically attended by a spouse and a very few close family members or friends, and strangers in the form of care givers and medical professionals. That is in fact how my father's death occurred in a nursing home in 1998, to my regret.

From that point onward, we hand off the body to other strangers who prepare it for a funeral-frequently arranged and presented by yet more strangers-and burial or cremation. We absolve ourselves of the responsibility for the final act of love we can provide for our loved one’s earthly remains. In doing so, we also deny ourselves an important outlet for our own grief. How terribly sad.

A home funeral is the antithesis of the commercial funeral, in more ways than one. A typical home funeral might consist of a memorial service, a wake, a religious ceremony, a viewing, or a combination thereof. It is an extraordinarily intimate and personal experience for everyone involved. Friends or family members help wash and dress the body, build or decorate a casket, plan a memorial service, and/or accompany the deceased to the burial site or crematory. In Maine, one needs only a valid death certificate, a permit giving permission to transport the body for disposition, and that the remains be disposed of in a safe and respectful manner-usually burial or cremation. (Maine law does not mandate a viewing or embalming.)

In June of 2005, Rachel S. Cox wrote a very nice article on home funerals, which was published in the Washington Post. You can read the article here.


Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Cemetery in Danger of Eroding?

Altered drainage patterns and erosion likely are threatening the stability of a cemetery in Winslow, Maine. The Fort Hill Cemetery is losing soil at the rear of the site, along the bank of the Sebasticook River, allegedly due to erosion caused by the removal of the Fort Halifax Dam in 2008. Learn more.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

American Attitudes

Americans have become increasingly separated from dealing with death and dying over the past hundred years or so. In the not so distant past, it was common for family members to live together in multiple generation households, so they were used to being around one another to a degree often lacking in modern America. Just as folks took care of the people with whom they lived, they also cared for those who died among them.

Friends and relatives kept a deathwatch as the life of a loved one was approaching its end. When someone died, their family would prepare the body for final disposition, in accord with their religious practices. These preparations were frequently done out of a sense of duty and tradition, but often were a necessity for the indigent and those living in frontier conditions. Our not-so-distant ancestors viewed death as an inevitable aspect of life, not as a source of horror and revulsion. But, over time, attitudes toward death and dying have altered as we have become more insular individuals.

Have you noticed that in modern America, we don’t die? We may pass away, move on, expire, kick the bucket, give up the ghost or even buy the farm. We become dearly departed and are laid to rest, rather than buried. Sometimes, I think we will do anything we can to avoid speaking about the subject of death in a direct and forthright manner. Maybe we Americans have trouble talking about death and confronting it head on, because we have been insulated from it all our lives. We don’t typically live in multiple generation households any more, so when our elderly relatives die, it takes place elsewhere. That is, most people no longer die at home, but in nursing homes, extended care facilities, hospice, or hospitals.

In the very early 1900s, a profound change in the American attitude toward death took place. After a death had occurred, we started handing off the duties of preparing the bodies of our loved ones for final disposition to someone else-the funeral director. And if that’s not enough, the person to whom we give this responsibility is a stranger in the vast majority of instances! The focus of the grieving and funeral processes moved from the private home, to the commercial funeral home. Can you imagine what our ancestors three or four generations back would have thought of this? By retaining a third party to prepare the body for disposition, we further insulated ourselves from death. While in many cultures taking care of the body of a dead relative is an honored tradition, in modern America it has been reduced to a simple matter of writing a check for services received.

Barring tragedy, most of us do not have to take care of a dying or dead relative any more. As with any skill that isn’t used, our collective ability has atrophied. Even so, there is a small but growing resurgence in a return to the old ways. That, however, is a tale for another day.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Bereaved Consumer's Bill of Rights Act of 2009

H. R. 3655, Bereaved Consumer's Bill of Rights Act of 2009, was introduced to the House of Representatives in September of 2009. It would direct the Federal Trade Commission to establish rules to prohibit unfair or deceptive acts or practices related to the provision of funeral services. Here is the official summary:

9/25/2009--Introduced.Bereaved Consumer's Bill of Rights Act of 2009 - Requires the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to prescribe rules prohibiting unfair or deceptive acts or practices in the provision of funeral goods or services. Includes among such rules requirements pertaining to: (1) costs and fees; (2) contract language and disclosures; (3) rules, regulations, and conditions of purchases; and (4) cemetery records. Makes the rules applicable to tax-exempt organizations, religious organizations, and states and political subdivisions. Allows a state, as parens patriae, to bring a civil action on behalf of its residents in U.S. district court to enjoin an act or practice that violates an FTC rule issued under this Act, enforce compliance with the rule, or obtain other relief. Requires a state to provide notice to the FTC of any such action and gives the agency the right to intervene. Prohibits a state, during the pendency of an action instituted by or on behalf of the FTC, from instituting a civil action for violation of a rule against a defendant named in the agency's complaint.

The full text can be viewed here.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Q: Why are graves six feet deep?

A: In Maine, there is no requirement in statute or rule that a grave has to be six feet deep. This is a tradition that began in London, England during plagues of the mid-1600s.

English law once required a burial depth of six feet to ensure the corpse didn’t spread the plague to the living. Of course, this measure was ineffective as fleas infected with the plague probably spread the disease. Also, few diseases are contracted from contact with dead bodies.

The Lord Mayor of London mandated that all graves should be at least six feet deep. This was collaborated by various written accounts, including A Journal of the Plague Year by Daniel Defoe. Defoe notes that the Lord Mayor’s orders were published in June 1665. There were gruesome descriptions of early cemeteries as being “littered with bones and bits of charnel.” Shallow graves allowed scavengers (presumably both human and animal) to easily dig up the remains.

A six foot burial depth may be a common custom, but many corpses are no longer buried at that depth. Many states don’t have a depth requirement for burials, such being the case in Maine. In California, however, caskets must be covered by at least 18 inches of dirt and turf. But somehow “one-and-a-half feet under” doesn’t sound quite as catchy as “six feet under.”