Author Max Alexander has written a moving account of the family-directed funeral of his father-in-law, contrasting it with the conventional and costly mortuary affair for his own father. Here’s a sampling from the March, 2009 article in Smithsonian Magazine:
One was buried, one was cremated. One was embalmed, one wasn’t. One had a typical American funeral-home cotillion; one was laid out at home in a homemade coffin. I could tell you that sorting out the details of these two dead fathers taught me a lot about life, which is true. But what I really want to share is that dead bodies are perfectly OK to be around, for a while.
I suppose people whose loved ones are missing in action or lost at sea might envy the rest of us, for whom death typically leaves a corpse, or in the polite language of funeral directors, “the remains.” Yet for all our desire to possess this tangible evidence of a life once lived, we’ve become oddly squeamish about our dead. We pay an average of $6,500 for a funeral, not including cemetery costs, in part so we don’t have to deal with the physical reality of death. That’s 13 percent of the median American family’s annual income.