Book Review: Caring for the Dead: Your Final Act of Love, Lisa Carlson (1997)

May 10th, 2005 11:59 pm by Kelly Garbato

Care for the Dead…and Their Hard-Earned Savings!

five out of five stars

In “Caring for the Dead,” Lisa Carlson provides both an informative guide to DIY funerals and cremations, as well as a searing exposé of the funeral and cemetery industries.

Carlson divides her book into three sections: “Personal Stories” is a 40-page introduction to the text in which different individuals (including Carlson) discuss their experiences with death and the subsequent disposal of the dead; “General Information” consists of 14 chapters and explains both “traditional” and non-traditional funerals, as well as cremation and body and organ donation; finally, “Caring for the Dead” details the relevant laws and regulations of all 50 US states.

It was the “General Information” section that I found most captivating. I’ve never had to arrange a funeral (and hopefully I won’t need to for some time yet!), so I was woefully unaware of what actually takes place during the course of planning and implementing one. Carlson demonstrates how greed and callousness have pervaded the funeral and burial industries, causing prices to skyrocket while sales tactics plummet to new levels of depravity.

Through manipulative techniques and downright lies, funeral directors convince John Q. Public that embalming is both required by law and essential for public safety (in reality, it is neither, and the chemicals used are actually toxic to the environment), while cemeteries strong-arm consumers into paying maximum price for a minimum amount of real estate, all the while demanding that any upgrades be purchased, installed, and maintained solely by them (for a hefty fee, of course!). Even cremations don’t come cheap, as crematories guilt-trip survivors into buying expensive caskets (which will simply be destroyed within days) and cemeteries deceive them into buying niches in which to “bury” the cremains.

While this is all quite appalling, it hardly comes as a surprise; after all, it’s just another example of capitalism at its worst. Harder to comprehend is how funeral homes and cemeteries are allowed to get away with this sort of crap! Well, again, I guess I shouldn’t be shocked – we are talking about the FTC here. Like many savvy businesses, funeral homes and cemeteries simply band together in the form of associations, which then employ lobbyists, apply a modicum of political pressure, and top it all off with campaign contributions, and – presto! – the FTC at your command!

End of political rant, back to the book review!

In essence, the “General Information” section serves as an excellent consumer guide, informing you of your rights, detailing the immoral and sometimes illegal sales tactics you’re likely to encounter, and teaching you how to come out victorious over those who wish to separate you from YOUR money and rob you of the valuable opportunity to care for YOUR dead, YOUR way. The final chapters on state-by-state laws offer an excellent supplement to the general information.

I highly recommend “Caring for the Dead” to EVERYONE, whether you anticipate planning a funeral in the near future or not. Many Americans are duped into buying funeral and burial services that they neither need nor want. Chances are that, sooner or later, we’ll all be responsible for “caring for the dead,” or will know someone who is. As consumers (it sounds rather crass, but `tis true!), we must arm ourselves with information so that we aren’t caught off-guard when a death does occur. After all, we shouldn’t expect those involved in the funeral business to look after our bests interests; the bottom line is that they’re businesspeople who are concerned about their bottom lines! Educate yourself, and share your knowledge with your friends, your family, and anyone you know who’s in the unfortunate position of having to arrange a funeral or cremation.

Another excellent book that deals with this subject is “The American Way of Death Revisited,” by Jessica Mitford (to which Lisa Carlson contributed). Ms. Mitford deals with the subject in more of a muck-raking journalistic manner (as opposed to a consumer guide, as is “Caring for the Dead”), but it’s a highly informative analysis of the “American death” nonetheless. After developing a sense of the funeral industry’s antics in “Caring for the Dead,” you’ll appreciate Mitford’s dry wit and humor in “The American Way of Death Revisited.”

(This review was originally published on Amazon and Library Thing, and is also available on Goodreads. Please click through and vote it helpful if you think it so!)

Be Sociable, Share!

Filed under , , , , , ,

Leave a Reply