“The Art of a Funeral: Myths vs. Facts”

Oxford-Lafayette residents were treated to an inside view of the funeral industry on July 18 when Coleman Funeral Home hosted the second presentation in its three-part series, “The Art of a Funeral.”

“I get questions almost on a daily basis about some topics,” said funeral director and embalmer Glenn Coleman, who co-owns the establishment with Tom Fowlkes. “We are trying to educate you, the consumer, about issues and misconceptions in the funeral industry. Some are legal, some technical, some about customs.”

In Mississippi, Coleman said, funeral establishments are required by law to have a suitable space to host funerals, space for viewings, a merchandise room with at least six full-size caskets available at any given time, and an embalming facility.

He explained that embalming replaces most of the body’s own fluids with liquid chemicals as one of several ways to enhance a deceased person’s appearance. More importantly, it preserves the person’s body, extending by several days the time available for funeral services or transporting.

In answer to an audience question, Coleman said embalming is not always required.

“It is required for public viewings,” he said. “It is not required simply for immediate family members to have a last look at their loved one.”

Embalming is also required for shipping a body by air or if the body will be transported across state lines.

“There’s some gray area on crossing state lines,” Glenn Coleman said. “A lot of North Mississippi people die in Memphis hospitals, for instance, and it’s understood it’s OK to transport them back to a Mississippi funeral home without embalming.”

Cremation reduces an adult body to a few pounds of minerals. A mobile population, land scarcity in some regions, and personal preferences drive nearly half of Americans to choose cremation.

“We’re more traditional around here, where a lot of folks still want to bury Grandmama in the family plot,” Glenn Coleman said. “Cremation rates in Mississippi and Alabama are around 12 percent.”

When most people think of cremation, he said, they’re probably thinking of “direct cremation” – usually the most cost-effective option – in which cremains are returned to survivors and no further services are involved.

“I think your family misses out on something if there’s no funeral service,” Coleman said. “You may not want to the ‘full meal deal,’ but they need some type of memorial service, in my opinion, to help them through the grieving process and the transition that a memorial service provides.”

Cremation can be done either before or after a funeral.

“You can choose cremation and the person can still be embalmed, have a traditional viewing and a full funeral with a casket,” Coleman said. “The difference is, we head to the crematory to start the cremation process instead of the cemetery for burial. Then we return the cremains to the family.”

Cremains can be buried, scattered, kept in an urn, or made into jewelry and glassware. Cremation also opens options for a person’s remains to be scattered – over mountains or an ocean, on a family farm, in a favorite hunting spot – that would not be practical for burial. (For prices starting at around $2,000 and skyrocketing from there, some companies will even send symbolic portions of cremains into outer space.)

Glenn Coleman told of one Boston Red Sox fan, most of whose cremains were interred at his wife’s grave. Survivors reserved a tiny portion, traveled together to Fenway Park, and dropped a pinch of him over the railing into the outfield during the seventh-inning stretch while other fans were singing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.”

Coleman added, chuckling, “Now, as a funeral professional, I have to tell you, ‘You shouldn’t do that. You don’t need to scatter in public places.’”

Audience questions raised a host of other topics. Among other answers, Glenn Coleman gave these observations:

·         Whether grave vaults are required is up to individual cemeteries.

·         Gasketed metal caskets keep elements out longer than wood or non-gasketed metal caskets.

·         Many rural cemeteries must plan for funding long-term maintenance or face the likelihood of abandonment with a generation or two.

·         Organ donation depends not just on signing a card but on securing the agreement of close survivors; organ harvest from donors almost always happens in a hospital.

·         If cremains are not buried, having a permanent marker or a favorite symbolically to “visit” the loved one can be a help to surviving family members.

Both sessions of the informal seminar ended with a visit to Coleman Funeral Home’s casket display room and, for a few adventurous souls, its clinic-like prep room.

“I hope you have learned something worthwhile today,” Glenn Coleman saidOn August 15, Coleman Funeral Home of Oxford will host the third session in its “The Art of a Funeral” series at noon and 6 p.m.

The sessions – “Why Should One Have a Funeral?” “Myths vs. Facts,” and “The Planning Process” – will be repeated at the new Coleman Funeral Home facility in Olive Branch (6815 Parkview Boulevard, across from the YMCA) at noon on Aug. 22, Sept. 12, and Oct. 5. A light lunch will be served.

RSVPs are encouraged and can be made by either calling the facility (Oxford – 662-234-3900 – or Olive Branch – 662-893-3900) or emailing Jeremy Roberts, Director of Operations & Event Services ([email protected]) by noon the day before the event.

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Errol Castens

Errol Castens

Aftercare coordinator, Coleman Funeral Home of Oxford/Olive Branch

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