Part of my job, as a death doula, is to help people plan their funerals. These days, there are more options than ever before. Home or living funerals are rising in popularity. You can be buried in a shroud and help feed the trees. Or you can be cremated and put inside some jewelry. One of my favorite ideas is also rather new – destination funerals.
Back in my little town
I was born in Dunmore, Pennsylvania right outside Scranton. My Irish great-grandparents settled in, and their offspring’s offspring stayed for decades. My parents moved away in the 1970s. Afterwards, slowly but surely, other aunts, uncles and cousins migrated. Now we are all over the country, and world.
For a while, we returned to Scranton for weddings and reunions. But people started getting married elsewhere and reunions happen online. Most of us only go back now for funerals. A few years ago, while gathering for a memorial service in late fall, we noticed it was a bit cold. Kind of miserable really.
I floated the idea of destination funerals.
My pitch included the phrase, “They’ve gone to a better place. Why can’t we?”
It went over like a lead balloon.
An idea whose time has come
Like my campaign against trans fats in the 90s, this took a while to catch on.
These days, people are considering ideas they’d have disregarded just a few years ago. Younger people completely pre-plan funerals while healthy and wonder how to make it a unique experience for everyone. Some want to plan a body-free memorial service because they’re donating their organs and tissues to science. I’ve even been asked how to shoot cremated remains up into space or help people become part of an eco-friendly coral reef project.
Why not consider destination funerals too?
The easiest way to plan and execute destination funerals is to be cremated. The rules for transporting cremains are less stringent, and less expensive, than moving whole bodies.
But moving whole bodies isn’t impossible.
Call your favorite local funeral home and ask about shipping charges. If this is done domestically, the funeral director will partner with a director at your destination. They’ll work it out together.
Usually that means the local funeral home will pick up your body wherever you die. They’ll get it to the funeral home and refrigerate or embalm, whichever you prefer. They’ll prepare the body for travel – which can include a casket but doesn’t have to – and then transport the body to the airport.
The destination funeral home will pick up your body when it arrives and take it from there – connecting with the cemetery or burial arrangement you secured at that location. Again, it’s complicated and a bit costly, but not impossible.
Pre-planning and pre-paying allows you to confirm everything sometimes decades ahead of time. This frees your family from the burden of paying for it themselves and/or trying to guess what you may have wanted. You can even arrange for an international funeral in Canada, Great Britain, or the Caribbean.
Cash-advance items can also be purchased beforehand.
The only difference is, with these arrangements, the price may go up between now and when you die. So pay for the bulk of it with the understanding that your beneficiaries will cover any incidental increase in pricing down the line.
This includes the following:
– Pre-burial services, rituals, etc.
– Reception location
– Open or cash bar
– Travel accommodations
– Other destination-specific or tourist activities
The easiest way to move cremains across state lines, in any kind of receptacle, is to drive. However, if loved ones transport your cremains via plane, they’ll need to check with the individual airline. Some allow urns as carry-on baggage. Others require cremains to be packed inside luggage and checked.
There is also no rule for destination funerals that says your body has to go with friends and family. Many people find it easiest to have the burial done locally. Then the family travels to a special spot for a ceremony.
Where to go?
That really depends on you and your loved ones.
For example, your relatives go to the same spot every year for a vacation and that’s where you want your cremains buried. Or you might pick a place you’ve never been but always wanted to visit. It could even be someplace close by with meaning for your loved ones.
Give some thought to time of year. If you have a winter location, but die in the summer, consider holding a ceremony or celebration of life in the winter at that location. Or vice versa.
Some important questions to answer when choosing destination funerals
Do you have a favorite place that holds some special meaning for you?
Is there a particular time of year you’d prefer to hold the service?
Do you want your body or cremains to return to where you grew up?
Would you prefer someplace you always wanted to visit?
Is this a reasonable request to ask of your loved ones?
Can they afford to do this, or will you pay for it?
Are they able to take time off from work?
Are there any requirements or grief rituals set by your culture or religion?
Will it bother you if most invitees can’t attend?
Are you okay with loved ones planning a local ceremony? (This helps those who cannot travel to gather with others to say goodbye.)
If this is an outdoor activity, do you have a contingency plan for inclement weather?
Do you have backup dates?
If this is a far-away location, please enlist the help of a reputable funeral home located at your destination. They will provide guidance when it comes to weather, vendors, and other location-specific plans. Destination funerals are more complicated, but if done right, they can provide a wonderful experience and comfort to grieving family members.
After all…you’ve gone to a better place. Why can’t they?