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Buyer beware: Exploding caskets

Buyer beware: Exploding caskets

Our parish is planning a panel discussion in the fall on end-of-life issues; hospice services, estate planning, living wills, spiritual preparations for death, etc. Perhaps we should add mention of exploding caskets to the program. Josh Slocum, a funeral industry watchdog, writes at the Washington Post blog:

You’ve never heard of exploding casket syndrome (ask your mortician if it’s right for you), but funeral directors and cemetery operators have. They sell so-called “protective” or “sealer” caskets at a premium worth hundreds of dollars each, with the promise that they’ll keep out air and moisture that — they would have you believe — cause bodies to rapidly deteriorate. Like Tupperware for the dead, they “lock in the freshness!” with a rubber gasket.

But, in reality, you can’t protect a corpse from itself. While you’re insulating grandma from the outside air, she could be stewing in her own fluids, turning into a slurry from the work of anaerobic bacteria. When the weather turns warm, in some cases, that sealed casket becomes a pressure cooker and bursts from accumulated gases and fluids of the decomposing body.

If you have the stomach for it, read more here. (I think ashes buried in the dirt of a churchyard are definitely the way to go.)


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Gary Paul Gilbert

Many funeral consumers alliances used to negotiate package deals with funeral homes, but competition is such that funeral homes no longer offer discounts to groups because their prices are already as low as they can go. Every consumer who walks in gets the same low price. A problem with package prices is that those consumers who are not members of the group which negotiated the package are left to fend for themselves.

Package prices, in general, can cost significantly more because the funeral home can add on lots of extra charges. Service Corporation International estimates that it can make about 1700 dollars more for a cremation package.

Our affiliate negotiates packages in New York State but any discounts we get are not that great anymore. The main advantage of drawing up a list of funeral homes is that we can determine what prices are in the area.

Gary Paul Gilbert

Gary Paul Gilbert

Hi Eric, The phone number at Funeral Consumers Alliance of L.I./NYC is (631) 544-0383 or you can write me at

The number for the national organization, Funeral Consumers Alliance, is 802-865-8300

It is really important to know prices in your area. There is probably a local affiliate of our organization there. And you can ask parishioners to get General Price Lists when they visit funeral homes in your area. You can also phone funeral homes and ask they mail you price lists.

Consumers who don’t know their prices are in a weakened position.

It depends which state you are in. New York, for example, requires the use of a funeral director, even if the family would prefer to rent a truck and take the body directly to the crematory.

I would say shop around before you need services but generally do not prepay unless the person wants to spend down to qualify for Medicare.

Your church could really help its members by researching the local funeral homes. And with direct cremation you can look at funeral homes in the larger area especially if there will be no viewing. Restricting your search to a small area can cost you more.

1200 dollars could be a good price for cremation in your area. I don’t know. Sometimes you can get much lower. 3,000 and up is too high.

Gary Paul Gilbert

Eric Bonetti

My experience is that the funeral industry still has many ethical issues.

I recently had to arrange a funeral in which the deceased would be placed in a simple, rented casket (no embalming or cosmetics), transported to church, and then immediately cremated, with the idea that things would be simple and cheap. Several funeral homes in the area either repeatedly sidestepped the question, “What would this cost?” or gave answers like, “It could end up costing a little less than our traditional funeral, which costs roughly $9,000.”

Really? Even cremation is wildly overpriced, with many places quoting $3,000 or more for a service that costs them less than $100 to provide.

One idea I’ve been bouncing around is to work with an area funeral home to come up with pre-negotiated packages that parishioners could use, knowing that the price was fair and that everything was above-board. Has anyone done something like this? Would love your ideas and suggestions.

Gary Paul Gilbert

I am glad you agree there is a problem. Mausoleums do not protect dead bodies from decay. Their only real advantage is they allow family and friends to visit without having to stand in the cold or rain.

Authors of pieces in newspapers do not choose accompanying photos or headlines.

Gary Paul Gilbert

David Allen

I didn’t say that there are no exploding caskets, I said that the accompanying photo doesn’t lend credence to the writer knowing of which he speaks, as wood caskets can’t be sealed and so wouldn’t explode.

And please tell us how a plastic box or bag is supposed to contain an explosion that a 16 gauge steel sealer casket couldn’t?

I’m not against consumer information. I’m against painting an industry and it’s employees with a broad brush with ill thought articles.

Bro David

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