What is the most eco-friendly New York City funeral?

This question is more complex for us city dwellers than it is for New Yorkers upstate as the "greenest" conservation burial grounds are all out of town (though if you skip the embalming process, select a city grave space that doesn't require an outer burial vault, and you use a biodegradable casket, you've got a reasonably green funeral). Generally, the greenest services are the simplest ones--with the deceased wrapped only in a burial shroud, then supported and lowered into a grave in a conservation or hybrid green burial ground. Some people assume that cremation is always "greener" than burial because a burial takes up grave space, but this assumption is incorrect. In burial places like Steelemantown or Maryrest (both in New Jersey), or Greensprings Natural Burial Preserve (in New York), you are preserving rural property by burying someone in it. The closest green hybrid burial ground to New York City (which is attached to a gloriously beautiful Victorian cemetery), is Sleepy Hollow Cemetery just outside Tarrytown, NY, where shrouded burials without caskets are allowed in one specific wooded area above a babbling stream. Even more affordable green burial grounds have been adjoined to  Rhinebeck Town Cemetery not far from the Omega Institute, and Rosendale Plains Cemetery in Tillson, New York, which is near New Paltz.

If we want an eco-friendly funeral but don't wish to drive upstate to a conservation burial ground, what's the next best option for us New York City dwellers?

We will help you find a grave space and a biodegradable casket for this sort of "green-as-possible" service within the five boroughs. And there is good news afoot: Green-Wood Cemetery will accept a carefully shrouded body for burial (with no casket and no vault required), as will The Evergreens Cemetery on Bushwick Avenue in Brooklyn. (PS Jewish burial and Islamic burial have always been earth-friendly in their respective grounds in Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx, Staten Island, Long Island, and New Jersey.)

While the cremation process requires natural gas, and involves filtered emissions, we regularly work with Green-Wood Cemetery's state-of-the-art crematory here in Brooklyn, which is busy (thereby more fuel efficient), among the most modern crematories in the state of New York, and is, in the minds of numerous experts, the most beautiful crematory space--with its gorgeous chapels-- in the whole United States. The rate of cremation in New York is scheduled to surpass the rate of burial shortly; out West--in California and Washington state, for instance--the rate of cremation nears 75 percent.

When you leave our home or hospital room, where do you take the deceased?

Deceased people need to be kept cool, so we will carefully transport your relation to our funeral home in the Ditmas Park neighborhood of Brooklyn where there is a refrigerated space for just this purpose. Jewish families may, of course, ask us to phone a shomer, or witness, to stay with the body at this time, as is the custom. Also, when a home funeral or vigil is requested, our team can return the deceased to the residence for a gathering or service. We are skilled in the use of dry ice which is helpful in the continuing effort to keep the deceased cool.

Is embalming required by law?

Embalming is never required by law, and our firm will work hard to avoid embalming, even in instances where other firms might advise or require it. We are housed within a Jewish funeral establishment and while they have embalming equipment to use in very rare instances, they don't even keep it plugged into the wall! Deceased Jewish people are shipped to Israel all the time without the chemical assistance of the embalming process. We are astonished when we hear that other firms are still insisting upon an embalming in order for the family to view the deceased one last time. Thus said, there are times when embalming is a good idea and we'll soul search with you on a case by case basis.

Will you bathe, dress or groom the deceased even if it is not our intention to have a viewing?

Yes, of course, we would be honored to bathe, dress and groom the deceased for you, even if there is no viewing, but we have to charge a fee for this because these actions take care and time.  We will ask you to give us some clothes for dressing, or, if you prefer, we will wrap the deceased in a simple burial shroud (you can help us do this at the place of death, if you like, or we'll manage it for you back at the funeral home). Our firm has a room available for Jewish Tahara ritual, and we work regularly with an excellent Chrevra Kadisha ("Holy Society"). Here is a good book by Rabbi Avivah Erlick and Rick Light on the adaptations to Jewish Tahara ritual being developed in some progressive synagogues. We welcome the opportunity to discuss this possibility with you.

What happens when someone is cremated?

Cremations occur individually, of course, and respectfully in natural gas-fueled chambers with mechanics that are completely computerized today. The interior of the chamber is heated for 2-1/2 to 3 hours hours to a level of 1400-1800 degrees. The National Funeral Directors has an FAQ page on the cremation process here. And here is the International Cemetery, Cremation, and Funeral Association's cremation consumer's guide with answers to common questions. Additionally, Amy wrote an article you might want to read called "What Most People Don't Know or Can't Fathom About Cremation." Please check out our second site for cremation language, liturgy, and ceremony templates designed for use in cremation services.

Our family is all over the map religiously. One inlaw is Jewish, Dad is a lapsed-Catholic atheist, still another family member is a practicing Buddhist. How the heck will we create a good funeral for our mother, who actually wasn't at all religious until she cultivated a good relationship with a Mormon chaplain at the nursing home?

Guess what, you're just like almost everyone else these days! The mixed-faith family constellation is actually a new American norm. Don't despair. Fitting Tribute's funerals are often eclectic, and all the more gorgeous because of that. Either Amy or one of our other funeral celebrants will sit with you and help you find the right rituals, readings and music. Your differences will come together. We also help families who are consolidated in a single faith and bring in their own clergy.  But even within the same religious belief system, families may find they have differences in everything from daily practice to interpretation of scripture.

We're trying to put a funeral together with non-traditional cars. Can you help us?

Yes, absolutely. We have access to our own fleet, and we understand that not everyone these days desires traditional funeral vehicles.

What funeral benefits or privileges do veterans of the armed services receive these days?

The Funeral Consumer's Alliance has crafted the best response to this complicated question, and you can find it here. Copies of discharge papers are needed to quickly arrange a color guard, but with a bit more lead time, we can verify military service through the Veteran's Administration.