Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Green Funerals

Most of us have been hearing more about “Green Funerals” recently. I would like to address this in this blog.

We are always looking for more ways to provide the service that our families want for their loved one. We have begun to see more individually structured funeral arrangements that are non-traditional. This can be as simple as only having an evening visitation period followed immediately by a funeral service the same evening or a ‘regular or traditional’ type service followed by cremation as opposed to ground burial. This is how “Green Burials” came about, by people wanting a non-traditional type funeral that is eco-friendly. Usually this means that there is no embalming as embalming chemicals are usually a no-no in “green” cemeteries. This directly affects what can be done at the funeral home in regards to services.

I want to discuss a few of the differences today in this blog.

Because of public health issues, we can not have an open casket, public visitation of un-embalmed Human remains. Usually a visitation can be held immediately prior to the service, if held at the funeral home, but there is no open casket. Many times these services are held directly at graveside as time becomes a factor that greatly affects when services can or will be held. Time elements for holding an un-embalmed human body differ from state to state, but a rule of thumb would be that with refrigeration usually a body can be held for at most three days. This tends to speed things up for making all arrangements, getting family ‘Home” for services and completing the necessary arrangements.

The caskets required for “green” burials differ very much from traditional caskets. Most are specialized cardboard boxes that are biodegradable. This is something that is directed by the “Green Cemetery” as they own the cemetery and they make the rules! Some will allow no outer container other than a blanket or shroud. Some wish to use wooden or cardboard boxes. This often brings up the issue that we are required to use an ‘approved (by the cemetery) container’ or one that the cemetery sells. As can be expected, there are not very many manufacturers of “green” caskets at present. The costs of the ones available are priced accordingly! However families do save the cost of a burial vault as they are NOT used in “green” cemeteries.

Where can we find a “green cemetery”? At this time, we have one cemetery any somewhat local ( two hours away). This is the Foxfield Preserve Nature Cemetery in Wilmont, OH which is on the other side of Canton, OH. The next closest we are aware of is in Newfield, NY, outside of Elmira, NY. While there is a group investigating finding land and starting a “green” cemetery in the Pittsburgh area (Green Burial Pittsburgh or GBP) no land has been bought at the time of this writing. Another consideration when buying a grave is that they can be considerable more expensive than traditional graves for many different reasons. Some are as simple as that ALL graves are GPS located in some cemeteries because no grave markers are allowed. Upkeep in the actual cemetery, replanting natural grasses, flowers, shrubbery, and costs involved to protect and police the natural area of the preserve can add to costs, to list only a few reasons.

Costs are somewhat different because of the services required and requested in “green” funerals. Because of the distances involved, by the mile charges would be involved in addition to the other charges that aren’t usually associated with traditional funerals like refrigeration charges. Of course the standard charges that would be usual like: Services of funeral director and staff, use of facilities, applying for death certificates and certified burial permits, etc. For those who think of “green” funerals as a cheap alternative to “regular” funerals at this time, this is not the cheap way to go, as I think I alluded to when talking about caskets before.

There are many other considerations and choices involved with “green” arrangements, some of which we never even think about now, Ocean Interment of bodies or of cremains, anatomical gifted human remains for research in medical institutions, even “space Shots”.

This is only a skimming of the surface of “green burials”, but these are things that definitely concern us as funeral directors and as members of the community as it changes how we dispose of our loved ones in a dignified way. Of course, we as a people have different ideals concerning burial of loved ones, besides those involving religion and societal mores, which we are always willing and able to discuss.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Cremation Options

In recent years, cremation has become an increasingly popular alternative to traditional burial. It is a great misconception that at the time of death, there are only two options: immediate cremation or traditional burial. However, just like burial or entombment, cremation is merely the method of final disposition. In fact, there are many options available to families who desire cremation. We offer a wide range of options to our families with prices among the lowest in the area.

Traditional Cremation Service

This service is very similar to a traditional funeral with the body being taken to the crematory after the service rather than cemetery. Families may elect to rent a casket or to purchase a specially designed combustible cremation casket that is suitable for public viewing. This service includes one day of calling hours with a funeral the next day at our funeral home our another location, such as a church.

Cremation Memorial Service

This service is akin to a traditional funeral except that the body is not present. It can take place at virtually any location, from the funeral home, a church or cemetery, to a park or even a private residence. In addition, the service needn't be immediately after the death, which allows family time to gather or the opportunity to hold the service on a date that was important to the deceased, such as a birthday or anniversary. In this instance, the cremation has already taken place, and the urn can be placed on a table and surrounded by photos and memorabilia symbolic of the deceased. We have a large array of tables and stands to help you display treasured memories as well as audio/visual equipment such as digital photo frames, a state-of-the-art sound system, and plasma televisions.

Direct or Immediate Cremation

In this instance, cremation is conducted without ceremony. We require an identification viewing to be conducted by a member of the family or an authorized party to positively verify the identity of the deceased prior to cremation. The identification viewing is conducted at the funeral home where all of the necessary paperwork is also signed.

Following all of the above services, the cremated remains are returned to the family in a sturdy ABS plastic container which meets most cemetery requirements for burial purposes. However, there are numerous other options available to our families:

Burial or Inurnment

The cremains may be buried in a cemetery, either in their own grave, or on top of the grave of another loved one. (Some cemeteries may charge you for the "right of second interment.") They may also be placed in a mausoleum crypt or a niche in a columbarium.

Placement in an Urn

We offer a wide range of urns to our families. We offer fine urns in marble, wood, bronze, granite, and other materials. In addition to standard urns, we offer keepsake urns, which are smaller versions that allow families to split up the ashes among family and friends.


As far as the law is concerned, cremation is considered the final disposition of the body, so the ashes can be scattered virtually anywhere. Turner's offers special biodegradable urns that are specially designed for these purposes. Many state lands, such as state parks and lakes, have restrictions against the scattering of cremated remains, so it is recommended that you contact the property owner before taking any possibly illegal actions.

Cremation Jewelry

We offer Madelyn Keepsake Pendants, beautiful pieces of jewelry with a small capsule that can hold a small amount of cremated remains or a lock of hair.

Life Gems

Turner's is a LifeGem Partner Funeral Home. LifeGem takes a portion of your loved one's cremains and reduces it to it's basic carbon content, and with the addition of extreme heat and pressure, forms it into real diamonds which can be placed into a variety of settings.

Eternal Reefs

All or some of your loved one's cremated remains are mixed with concrete and molded into special forms that are submerged in the ocean to provide marine life with a place to live and to give new coral a place to grow. After many years, the forms create a thriving coral reef teeming with spectacular marine life.

Memorial Spaceflights

A small portion of cremated remains are attached to a rocket's payload and launched into orbit around Earth. Beginning in 2010, they will begin offering lunar burial where the cremains are launched onto the moon.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Caskets 101

It’s been a few months since I’ve added a new entry to the Ask Turners Blog, so this month, I thought I would tell you more than you ever wanted to know about caskets.

The coffin as we know it, like many aspects of modern funerals, goes back to the ancient Egyptians thousands of years ago. The Egyptians used coffins to protect the dead, as it was their belief that the dead would need the use of their body again in the afterlife. In predynastic times, nearly 7,000 years ago, the Egyptians would construct wooden scaffolds around the body after it was placed in the ground to protect it. This then evolved into wood boxes or large clay jars into which the body would be placed, and finally into the elaborate solid gold coffins like that of King Tut, shown to the left. Their coffins were anthropoid in shape, or shaped like the human body; widest at the shoulders and narrowest at the feet. The practice of constructing anthropoid coffins carried into the early 20th century with the iconic hexagonal coffin we see lined up outside the Undertaker's shop in old Western movies. The problem with anthropoid coffins was that each one had to be custom built for the person who would be placed inside of it. It was then that the rectangular caskets that we are familiar with today began to be mass-produced. It was also then that we first see the use of the word "casket" rather than "coffin." The word "casket" was derived from a French word that means "a box for precious things" and was used as a euphemism for the rather grim-sounding "coffin."

Today, we have two basic kinds of caskets: metal and wood. Wood caskets are constructed from a variety of hard and softwoods. Each one is handmade and finished like a fine piece of furniture. Recently, some companies have started offering veneer caskets for cremation purposes. They are of a lower cost than a solid wood casket and offer the same natural beauty of wood, but they are not designed to withstand much stress and Turner's advises that they only be used for cremations and not in-ground burials. Wood caskets do not offer much protection for the body. Those who wish to have a wood casket and still have the peace-of-mind that the body is protected should consider purchasing a good sealing-type vault to protect it once it is buried.

Metal caskets offer a much wider range of options for the consumer to choose from. Let's start by explaining the different type of metals that are available in metal caskets. Most metal caskets you see are made from steel. Standard steel caskets come in several different thicknesses, or gauges, with 20 ga. being the thinnest (about the thickness of a coffee can) and 16 ga. the thickest. Steel caskets are available in either non-protective or protective models. Non-protective steel caskets are spot-welded together and close via some form of a latch. Protective steel caskets are seamlessly welded all around. The "protective" part comes from its method of closure. Protective caskets have a rubber gasket that goes the whole way around the base of the casket where it meets the lid. When closed, four steel pins from the lid go into four holes in the base. By using a special "key," we turn a crank on the foot end of the casket which drives a steel pin through the four pins from the lid and pulls the lid down tight on the gasket. Protective caskets are like Tupperware in that they are designed to "burp" out any gases that may form inside the casket without allowing any gases or liquids from the outside to enter. Generally speaking, most thinly gauged caskets will be non-protective and most thickly gauged caskets will be protective. However, even if you purchase a protective casket, remember that it is just plain steel and is still subject to rust and corrosion so, again, purchasing a good sealing-type vault would be advisable.

A step up from regular steel caskets are stainless steel caskets. These are available generally in the thicker gauges and are all protective. Stainless steel caskets are available in brushed finishes that show off the natural beauty of the metal. Beyond stainless steel, there are copper and bronze caskets. Copper and bronze are both semi-precious metals and extremely resistant to corrosion and other forms of degradation. Naturally, all copper and bronze caskets are protective models. It is worth noting here that with stainless steel, copper, and bronze caskets, if you purchase a vault that is lined in metal, is should be the same metal as the casket that is going to be placed in it. Placing a bronze casket in a copper vault will actually degrade the metal of both the casket and the vault. A copper casket should be placed in a copper vault and so on.

Just for fun, here is a picture of the Promethean model, which is manufactured by Batesville Casket Company. It is constructed of polished 48 oz. solid bronze with 14K gold hardware. The interior is custom made to the purchasers instructions. Needless to say, the Promethean is the best casket money can buy.

So, we've talked about what caskets are made of, now let's discuss the many different things that can be done to the outside, or shell of the casket. In the last few years, personalization has become a mantra of the funeral industry and many new and exciting options for caskets have become available to the consumer.

The obvious place to start would be the finish of the casket. Most metal caskets are painted. Today, casket finishes are a lot like automotive finishes. It is a base coat - clear coat system usually applied with a pneumatic paint gun by a professional painter. Basic caskets are one color over the entire casket while higher end caskets have two-tone finishes with shading and, in some cases, areas of exposed brushed metal. Areas that are brushed are, of course, painted over with a clear coat in order to protect the metal. Recently, a company called Art Caskets has developed a series of large decals that are professionally applied to the outside shell of a casket. They offer many different designs that can add to the personalization of the funeral. The only disadvantage is that they are only visible when the casket is closed. Turner's is an authorized dealer of Art Caskets.

Next, let's discuss the shell of the casket. The standard casket shape is rectangular. Basic caskets are welded together at the corners and have a decorative piece of hardware attached to the corner to hide the welds. In higher-end caskets, the corners are actually finished. Round-end caskets have rounded corners and urn-end caskets have rounded corners and a convex, urn-shaped corner. These are only found on protective model caskets. One of the caskets Turner's offers, the Pieta, actually has an enclave cut into each of the corners which holds a miniature of Michelangelo's Pieta statue from the Vatican. A new feature that has come out recently has been caskets with interchangeable corner pieces called Life Symbols. These allow families to choose different corners that represent the life of the deceased, such as golf scenes, John Deere tractors, flowers, etc. The corners can then be removed from the casket and kept by the family after the service. There are also two different types of handles for caskets: stationary bar handles and swing bar handles. Stationary bar handles are rigidly fixed to the body of the casket and are usually found on basic caskets. Swing bar handles are found on higher-end caskets and are on hinges so that they swing away from the casket to provide room for a hand to grip the bar when the casket is being carried.

Lastly, the interior of the casket is another area where personalization has really blossomed. Modern caskets have two basic types of interiors: velvet and crepe. Most basic caskets will have crepe interiors while higher-end caskets generally have velvet interiors, but it is not carved in stone. Some people, myself included, find velvet to be too heavy of a fabric, especially in the summertime. Most of the personalization to casket interiors involves the back panel. Some caskets, like the Boyer model we offer, have interchangeable back panels where virtually anything you can imagine can be embroidered into the fabric. Click here to view all of the designs Turner's offers to be embroidered into the back panel. Another option for the back panel is a screen printed photo that is inserted into the back panel. This allows basically anything you can think of to be made into the back panel of the casket. Some caskets also have an enclave built into the back panel for an additional Life Symbols figurine.

This would be a good place to mention the difference between full and half couch caskets. If you're from Western Pennsylvania, you are familiar with full couch caskets. They have the full lid open. Half couch caskets are like the ones in the photos I've included in this blog where only half of the lid opens. Full couch caskets are only used in Western Pennsylvania, Southwestern New York, Northern Maryland, and parts of Indiana. The rest of the country uses half couch caskets. Don't ask me why, because I'm not sure that anyone really knows for sure!

One of the most recent things to come out of the world of funeral service is the concept of green burials. Green burials are deemed eco-friendly and are designed to be as environmentally conscious as possible. The body is not embalmed and is buried in some form of a biodegradable casket. Green caskets are made from wicker, bamboo, or wood so that it can completely biodegrade. Naturally, to allow this to happen, green funerals do no utilize burial vaults, or if they must, it is usually done by placing just the base of the vault upside-down over the casket so that the bottom is still exposed to the elements. Green cemeteries do not have headstones or markers of any kind. Instead, families are given the GPS coordinates of the grave to assist them in locating the grave.

Congratulations on your successful completion of Caskets 101! You are now an expert on caskets, casket construction, and casket interiors. If you have any questions about caskets, please feel free to email me at codymagill@turnerfh.com and I'd be happy to answer your questions.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Death Certificates

How do I get more certified copies of the Death Certificate?

During the same month as the death occurred, death certificates are housed in our local registrar’s office and copies may be obtained through Turner’s at $6.00 per copy. After that, the death certificates are transferred to the Pennylvania Department of Health Vital Records Office in New Castle and may be obtained from them at $9.00 a copy. For same-day service, you may visit them in person at:

101 South Mercer Street
Suite 401
New Castle, PA 16101

Copies may also be obtained by mail. Click here to download the request form. It can be mailed, along with a self-addressed, stamped envelope to:

Division of Vital Records
Attn: Death Unit
P.O. Box 1528
New Castle, PA 16101

Lastly, copies may be ordered online as well, but you will be charged an $8.00 service fee in addition to the $9.00 a copy.

Veterans and their spouses are entitled to an unlimited number of free certified copies. Simply fill in the veteran’s service information on the form to receive Military Status copies.

You will need the following information when ordering death certificates:
  • Full name of decedent
  • Date of death
  • City and county of death
  • Social Security number, if known
  • Funeral director, if known
  • Father's name and mother's maiden name, if known
  • Relationship to the decedent
  • Reason for the request
  • Applicant's signature
  • Applicant's daytime telephone number, including area code
  • Applicant's mailing address
If you need assistance locating any of this information, or help filling out the form, please contact us at 724.758.4504 and we’ll be happy to help you.

You will need certified copies for the following items:
  • Bank Accounts (one per bank, not account)
  • Insurance Policies (one per company, not policy)
  • Employee Benefits
  • Vehicle Titles
  • Real Estate Transfers
  • Stocks & Bonds
  • Income Tax Returns

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Certified Celebrants

"It is an important day when we stop to bear witness to a person's life & times among us."

My name is Cody B. Magill and I am one the funeral director's here at the Turner Funeral Home. In 2006, I completed Certified Celebrant training offered by the InSight Institute and the University of Oklahoma at the Cincinnati College of Mortuary Science. Celebrant training is, by far, one of the best things I have done in my career in funeral service. I'd like to take this opportunity to tell you a little bit about Celebrants and what we do.

What is a Celebrant?

A Celebrant is a person who is trained and certified to meet the needs of families during their time of loss. A Celebrant serves by providing a funeral service that is personalized to reflect the personality and lifestyle of the deceased.

What do you think of when you think of a funeral service? An organ prelude, a minister speaks, a prayer is said, then we go to the cemetery and it's over. Celebrant services are about ending the "cookie-cutter funerals" of the past. They are about creating a meaningful, personalized service that celebrates a life-lived rather than mourning a life-lost. This is accomplished via a mix of music, ceremonies, stories, and readings that reflect the life of the deceased. Many times, family participation in the service is encouraged, such as survivors lighting a memorial candle or releasing balloons; even the simplest act can have profound meaning at such a time in our lives.

The Importance of Ceremony

Ceremonies and rituals are important in our society. By publicly declaring important milestones in our lives, we give the moment a place of honor. Shared with family and friends, we gain their support as we go through expected changes.

Secular ceremonies are becoming so popular because they cross faith and cultural boundaries. By bringing together the common values of humanity from all belief systems, secular ceremonies allow each of the participants to experience positive feelings special or unique to them.

Ceremonies acknowledge and honor important transitions in our lives. By creating a time and space to publicly proclaim an event, we declare our readiness to honor what has gone before and to embrace a new path. By inviting our friends and loved ones to mark the occasion with us, we allow them to offer us their love and support, which strengthens our bonds with them.

The function of ceremony is to bring people together for love and support during transitions into new beginnings. Ceremony allows us to join and bond when we experience loss. The social acceptance and understanding of our grief reminds us that we are going through expected feelings and allows a healthy approach to living life without the loved one lost. Ceremony can aid communities in handling tough times.

What does a Certified Celebrant offer to the family?
  • A Celebrant offers an alternative to a service provided by a clergy person for those families who are not affiliated with a church or who do not wish to have a traditional funeral service.
  • A Celebrant has been specifically trained to design a service that is completely personal, incorporating those unique stories, songs, and experiences that defined the loved one.
  • A Celebrant has a library of resources available for readings, music, ceremonies, and personal touches. The Celebrant will consult with the family to help design a service that best reflects and memorializes the life of their loved one.
  • A Celebrant is bound by a Code of Ethics for complete confidentiality in all dealings with the family.
Turner's is the only funeral home in the area to have a Certified Celebrant on staff and I am the only Certified Celebrant in Beaver and Lawrence Counties. I have had the opportunity to do several Celebrant services here at Turner's and the families I have served have found them to be comforting, meaningful celebrations of a life well-lived. A Celebrant service is a deeply personal experience that is unlike any other funeral service you will attend and is ideal for families with or without a religious background.

If you have any questions about Certified Celebrants or Celebrant Services, please email me at codymagill@turnerfh.com and I will be happy to chat with you.