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The death care industry incorporates the businesses and organizations involved in death-related services, such as funerals, burials, and cremations.

In the United States, these are largely small businesses, although there have been some significant consolidations. Practices in other countries and cultures may differ considerably. While cremation is prohibited in many cultures, the practice is becoming increasingly common in the United States, due, at least in part, to the progressive rise in traditional burial costs. Although embalming has long been the normal course of preparing a body for burial in the United States, this practice is not universal.

It is generally accepted that the practice of embalming corpses in the United States began during the American Civil War. As soldiers died far away from their homes, embalming aided in preserving the bodies until they could be transported for burial in home cemeteries. Early techniques were primitive and varied, as the first embalming school, the Cincinnati School of Embalming, opened in 1882, and the first mortuary schools in the United States were established in 1898, the year that the National Funeral Directors Association was founded.

Prior to this time, the dead were usually prepared, dressed, and displayed by their own family. Bodies were displayed in homemade or purchased caskets in the family's home, and some wealthier families had special rooms that held their finest possessions during viewings, including a separate door to remove the body.

Today, the death care industry in the United States is controversial due to the excessive and sometimes prohibitive costs associated with funerals. For this reason, some states and localities have passed legislation to allow for less expensive alternatives to funeral homes. According to the National Funeral Directors Association, the average cost of a traditional funeral in the US is nearly $8,000.

Also known as funeral parlors or mortuaries, funeral homes are private businesses that provide burial and funeral services and may include a prepared wake and funeral and the use of a chapel for the funeral.

Funeral homes arrange services according to the desires of surviving family members unless there are advance directives from the deceased. Generally, funeral home personnel will take care of the necessary paperwork, permits, and other details, including making arrangements with the cemetery and providing obituaries to the news media. Today, most funeral homes post obituaries online, and some will create memorial websites using materials supplied by family members.

Traditional burial services often begin with a viewing, usually at the funeral home itself, followed by a funeral service at a place of worship or a chapel provided by the funeral home, and then a graveside service.

Direct cremation begins with the funeral home receiving the body and preparing it for the crematory, often owned and operated by the funeral home. After cremation, the family will receive the ashes in an urn or other container, to be retained by family members, scattered somewhere, or buried in a cemetery.

With direct burial, there is no funeral ceremony. Instead, the body is buried.

Customs for the disposal of the dead may vary considerably in different parts of the world, and, even in the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom, non-traditional means may be in place. Natural burials are a process in which the body is returned to the earth to decompose in soil naturally. Although natural burials are prohibited in some localities, they are becoming increasingly popular for environmental and religious reasons, as well as to cut the high cost of traditional burials.

A less commonly used method is alkaline hydrolysis, in which high water temperatures and potassium hydroxide dissolve human remains, after which the bones are crushed into a powder and returned to the family. Mushroom burial is a process in which the body is dressed in a bodysuit with mushroom spores woven into it. As the mushrooms grow, the remains are consumed. This is considered an eco-friendly approach.

Funeral homes are generally operated by a funeral director, who may be known as a mortician or an undertaker. In the US, license requirements are determined at the state level. These professionals are responsible for embalming the body, or cremation, as well as arranging for the funeral ceremony. When clergy is not present, the funeral director may perform these tasks, as well. Often, the funeral director is also the owner of the funeral home, or he may be an employee.

Most funeral homes have one or more viewing rooms, a preparation room for embalming, a chapel, and a casket selection room, as well as a hearse for the transportation of bodies. They may also have a flower car and limousines. Most funeral homes also sell caskets, urns, and other funeral products.



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