Nonprofit Mortuaries Are Helping Cash-Strapped Families Honor Their Dead
Article by Simon Davis, Originally appeared on Vice.com
When Nantucket resident Nancy Holmes’s mother died in September 2014, she called the nearest funeral home to make arrangements. But if she wanted an embalming, the funeral home told her, it would require shipping her mother’s remains via ferry to their facility on the mainland. After that, the body would have to be ferried back to the island for the service and subsequent burial in the local Catholic cemetery. “Your choices are dictated by the distance of the boat ride and the cost of the boat ride,” she told me. Ultimately, Holmes decided against it and asked that the funeral home send a hearse with a coffin to the island instead. “Other people don’t mind. We just didn’t want to send her. It wasn’t what we wanted… It just seemed kind of ridiculous to me.”
Transporting a body from the place of death to a funeral home is usually an inexpensive and straightforward process in the United States. Until January 2014, it wasn’t a problem in Nantucket either. That’s when the island’s only funeral home closed its doors, after the home’s owner Richard Lewis retired at the age of 79. Ever since then, the 30 miles of bay that separate the island from the mainland provide for delays and additional costs that often lead to residents altering their funeral arrangements.
“There are storms in the winter time. Ferries get cancelled a lot between September and April. There were times when the boat didn’t go [for several days], and somebody died and funeral arrangements were delayed,” said Catherine Stover, the Nantucket town clerk who has been leading efforts to open a funeral home on the island. She added that “this is no reflection on the service that people have gotten, which has been wonderful.” Stover also happens to be a licensed funeral director who worked in the industry until 1998 on the mainland. She said that the Lewis family, who formerly handled all of the island’s funerals, “were splendid caretakers of the dead. We owe them a lot.”
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