For the purposes of this post, “baby” or “infant” shall refer to a child aged one year or under, and a fetus at any stage of development.
I am seeing a lot of GoFundMe pages set up for families seeking financial help after they lose a baby. Nothing is wrong with this, as there may be several costs involved that are not related to the funeral, such as lost time from work and medical expenses. However, if your funeral home is asking for a fee you truly cannot afford, you really need to find another one.
A funeral home should offer its services for free and its merchandise at cost. “Services” refers to things like picking up the body; embalming; cremation; and securing the proper documentation to bury or cremate the baby and coordinate all elements of the funeral ceremony. “Merchandise” applies to caskets, vaults, urns, flowers and other memorial keepsakes like fingerprints.
Most caskets are sold at double or triple the cost to the funeral home. I am looking at a mortuary supply catalog’s listing of combination caskets and vaults (most cemeteries require some sort of outer burial container for all casket burials; it surrounds the casket in the grave and prevents the grave from sinking in). The prices of these caskets range from $120 to $460 and depend on the length and the materials. Caskets without vaults can be purchased wholesale for around $35; ideal if you can find a cemetery that does not require a vault, such as a green burial site. (Although green burial sites do not accept remains that have been embalmed.)
Building your own casket is acceptable if it meets the following requirements: must be constructed of a rigid material that is able to hold the weight of the baby; must have handles on the sides (for infants; not necessarily for fetuses); must encase the baby and must fit both the baby and the grave. A funeral home or cemetery is not allowed to reject such a casket or to charge the family extra because of it.
I use a crematory that charges a flat $100 for all infant cremations. This includes everything that would go into cremating an adult – picking up the body and cremating, securing all permits, then returning to the family in a plastic urn.
Many funeral homes will charge for infant visitation/viewing because they tend to go well into the night. Many relatives may have never met the baby and are not likely to adhere to a one-hour or four-hour time slot. I disagree with this; it is the nature of the business and no one should remove a grieving parent just because “the funeral home is closed.” That’s what interns are for; pay one to stay overnight. (Or, even better, encourage the family to take their baby home.)
If the mother has had a difficult delivery and is still in the hospital with the baby, go to her there to make the arrangements. (If the funeral director will not meet you, you have chosen a bad funeral home.) Encourage her to see the baby if she has not yet. If the baby is too small for any clothing, that’s where the rolodex comes in: we ALL should know someone who knits or crochets in their spare time who will make a tiny burial garment. Sometimes doll clothes will suffice. Be prepared to shop for the family if necessary. I personally will not bury anyone naked even if the family says they don’t care about clothes. I will at least use a hospital gown. In the case of one 8-week-old fetus, I just made him a makeshift paper towel garment.
Cemetery plots for adults can start at $2500, but most cemeteries will charge only a few hundred for an infant grave. This can depend on your baby’s length; usually the cemetery has a separate section just for infants but the graves and caskets must conform to a certain length. It may be more expensive to bury a one-year-old than a fetus. In addition to the charge for the plot itself, there will be an “open and close” charge (meaning, “dig a hole and fill it with dirt”) and a “setup” charge, usually meaning a tarp and chairs. These charges can add an extra $1000 to the burial cost, but should be reduced for an infant.
A fetus that is too small for a casket can be buried in a jewelry box or something similar provided by the family. The cemetery may or may not require some sort of vault, such as an urn vault. These sell wholesale for $37 to $120. The vault is needed in the case of a disinterment, if the parents should later decide to move the baby to another cemetery.
If a parent has died with the baby, it may be possible to bury the baby inside the casket with the parent. It requires a court order, but I have seen this happen with a mother and six-year-old child, and with grandparents who were being cremated with their grandson who died with them. Although, in the cremation case, it was a plane crash wherein it was impossible to separate all the human remains into different people. I don’t believe a court or funeral home would ever allow the cremation of two whole human bodies together. But in this situation it may be possible to pay for only the adult’s services and have those of the infant added at no charge.
If your baby is cremated, expect to receive an extremely small amount of cremated remains back, especially in a newborn or fetus. There will be almost nothing left; perhaps a teaspoon or tablespoon, in contrast to an adult’s cremated remains, which would fill a shoebox.
Embalming infants is incredibly difficult and time-consuming; it can easily be an all-day job. I believe it is reasonable for the funeral home to charge specifically for this extra time, but it should not come close to the fee for embalming an intact adult case (usually $300 to $800).
In total, your funeral and cemetery bill should come to under $1000. If that is still too high a price for you, you can look into organizations such as The Tears Foundation, who reimburse families for infant funeral costs. Google them or contact me if you need help locating them in your state.
Finally, the funeral director should always take handprints, footprints, and a lock of hair if possible. Even if the parents do not want these things, they can be kept in the file permanently so the parent can come back at a later date and either ask for them back or order a piece of jewelry or artwork using the handprint or hair.
Most couples, whether the baby was planned or not, never factored in funeral expenses when they found out they were having a baby, so they should not have to feel overwhelmed in addition to their grief. We cannot heal their hurt, but we can and should make one thing easier on them.