Weird Shit

Rest in Peace With These Houston Funeral Homes' Unique Services

The word “funeral” tends to conjure up some pretty specific imagery: Lots of black, an ornate coffin piled  with flowers, maybe a mushy casserole or two. But, despite what the movies tell us, there's not just one way to hold a funeral.

In reality, a funeral is a lot like a wedding. Sure, there's some paperwork you have to fill out, but beyond that, you can really do whatever you want. And since your funeral is likely your last chance to make an impression, why not go out with something that truly expresses who you are and what you want? Below, we found some Houston-area funeral homes (and one “home funeral”) that offer patrons unique ways to meet their makers.

If you want a natural burial… The east Houston-located Beresford Funeral Homes is likely your only local option for a natural burial, an environmentally friendly service designed to integrate human bodies back into the earth's ecosystem. “This is truly earth to earth, ashes to ashes,” said owner Chip Beresford, who started offering the service about four years ago. In a natural burial, bodies are buried without embalming, or the process of preserving a body with formaldehyde. Cutting out this cost means that natural burials tend to be way cheaper than more traditional funeral services, Beresford said. You don't even need to buy a coffin – one family buried a body in a canvas sack, Beresford recalled. (If you do want a coffin, Beresford sells biodegradable caskets.) Beresford Funeral Homes' natural burial package, which costs just under $6,000, also includes the price of a plot in Carmen Nelson Bostick History Cemetery and thus saves you even more. Plus, if you want to be extra green, Beresford employees can hand-dig the grave.

If you want the funeral service to be a party… Drive past Bradshaw-Carter Memorial & Funeral Services in Montrose – which Texas Monthly dubbed “Houston's most elegant funeral home” – and you might not even realize it is a funeral home, as the building looks like an opulent, private mansion. “It's really that home-like feeling that makes people feel safe, comfortable,” said President Tripp Carter, who actually lived in the Bradshaw-Carter building until he moved out two years ago. But that doesn't mean its services aren't extravagant: Recently, Carter said, they held a service for a man of Nordic ancestry. To honor his heritage, the funeral home set up a Viking-style pyre, complete with several hundred votive candles. “It's important to remember the loved one, and for families, to celebrate a life well-lived,” Carter explained. Bradshaw-Carter also only serves one family at a time, and never kicks guests out at the end of the service – a policy that has backfired, Carter recalled, as guests once stayed till 2 a.m.

If you want your cremation to be watched… Usually, a funeral home will take a body to the crematorium and return it to the family already in ashes. However, because Winford Funerals in Braeburn and Miller Funeral and Cremation Services in Sharpstown both have crematoriums on their premises, they offer the chance for people to actually participate in their loved ones' cremation. This is called “witness cremation,” explained Emily Forsythe, a funeral director at Miller Funeral and Cremation Services. Not only can families hold a chapel service with the body right before the cremation, but they can also follow the body into the room where it is actually cremated. Then, Miller Funeral employees will help the family place the body onto the cremation unit. A family member can even press the button that starts up the unit and begins the cremation, Forsythe said, adding that witness cremation tends to cost a bit extra.

If you want to be buried in your own backyard… Congratulations! Here in the great state of Texas, your wish can come true. In fact, you don't need to involve a funeral home in your death at all – nearly anyone can act as a funeral director and perform what's called a “home funeral.” However, bodies can't be buried just anywhere. A body can be buried only on private property, outside of city limits and more than 150 feet away from a source of continuously running water, said Jim Bates, director of the Funeral Consumers Alliance of Texas. However, once a spot is chosen, the rest is relatively easy. Once a person passes, somebody needs to call the local medical examiner's office and make a report of death. Then anyone can just take the body out and bury it. If the body is in a coffin, the top of the coffin must be two feet beneath the surface; if it's in a shroud, it only needs to be 18 inches below the surface. No one is required to designate the grave with a marker or even to officially record the burial's location. (Though Bates strongly recommends the latter, so that no one accidentally unearths Grandpa.) 
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Carter is the Houston Press fellow. A Seattle native, she graduated from Northwestern University and also has written for Elle, Los Angeles magazine and Ms. Magazine.
Contact: Carter Sherman