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When Somebody Dies ...

Shipping the deceased across the country or around the world is a bit more complicated than sending a package or catching a flight.

Some people might consider the casket as cramped as the typical passenger seat, joked Mel Friend, funeral director and embalmer at Litwiller-Simonsen in Ashland.

Airlines require that bodies be embalmed in preparation for flight, although some religious groups, particularly Jews, do not allow embalming.

In that case, Friend said airlines require a sealed casket, which is sometimes packed with dry ice during the voyage.

On the receiving end, the body is taken out of the sealed casket and placed in a wooden coffin so as not to hinder decomposition.

— Airlines require that all caskets be surrounded by an air tray, which has a wooden bottom and heavy cardboard sides and top. The tray prevents scratching the coffin and allows the use of a forklift to pick up the casket.

Most caskets have an adjustable bottom inside that can be lowered, usually with a hex key. That helps keep the center of gravity low, said Friend.

The lower center of gravity means the body usually doesn't shift much during transport.

A lighter person we might secure with some loose straps to hold the body in place, he said.

Most caskets fit most sizes and shapes of bodies, although larger caskets are available. If someone is too tall, the legs can be bent at the knee.

For shipping, embalmed bodies are sometimes placed in a temporary casket that is made of heavy cardboard and encased in the air tray. The bodies are then placed in their final caskets after their arrival at the funeral home.

Friend has shipped caskets to places like Mexico and has received bodies from countries as far away as Saudi Arabia and Turkey.

David Koach, executive director of the Oregon Mortuary and Cemetery Board, said shipping a body out of state requires a copy of a death certificate, the same document needed to bury a body.

In Oregon, removal of remains from the state is the same as burial, he said.

If the remains can be transported in six hours, they don't need to be embalmed, he said. Otherwise, the bodies need to be embalmed or placed in a sealed casket for transport.

Funeral directors need to be aware of laws in different states, which can vary considerably in the handling and transporting of the deceased.

Since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, airport security requires that caskets be treated much the same as luggage.

Watching caskets go down the ramp with baggage was not ideal, said Bern Case, director of the Medford airport.

Previously, caskets were handled in a separate area.

Since airlines began shifting from Boeing 737s to smaller planes a few years ago, there hasn't been enough space in the luggage area to ship a casket from Medford.

Case said most funeral homes have to take the casket to Portland for shipping.

The mortuaries take care of that now, he said.

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 776-4476, or e-mail

The cost of shipping a body

Embalming: &



Embalming, local transport and arrangements: &



Transport to Portland airport: &



Plane transport: &


36;700 within United States, &

36;1,000 international.

' Source: local funeral homes

A short history of death

Part — of 7

The Anglo-Saxons, like the Britons before them, had adhered to the old religions, but as Christianity supplanted earlier practices, bodies in seventh century England were being buried lying east-to-west instead of pagan-style, north-to-south. The church graveyard became popular for burials.

Medieval funerals were usually simple affairs. Many practices varied locally. Women tore their hair out in mourning displays. Those with the means left money in their wills to buy mourning rings made to contain a locket of hair for loved ones. People were buried in clothing that identified them as nobles, clergy or peasants, often after a Mass was said.

In the 14th century, the Black Death repeatedly ravished Europe, cutting population by as much as half. In the face of unprecedented horror, funeral practices were abandoned, replaced by the cry of Bring out your dead. Corpses were thrown on carts and hauled off to mass graves.

Historian Barbara Tuchman called the 14th century's obsession with morbidity the cult of death. A processional play called the Dance Macabre achieved great popularity. It was the subject of church murals in which the pope, nobles, burghers, knights, friars and peasants marched to their death in graphic, decaying, wormy detail.

Advance, see yourselves in us, say the figures in the Church of the Innocents in Paris, dead, naked, rotten and stinking. So will you be ... Everybody should think at least once a day of his loathsome end.

In traditional Japan, those who handled the dead were a caste known as the Eta. They lived in ghettos and could not marry outside their class. They also handled animal carcasses. It was illegal for them to conceal their identity. The stigma ended, officially, in 1871.

Tomorrow: Young America