How do we deal with death after STHF? In the mid-1300s, the Black Plague was a macabre example of diseases in a SHTF situation, with thousands dying daily and corpses piling up to be collected by body collectors — the Monty Python sketch with the man shouting, “Bring out your dead!” isn’t far from the truth — and then buried in mass graves, layers of dirt and bodies alternating until there was no more room.
So when contemplating TEOTWAWKI, it’s only natural that death and dying would be on your mind. Death presents some interesting challenges, depending on the type of SHTF event in question. How prepared are you?
Let’s look at a few scenarios:
- An epidemic
- A gigantic earthquake
- The absolutely certain
What Would Diseases in a SHTF Situation Look Like?
An Epidemic – It doesn’t matter what the disease is. The hospitals have enough beds for the first what, 300 patients? 500? Maybe the first 1,000, at a large hospital. Eventually families will have to deal with the dead and dying on their own. Having enough medical supplies to comfortably house and care for the sick and the dying takes more than any grocery store first-aid kit will supply.
You should know how to make and administer oral rehydration solutions. As long as you store sugar and salt, you can make your own. You should have sufficient masks for a two-week (or more) quarantine. And you’ll need a way to clean and sanitize lots of laundry. Your community needs a place in which to bury all the victims to avoid recirculating the disease. If funeral homes themselves shut down due to illness, or from excessive demand, you and I will have to familiarize ourselves quickly with the realities and responsibilities of dealing with death.
How Many Deaths Would Result from a SHTF Earthquake?
A Large Earthquake – The Midwest is due for one, the San Andreas is due for one; it could happen. Hospitals, funeral homes, and morgues would all be in the same danger as every other structure during an earthquake. Victims would be hard to find in the immense piles of rubble. The immediate need would be to tally and identify the dead, so that authorities can account for the living. There would be no sense in assuming someone is dead, if in fact they are alive and in need of help. But in the worst case, tattoos, piercings, and scars can all help with identification if dental records aren’t available. Knowledge of tourniquets, pressure bandages, head injury care, and bone splinting would all be valuable, above and beyond traditional first aid.
It’s Not Just Diseases in a SHTF Situation
Everybody Dies – Even if it’s not natural disaster or diseases in a SHTF situation, it’s just going to happen. Have you discussed with your family what you want done when you die? Do you want to spend your hard earned money on chemicals to preserve your remains? How about a hermetically sealed box made of metal and plastic? That’s what the average $12-15K that most Americans spend on funerals will get you. Then your body full of it’s poisons, safely in its super-fund box, and it gets crammed into a landfill full of other poison-filled corpses. It’s not cheap, and it takes a certain amount of energy and infrastructure.
There are other options of course, but most require a bit of pre-planning on your part as well as the willingness to convey your wishes to those you’ll leave behind. Cremation is an option, coupled with a fabric shroud or unfinished wood box, and it’s quite a bit easier to arrange. It’s also an order of magnitude cheaper.
And then there’s the old standby shovel + hole = burial. Surprisingly enough, 43 out of 50 states preserve families’ rights to bury their own dead. There’s some paperwork to get done, if you’re really doing things DIY.
But families in seven states (CT, IN, LA, MI, NE, NY, UT) face legal obstacles. Astonishingly, those states require families to engage a funeral home for everything from filing the death certificate to transporting the casket to getting the body released from the hospital. Whether the family wants to hire — or can afford —a funeral director or not. Talk to your family about your wishes, make arrangements, and check that your beneficiaries on policies and accounts are all correct. Make sure your spouse knows how to log into the joint checking accounts and access loan agreements and medical information.
A selection of links to get you thinking in the right directions:
- Home Burials in Vermont – A Guide From the Health Department – A very helpful guide to the necessary paperwork families must complete if they choose a home funeral. Josh Slocum of FCA, and Lisa Carlson of the Funeral Ethics Organization, co-wrote and edited portions of the guide in cooperation with the state of Vermont.
- California Consumer Guide to Funeral and Cemetery Purchases – A plain-language guide to funeral consumer rights under California law, including instructions for home-funeral families.
- Kansas Board of Mortuary Arts FAQ – a quick rundown of funeral consumer options, with brief instructions on legal requirements for home funerals.