Luretha Collins got a big surprise when she started calling around to make pre-need cremation plans for her son.
Every funeral home quoted the 85-year-old Oakland resident a standard price. Then said it would cost more for a supersized loved one. Depending on the provider, that could mean anyone weighing 250 pounds on up to the truly obese tipping the scales at 400 pounds and above.
According to posted rates on the Internet, the cremation fat surcharge can run anywhere from $100 to $400. On top of an average price of about $1,000 one can expect to pay for a cremation. The low-cost burial alternative is not quite nearly so low-cost if your loved one is carrying around an extra 100 pounds.
"I was really shocked," Collins said. "I'd never heard of anything like this before."
Her son Gilbert's weight has ballooned ever since the 63-year-old veteran suffered a stroke that left him paralyzed from the waist down. He is confined to a nursing home and was recently diagnosed with lung cancer. One of his few joys is fast food.
He weighed over 300 pounds last year. His mother thinks he has gotten larger, which puts him into the plus-size category.
It costs money to be fat. Some airlines force the super-large to buy two seats. Insurance companies charge the extra-heavy higher payments. A burial for an obese person laid to rest in a triple-wide coffin, nearly twice the size of a standard casket, can cost a mint.
So it shouldn't be entirely surprising that increasing numbers of funeral homes are also charging more to cremate obese people.
Everyone who is cremated has to be packaged in a heavy-duty container to comply with health and safety standards. It has to be large enough to put the body in. The chamber in turn has to be big enough for the container to fit in. A lot of crematories aren't equipped to handle extra-large corpses.
A very reticent San Leandro funeral director representative insisted that there are legitimate extra costs incurred for cremating the obese. He said more staff and special attention are needed to move grossly overweight corpses without injuring funeral home workers. Other bodies have to be taken off storage shelves to make room for the super-large. Bodies carrying excess poundage take longer to burn.
Then, there are special procedures required because obese corpses create a far greater potential fire hazard.
The reasons for that are explained in probably more detail than you care to know on the Legacy Funeral Provider Services blog.
During cremation, it says, lean tissue generates about 1,000 BTUS (British Thermal Units). One pound of fatty tissue emits 20 times that amount of heat.
If an obese corpse is not cremated properly, it can produce a ¿fire.
In a case in Austria that made international headlines in June, burning fat from the body of a 440-pound woman blocked an air filter at a crematorium and started a major fire at the facility.
The fire chief suggested that Austria either build special crematories for obese people or ban the procedure altogether for the super-heavy.
I don't know how much of the added cost is due to funeral providers having to perform a lot of extra work or whether some are merely taking advantage and holding obese people and their loved ones over a barrel. It's not like one can refuse to pay and just say, forget it, I'll do it myself.
According to the Bay Area Funeral Directors Association, charging extra for obese people is an individual company decision.
The long and short of it is, if you have a loved one who is obese, be forewarned.
There's a good chance those extra pounds will cost you.