On the worst day of your life, the last thing you or your family should have to deal with is sticker shock.
A quick perusal of this link will show a wide variety of prices that have to be considered.
The average price of a funeral in the USA is currently between $7–10,000. Do you know WHY it is so high? Do you know what you are required to purchase and what is just an option? Do you know that many funeral homes love when you walk in with an insurance policy and no idea what you should be spending? Why is this?
The normal scenario for most families looks like this:
A sudden death, prolonged illness, hospice care, or car accident results in either the deceased being transported to a local hospital or the local law enforcement will be authorized to contact the funeral home that is on duty.
Most funeral homes in a town or county are on a rotation. This simply means that when an accident occurs, the coroner will contact the on-call funeral home to come and collect the deceased. The family is given no notice of which funeral home has your loved one in their preparation area. There is also no guarantee that a pre-planned and pre-paid funeral policy will be in force.
The next morning, the closest or next-of-kin will receive a phone call from the on-duty funeral director where the body is located. The shock of the death has not normally settled in and now a call comes extending a professional courtesy of condolences and informing the living that they need to come same day or the next morning to the funeral home to make arrangements.
Sadly, the disposition of the deceased waits for no individual.
One of the hardest aspects of my job as a manager or funeral director was watching the faces of families entering the front door of the funeral home or cemetery office for what could be the first time in their life.
A good funeral director or cemetery manager will work hard to put the family at ease, as much as humanly possible. A compassionate funeral director or cemetery manager will try to make the process smooth by guiding the family through every decision.
Yet, it is at the moment that the family walks in that a huge problem exists. As in every industry, some truly care about a career, especially in those jobs that involve customer service. However, there are also those who only see what they do every day as a job.
Whether you know it or not, a funeral director or cemetery manager is also required to be a salesperson.
The level of expertise and compassion can and will determine how smoothly everything moves forward from the collecting of the earthly remains of the deceased to the burial or cremation process, but it normally comes at a price.
More and more funeral homes and cemeteries are being purchased by large corporations. With each purchase, compassion goes out the window for the sake of profits and exorbitant cost markups. The compassion that should be shown to a grieving family is regularly being replaced by price-gouging and sales pitches designed to make you feel guilty. This guilt could be about the level of service you provide for your loved one down to the casket selection.
As the family signs the paperwork, the hardest part of the process has not yet arrived. Insurance and payment is covered and then the funeral director will stand. Informing the family that they need to follow him or her into the casket selection room, you will NEVER be prepared for the shock that is coming.
Many families I assisted and cared for managed to keep it together through the paperwork process. There might be a few tears, but standing to walk into the casket room was almost always a shock that brought tears and massive expressions of grief including wailing, shrieks, or screams of agony.
There is something about the entrance into that specific room that generates a great sense that this is very real. “I have to choose a final bed for my husband, wife, brother, sister, grandparent, baby, or child to sleep in.”
I cannot recall the number of times I was asked if I could make a selection for them just so the family would not have to enter THAT casket room.
Funeral homes and cemetery offices have largely become marketing machines. Caskets are aligned with the most expensive brands being softly lit. Lids are open revealing plush pillows and satin or velvet finishes. Soft music may be playing while the funeral director/salesperson is expected to direct you to these selections.
Many funeral homes, especially those owned by corporations do NOT put out the cheapest caskets available, and some directors will go so far as to lie to the family telling you that there is nothing cheaper.
The casket room has a wide selection from high glossy wood caskets to different gauge metal caskets. Some have keepsake drawers, while others are labeled as sealed and “waterproof.”
There are NO waterproof caskets.
The FCC and funeral laws are slowly changing to correct the myths still being perpetrated by funeral homes and cemeteries about waterproof caskets or vaults. Concrete is porous. Metal rusts and loses its integrity quickly depending on the soil composition and local water tables. Caskets with a rubber gasket also decay and provide no guarantee that water will not enter the final resting place of your loved one. Vaults are the same way and do not offer guarantees.
But many spend thousands thinking that the body of their loved one will remain dry and safe.
Back to the casket room, the director is taught to watch you closely for buying signs. He or she will point you in the direction of certain caskets and may even include softly spoken words such as: “Your loved one deserves the best you can afford.” Or, “This casket provides peace of mind that your loved one will ____________.”
No, no, NO, ABSOLUTELY NO!
With sympathy and empathy, your loved one does NOT care about what kind of casket. You will NOT see that casket or vault for more than a few minutes. When your eyes are red from weeping long into the sleepless nights, you will NOT give one thought or have peace of mind about whether you bought the right casket or not.
The reality is that funerals are for the living, not the deceased.
On average, families that enter a funeral home for the first time after the loss of a loved one will spend approximately 35–60% MORE than they would if they had been prepared. The funeral and cemetery staff knows this and many are trained to capitalize on your grief.
Bonuses, monthly contests, and corporate pressure are heaped on funeral and cemetery staff to keep the average profits high. A funeral director with a conscience and who helps too many families keep their costs low will soon find him or herself out of a job.
The ivory towers that hold executives of the large funeral corporations do NOT care about your family. They do NOT care about the deceased. They ONLY care about profits.
My purpose in writing these articles is with the hope that people will read something that will help them face the inevitable on the worst day of their lives. I still have close friends in the industry, but far too many that I worked with only cared about profits and large paychecks.
In a coming article, I plan to address the markup levels of everything from services to caskets to vaults to the candles available to purchase at the funeral home.