My father died in 1994.
His funeral cost $5,000.
The only reason we got away with costs that low was that Daddy had given us clear instructions that he wanted the least expensive casket and trimmings that we could get.
“My body is going to rot, anyway,” he said. “So why does it matter? Don’t you dare waste money on burying me.”
That helped us a lot when the funeral home people came at us with their vague suggestions about caskets that would leak and other subtle comments designed to guilt us into spending too much for what wouldn’t help my father one bit. The interesting moment in the negotiations came after every casket they showed us was well over $2000. My niece happened to spot a steel casket that was hidden away under another one.
I still remember how disgusted the funeral director looked when she found that $1000 casket. It was, I imagine, something they kept out of sight unless it was needed for people who really couldn’t afford to pay.
There was talk of life insurance all through the discussions. It turns out that funeral homes are very willing for you to sign the proceeds of your family member’s life insurance over to them in advance of your getting it. The implication we got was that if we didn’t, they would leave Daddy’s body parked out on the curb for the garbage collectors to take.
Fortunately, we had the money to pay for the funeral. And we had Daddy’s clear instructions. And we attended a wonderful church that didn’t charge us a dime for the use of their facilities.
Daddy got a warm, spiritual send-off, and we weren’t robbed blind in the process.
Things have been a little dicier for my sister this week. She and my brother-in-law didn’t have the cash on hand to pay for his funeral, so family members are chipping in to pay for it. My brother-in-law had evidently expressed a wish to be cremated, so that’s the way my sister is going with this.
It’s really rough for people who are ravaged by grief to be forced to cut corners on their family members’ funerals. I imagine it feels to many of them like the concern for money is over-concern and that they are disrespecting their loved one by not spending freely.
I think the funeral industry loves the survivor’s guilt that people feel after someone dies. I think they prey on it in subtle ways throughout the funeral planning negotiations. It is a simple fact that when someone you love dies, you are going to feel remorse for things you said or didn’t say; things you did or didn’t do. No one is perfect, and neither is any relationship between two people.
When you are confronted with the reality that you will never see them again in this life, it doesn’t matter how loving your relationship was or how steadfastly you may have cared for them; you will suddenly feel swamped with remorse for what you didn’t do, even if what you didn’t do isn’t worth a hill of beans.
That’s just the way it is. It happens to everyone. Unfortunately, that feeling of remorse makes you even more vulnerable to the manipulations of funeral directors who are trying to sell you upwards in what you do for your loved one’s funeral.
As I said, I still remember the talk about caskets that leaked when we were putting together Daddy’s funeral. Who wants to think about someone they love, lying in the ground with water running into their casket? What kind of person would be indifferent to that?
I guess the kind of person who could be, if not indifferent, at least immune to the manipulation the talk of leaking caskets represents, is someone whose father told them, “My body is going to rot, anyway, so what does it matter?”
I was with Daddy when he died. I had no doubt at all that he was dead. I also knew that only his body had died. He was still alive. His body had stopped and he had stepped out of it. He wasn’t gone, he had just gone on ahead of me. The body he left behind wasn’t him.
But, even though I knew he wasn’t in it anymore, I still loved his body. I remember when I was little and our family went to the zoo, he would lift me up and put me on his shoulders and I would ride around looking at the animals from that lofty perch. I loved those shoulders, love them still. Those arms held me when I cried, that face smiled when I walked into a room. I loved my father’s body, even though it was now just an empty shell that, yes, was going to rot.
So how we did his funeral, the way we treated what funeral directors so aptly call “the remains” mattered.
Families should not be put through guilt-enhancing manipulations and “sold” into spending more money than they can afford when they are so vulnerable with grief. I know that running a funeral home is a business. I believe that people who do it deserve to make a living. However, they have chosen this business which puts them in the position of selling their wares to vulnerable people. They should have accepted the responsibility to behave ethically that goes with that business when they chose it.
Funerals cost too much money. Part of the reason is that people overspend when they go to the funeral home to make “the arrangements.”
Funerals cost too much money. Most of the reason is that the funeral home business is a monopoly that, at least here in Oklahoma, is protected by laws that were written by and passed for the industry itself.
That’s an old, old story, isn’t it? I wonder: Is there any industry that doesn’t use the elected representatives of the people to write laws for itself that do harm to the people the representatives were elected to protect? I don’t know of one.
Funerals cost too much money. There are a lot of reasons, but corporate funeral homes that operate as chains certainly contribute to the overcharging.
I am not in a very good mood today. I am put out by the unkindness of the way that corporate policies, legislative indifference and guilt combine to make life so much harder than it needs to be for people when they go through losing someone they love.
Everyone dies and none of us like to think about it.
I think that is the ultimate reason that funerals cost too much. None of us want to think about it until we have to, so we let these forces conspire against us in the laws, the culture and our own hearts. That means that when we walk into that funeral home feeling shell-shocked and so grieved we have trouble standing upright and drawing in a breath both at the same time, we are easy prey for the pickings that are coming at us.