Wednesday, May 29, 2019

It's about time funeral homes got shaken up

In my years as a pastor, I became very cynical and negative about the funeral home "industry".  I saw far too many grieving families, particularly older bereaved partners, conned into spending far more money than necessary on funeral arrangements.  The funeral home directors and employees were experts at playing on emotions, tugging at heartstrings, and using the natural grief and lack of concentration of the bereaved to persuade them to buy unnecessarily elaborate coffins, flower arrangements and other impedimenta, pay for unnecessary funeral home and graveside services, and generally open their wallets to being outrageously abused.

To my fury, I even found that certain ministers of religion would cooperate with funeral homes to "up-sell" funeral arrangements, in return for a fee or a percentage of the profits.  I was actually approached to do this by two funeral homes, early in my ministerial career in this country.  I was very rude to them, and they went away with several fleas in their ear.  I couldn't get over their act of injured innocence.  "It's just business!" "That's the way we do things over here!"  Yeah, right!  If "just business" is ripping off those already mourning and grieving, I want no part of it, thank you very much!  I took care to steer my flock away from those funeral homes whenever possible.

I was therefore very glad to read that two Web sites are upsetting the funeral homes' applecarts. and are two startups that enable the bereaved to shop for caskets, embalming and cremation services — and search for the cheapest option, as they can when booking an airplane flight, a car or a hotel.

. . .

The funeral home business is notoriously murky when it comes to pricing. Some critics claim undertakers can take advantage of clients who are of no mind to bargain when grieving their loved ones, sources said.

“Prices tend to stay higher when there is no transparency, and that describes the funeral industry,” said Josh Slocum of the Funeral Consumers Alliance told The Post. “There is no other retail sector that routinely hides its prices to get people to come into the sales office” so it can sell them a pricey package, Slocum said.

Currently, just 25 percent of the 20,000 funeral homes in the US provide pricing information on their sites, according to FCA, a nonprofit consumer watchdog group.

“This is an industry that is 40 to 50 years out of date technologically and culturally,” Slocum added.

When reached by The Post, undertakers said they didn’t want their prices online for a whole host of reasons, ranging from fears of being undercut by the competition to causing customer confusion.

. . .

Funeralocity launched in April after testing its technology in Atlanta for two years and setting up call centers to collect its information on funeral homes. It allows grieving consumers to look at a detailed menu of prices along with photos of funeral homes and customer reviews.

Both websites offer their listings for free to consumers and don’t charge funeral homes. They make money by promoting businesses that agree to pay a fee and meet certain qualifications to be listed as a top provider.

There's more at the link.

I note that neither Web site shows the prices of funeral homes in my area, but then we're a long way away from their normal stamping-grounds.  I daresay those in larger cities, particularly in states that legally require funeral homes to publish their rates, will be better served.

I hope we get more such Web sites and services soon, offering more widespread coverage of funeral homes.  This is one racket that needs to be laid open to public inspection, and the sooner the better.

(I've already told Miss D. and my close friends that, when my time comes, they're not to spend a lot of money on a big, expensive funeral.  Just cremate me and put me away without worrying too much about ceremony.  Instead, use the money for a good party to celebrate my life, have a lot of fun, and give thanks for all we shared and did together.  If it's given to me to know what's going on, I'll be there, flicking ghostly ice cubes at the guests and enjoying the squeaks!)



LL said...

I had an experience with those filthy parasites myself, a number of years ago. I had to take a telephone handset from a fat woman and beat her telephone into splinters in front of her to get her attention, but I got it and things began to happen. I called my lawyer before I went inside, blood in my eye. He said, "just leave your handgun in the car when you go in." It was sound advice.

And it's not just them. It's the relationship between them and nursing homes. The nursing home administration got theirs as well. It's amazing what a good investigation and a listening ear from the local news station can do to encourage lawsuits.

Technomad said...

I read Jessica Mitford's The American Way of Death in high school, and learned a great deal from it. The experience came in handy later, when I was helping deal with the deaths of several relatives. I already had a pretty good idea of what to expect from the funeral people, and even though I was upset, I kept my cool enough so that we didn't get soaked.

Talking with one's nearest-and-dearest about this before the event is an excellent idea. My brother has strict instructions to just cremate me and dispose of the ashes.

lpdbw said...

Check out Caitlin Doughty and her Youtube channel "Ask a Mortician".

While she's a little bit whacko, she has many of the right ideas.

Jeff F. said...

lpdbw, you beat me to it! Check out her TED talk...she's on the right track...

Sport Pilot said...

I completely concur on the indecent practices of some funeral homes. Further words will remain unsaid on that matter. I'm of the same mind as you when my end time comes, cremation and no funeral or memorial service. Anyone of a notion to have a party and talk about anything other than a guy whose not there anymore can do so on my dime.

Beans said...

Many towns have direct cremation and burial services, hidden deep under layers of protection paid for by the bigger funeral homes.

These DC&BS companies will sell the cheaper coffins, or the pressboard and cardboard versions, and will handle simple graveside funerals. To the tune of 1/3rd to 1/4th the price of what FHs charge. And their salesmen will be able to handle all the arrangements that normally a funeral director handles, if the grieving family is willing to accept a brutally cut down funeral rather than a whole death passion play. Most especially, they usually list their costs and fees up front and in open, unlike FHs.

If you want the whole pageant, you will still pay.

My mother-in-law's passing was relatively easy. The DC&B company we used even applied to Social Security for the funeral costs, after quoting me before they knew she had SS, so that was money off my costs.

So, fortunately, I didn't have to go all 'Hulk Smash' like LL, well, at least with the service. Against my in-laws? Well, that's another story...

Sanders said...

We buried my little brother just a few weeks ago. You are spot on about what a bunch of parasites the funeral homes are.

My mother-in-law, upon her diagnosis of cancer, went and made her own arrangements while she was alive, and paid for everything in advance. All she had to do was show up for the event.

Jerry said...

I highly recommend the Jonathan Winters movie, "The Loved One".

John Ray said...

A friend of mine donated his remains to a medical school (here, in Texas). This allowed the students to hone their surgical skills on other than a live victim. Then they cremated the remains. The cost was $0.00. Now, that's a plan. Requires pre-planning paperwork (also supplied at no cost). witnessed the process from beginning to end over a year's time, more or less. It was handled with total respect, including the final delivery of the cremated remains.

After death, who cares about the remains, whether one is Christian or of some other faith? The person once known is not here -- he/she is gone. The key is not to be disrespectful of the remains since at one time the person who occupied the body presumably respected his/her home of the soul. If one does not believe in a soul, then again, who cares? Donating one's remains is an act of giving of life, and nothing could be better. Contact the nearest medical school.

Silent Draco said...

I can envision your party as something similar to the Blogorado that you've shared with us, but with your pic on a favorite chair. Then the complaints about no one getting in the 10 ring lead to massed yells of "Knock it off, already! It's the big party and shoot-off in your memory!"

stencil said...

"...when my time comes, they're not to spend a lot of money on a big, expensive funeral. Just cremate me and put me away without worrying too much about ceremony."

So what we really need is a procedural guide - a book - detailing just how to accomplish that, from deathbed to mantelpiece.

waepnedmann said...

I have a friend who is a mortician.
He shared with me some of the techniques taught at siminars and such for "funeral directors".
He finds the whole funeral director scam to be odious and follows none of their advice.
He meets and greets people in front of and his not from behind a dark large desk.
He informs them that the reason that they are here today is because (fill in the blank) has died.
Not the dearly departed and has not passed away, but (fill in the blank) has died.
They are dead.
This cardboard box will perform the same task as this bronze coffin. No difference.
If death is of a child who was twelve or under the funeral is done at no cost to the family.
There are free cemeteries from pioneer days in the area. He tells people where they are located to save the cost of a burial plot.
Once, he and his business partner brought their pick and shovel and drove out to one such cemetery and helped a young couple bury the body of their young child in a coffin the father had built.
Full disclosure: I have, by request, built a coffin, on short notice, for a family member.
It is a cathartic experience.
My friend has tales that stretch from drunks who died in a flop house when they aspirated their own vomit, but went home dressed as an English gentleman to an old lady with a tattoo of a black rose on her left forearm and the ring with which she was buried.
He is a good guy in a business full of corruption (one of his competitors, the brother of the local sheriff, was discovered to have been routinely, switching out the bronze coffins for the particle board model prior to burial).
There some good guys still out there amongst a sea of bad actors.

Anonymous said...

I'll concur with the "donate the corporal remains to a medical school" idea, but....

Turns out, my state has only 2 medical schools, both of which want an unrefundable $500 up front - as in "today, when you file the application for acceptance" - to "cover expenses, including transportation in-state." Then, the reserve the right to refuse the body if it has "suffered damage." I didn't get the form so I don't know if it requires passing a physical first.

So, half a grand now, then possible rejection, requiring immediate other plans, should you get sufficiently bruised and bumped while dying in an accident, much less any emergency surgery in an attempt to save your life. Oh, that "in-state transportation" thing? Should you keel over elsewhere it's your job to get back into the state because they're not interested otherwise.

I suppose they expect one to strip naked and lie quietly on the top step outside the front door when the time is near, and expire only through natural causes.

My new plan is to croak on a Monday or a Thursday - we have Tuesday & Friday trash pickup. The other option is simply to live forever; I think I'll give that a shot.

urbane legend said...

Donating a body for medical research. I have registered and mu family knows it.

glasslass said...

When hubby was in his final months I sat and called every funeral home in a 50 mile radius. Our small town has only 2 homes and found prices for cremation to vary as much as two thousand. I made sure that the cheapest would come to our town and said I'll be calling. Turned out to be far sooner than I liked but they showed up promptly and returned a week later with all necessary paper work and a box of his remains. Now they have companies that will use the remains with the tree of your choice mixing the ashes with specialized soil. So when I'm gone we are both going to be planted as the tree of our choice and where we want. Kids will just have to dig the hole.