Comments on Funeral Article

The following comments are a response to "Nothing's As Sure As...".

About Cremation

I have one thing to add to your funeral costs tips. If the body is being cremated, you do not need a casket. You will have to buy some kind of container to place the body for cremation, perhaps a cardboard box, perhaps a simple wooden box which will be far far less expensive than a regular casket. No one will see this box.

The body can be cremated and you can display a small urn with the ashes inside at the funeral services. Sometimes, the body is not cremated at the time of the service and an empty urn is used for display.

We learned of this option one funeral too late. I hope the information helps some else. I think it's far better to use the money on your loved one while they're alive - not after they die.

Nursing Homes and Pre-Need Financing

I thought your article was full of good advice. However, I do have one note. Most nursing homes DO NOT have refrigeration available for deceased persons. If a person you love is in a nursing home, check to make sure that the nursing home has knowledge of what mortuary will be handling the arrangements, even if you don't have pre-need arrangements made. I was a NH social worker for ten years. Families who are out-of-town or otherwise not reachable are generally not happy to find that we had to pick a funeral home for them, and that they were then responsible for the cost of transport from one home to another.

I'm also interested in your comment about pre-need funerals. I have always encouraged people to make these arrangements, especially as they are in the "spend-down" process to go on Medicaid. Do you have any info about guaranteeing that the money you put into a pre-need arrangement will be there when you need it? I thought that the funeral homes (at least in Ohio) were required to put the funds in the state funeral directors trust fund (or something tlike that).
Laura McF

Issues With Florists

My dad passed away amonth ago today. Dad had taken care of a lot but there was still plenty to do. I've read many articles on arranging funerals and have a friend who owns a funeral home. So I was as familar as I could be with prices. The funeral director recommended a florist. The funeral was back in my dad's hometown but I did not mind the recommendation because I was going to comparison shop. The prices at the florist were fine. The casket was blue. The florist kept recommending red and yellow flowers. I thought this a little odd. But we ordered white and light blue.

Well, when family and friends called from out of town, we told them the florist we were using plus it was printed in two states. Well everyone that sent flowers ordered them from the same florist we had used. Guess what? All the flowers sent were red and yellow. A friend told me she simply told the florist a price range and did not ask for a specific color. I'm sure these flowers were probably bought on special at the wholesale florist. If I would have known I would have asked the florist to make any flowers sent a coordinating color unless the purchaser specified something. It really bothered me. But it didnt matter to dad he couldnt tell ragweed from a rose!

Preservation Issues

If you believe that the body is truly just what remains after your loved one has gone on, you may not feel as much need to preserve it. The funeral industry plays on this "preserving" concept, and your emotions, a great deal.

I read up on this when a loved one was terminally ill, so I would be prepared to make these final decisions. Not all caskets have the rubber gasket seal, which actually speeds decomposition. This gasket also adds a great deal to the casket's cost. Also, they won't tell you this, but most cemeteries do NOT require a vault. You can use a "grave liner" which costs thousands less but keeps the ground from settling. You have to know to ask for this because the funeral director probably won't mention that you have that option. However, your funeral director, if within 10-20 miles of your cemetery, will probably be knowledgeable about what is your cemetery requires.

Finally, regarding your comment on having the body prepared far away: you can do this, but be aware that you cannot transport an unembalmed body across the state line. I know it sounds crazy but we found this when my son died in a hospital just over the state line. We had to find a funeral home in that state.

I know we all feel differently about these issues and it's a very emotional time, but you should be informed about what your options truly are.

A Rebuttal from a Funeral Director

I read your "article" on funerals. As a funeral director, your article implies that ALL funeral directors bribe ALL hospice nurses, All clergy take a bribe. Then, who can you trust?

Concerning "most states don't require you to use a undertaker," you should do your homework instead of spouting off at the mouth and list the states which do and which do not. For those that do (and they all should), it is done for a very good reason. Would you walk in to a home on a death call only to find out the person died of AIDS? Would you know how to handle things? By you, a "undertaker" is not needed. Go ahead and handle the deceased. Hope you don't come down with anything. We are trained to handle these things. DO YOUR HOME WORK. You must have copied from a cheap article done this past spring from us news. maybe if you went on a house call where someone blew out his brains with a sawed off shotgun and was dead for a few days in the summer time, you might change your mind.
Richard S.

Memorial Societies

You missed an easy way to save on funeral costs. Encourage people to get in touch with their local Memorial Society. I used to work for the local one. 15 +/- years we did a pilot project. Enough people joined up that the several funeral directors in the state started offering plans for the Memorial Society members. My dad entered a nursing home 4 years ago and we prepaid on the memorial society plan for a cremation. One can do it alone. Find out in advance what permits are needed. A permit to transport and a death certificate are needed here. If the body is to be cremated a permit to cremate may be needed. There is a 2 day wait period before cremation can take place. Consider having a memorial service rather than a funeral. You can have more time to plan and it makes it easier to give far flung family members time to travel.

A Donation That Saves Money

I was surprised you didn't mention the cheapest method of all--donating one's body to science. My father had requested this be done when he died, but he never made the arrangments himself. Luckily, there was a local university which accepted bodies from the families of the deceased; most universities require pre-registering by the person who would like their body donated.

This cost us NOTHING. The school takes the body; they are allowed up to 2 years to keep it in storage prior to using it. Once they've studied, taught, or whatever with the cadaver, they cremate it and return the ashen remains to the family.

We held a simple memorial for my father at his church, followed by a reception in the church basement. When his ashes are returned to us, we will spread them over a portion of the earth as he requested. Again, about as frugal as one can get regarding burial expenses.

Thought this might be a worthwhile tip to pass on to your readers; not only are you saving money for the survivors in your family, you are also contributing to a worthwhile cause--the education of our future doctors!
Susanne M

More on Memorial Societies

You left out a valuable source of information. The Funeral and Memorial Societies of America (FAMSA) is dedicated to a consumer's right to choose a meaningful, dignified, affordable funeral. To accomplish that goal, FAMSA:

  • provides educational materials on funeral choices to increase public awareness of funeral options, including how to care for your own dead
  • monitors the funeral industry trends and practices nationally and exposes abuses
  • serves as a consumer advocate for reforms on the national level and lends support for changes where needed on the state or local level
  • serves as a credible source of information for media covering issues on dying and death
  • seeks to create partnerships of interest with national organizations sharing similar concerns
  • provides leadership support for local memorial and funeral planning societies
  • refers individual inquiries to appropriate societies and agencies supplying local services
  • provides a conduit for exchanging information between societies.

Memorial societies are nonsectarian, nonprofit, educational organizations. They were first started in the late 1930s as a result of two influences: the depression and the increasing cost of funerals due to the use of embalming and more elaborate manufactured caskets. There are now more than 150 nonprofit memorial societies in most states of the U.S. and in the provinces of Canada.

Many societies, with the help of their volunteers, do a price survey of area mortuaries. Some societies have been able to negotiate a discount at participating funeral homes. In addition, your society supports the social action needed to expand and protect a consumer's last rights.

They have a very informative web site at
Christine P.

From a Former Funeral 'Salesman'

I used to work as a salesman for SCI (although they call it a 'counselor') and you are very correct this is big business. The funeral director is also a salesman and is going to try to sell you the top of the line for everything. I once saw a service at the chapel where the gravesite was just outside the door. The family wanted the pallbearers to carry the casket to the gravesite but was told that it was a requirement to use the hearse at a cost of $200. The casket was placed in the hearse which then drove about 10 feet before stopping at the gravesite. Funeral expenses DOUBLE every ten years. That's 10% a year to receive the same services. It is possible, and I highly recommend to Pre-Pay your funeral expenses. The funeral homes have two different price lists. One when you have an immediate need and another for when you don't. Also look into cremation societies. When pre-paying your funeral and even when you have to go into a mortuary to make arrangement please remember that THE PEOPLE YOU TALK TO ARE SALESMAN; MANY OF WHOM WORK ONLY ON COMMISSION, WITH NO BASE SALARY! Once again, make arrangements before you need it. You buy insurance on you car and house just in case something might happen. I guarantee that you WILL need this eventually.

Vets Benefits

You forgot to mention the option of a VA funeral for those who served in the military AND their spouses and dependent children. Veterans, whether serving during war or peacetime, are entitled to burial in a VA cemetery, use of the onsite chapel, marker, and concrete liner. Benefits may vary but can save thousands of dollars. Our local VA cemetery is nice and better maintained than others in the area. My father served during peacetime for 3 years before the Korean War. The estimated expense for his funeral is $2500 total including a one and a half hour service in the VA chapel, $750 casket and all preparations.

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